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Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson veterinarian sees numerous patients as soldiers come, go

Posted: April 23, 2011 - 9:41pm
Capt. Reid Katagihara, the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson veterinarian, examines Sabrina, a 6-year-old Siberian husky mix, at the base's Veterinary Treatment Facility in Alaska on April 8, 2011. The facility, located on the base's Fort Richardson side, treats thousands of animals a year. Some are military working dogs. (AP Photo/Alaska Star, Zaz Hollander)   Zaz Hollander
Zaz Hollander
Capt. Reid Katagihara, the Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson veterinarian, examines Sabrina, a 6-year-old Siberian husky mix, at the base's Veterinary Treatment Facility in Alaska on April 8, 2011. The facility, located on the base's Fort Richardson side, treats thousands of animals a year. Some are military working dogs. (AP Photo/Alaska Star, Zaz Hollander)

EAGLE RIVER — Few people would be surprised to learn there’s a vet clinic on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

But this particular facility treats patients of the four-legged variety, rather than veterans.

It’s a veterinary treatment center.

The facility, located on the base’s Fort Richardson side, treats thousands of animals a year. Some are military working dogs, including a dog that died in March of an inoperable mass in his abdomen.

Many are pets of active-duty or retired military, animals that need shots or check-ups prior to travel. They range from dogs and cats to family pets like gerbils, rabbits, hamsters and guinea pigs.

For many area service men and women, seeing a veterinarian on base makes sense: It’s convenient and it’s familiar.

Harry Beninati, a retired U.S. Marine who lives in Anchorage, brought in his exceedingly friendly 10-year-old black lab, Gunner, for a heart-worm test and an arthritis exam.

“We have our health records over at Elmendorf,” Beninati said. “The military’s sort of like a family thing.”

The clinic’s treatment center handles mostly preventative care, plus some routine sick calls and a few surgeries — spay and neuter procedures, mass removals, procedures like that.

A pre-travel checkup brought sweet-tempered husky mix Sabrina to the center last week. Her owner, Brent Elliott, is transitioning out of the U.S. Air Force and moving to Washington state.

“She looks great — healthy for travel,” pronounced Capt. Reid Katagihara, the base veterinarian.

On average, about 7,000 patients use the center, according to Katagihara. That number’s a bit higher right now, more like 8,300, because the base is in the middle of permanent-change of station season — soldiers and airmen are rotating in and out.

Katagihara, 31, himself arrived in Alaska last June. It’s his third assignment. He deployed to Iraq in November 2008. Working conditions — Katagihara described them as “busy” and “hot” — also included building a clinic from scratch only to be ordered to move on 30 days later.

But the clinics he worked in were about as well-equipped as the JBER facility. Many of the injuries he saw involved military working dogs running into barbed wire.

At JBER, he oversees a staff of five soldiers and some civilian employees. He also keeps a chess board on his desk.

Told that Katagihara was rotating to JBER, a colleague said, “That is the best-kept secret in all of the veterinary command,’ “ he recalled.

The clinic is well equipped, the veterinarian said, but there’s another reason.

“The Alaska community is very supportive of the military,” he said.

All the same, he said, when his three years are up he’ll enjoy the opportunity to move to something different.

After all, along with his own military career, Katagihara is the son of a U.S. Army dentist.

“I don’t know any other lifestyle,” he said.

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