UF College of Veterinary Medicine X K9s For Warriors: A Unique “Paw”tnership

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

3 min read

University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine

University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine students and faculty made a special visit to our national headquarters in 2023 to kickstart an especially unique “paw”tnership.

The group traveled 75 miles from the Gainesville-based campus to volunteer their time and skills and perform examinations on future K9s For Warriors Service Dogs. During their first visit, the UF College of Veterinary Medicine team completed ophthalmology and cardiology exams on roughly 120 dogs, providing vital hands-on experience for these future veterinarians. 

For UF master’s and resident student Colleen Dwyer, the visit meant much more. 

“I’m a veteran myself,” she said. “These dogs are four-legged furry heroes.” She remembers her time in the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps fondly. “I am so grateful for all of the connections that I was able to make there, so this felt like an amazing opportunity to give back.” 

During her service, Dwyer helped provide care to an array of different animals — ceremonial horses, working animals of Department of Homeland Security organizations, and pets owned by service members. But her favorite part of the job?  “Working with military working dogs,” she smiled. “Being here almost feels like coming home again.” 

Along with the rest of the UF team, Dwyer got right to work upon arriving at K9s For Warriors. The team, all dressed in scrubs, unloaded their trunk — filled to the brim with diagnostic tools — and filed into the veterinary building to set up shop for the day. There was an excited buzz in the air as they brought in the first dog of the day: Polar, a bright, almost-white cream retriever.  

They handled him with care, giving him love and belly rubs before beginning the exam. More than 40 other dogs would follow Polar that day, receiving top-tier care from the University of Florida team. “Working with the UF team was an absolutely amazing experience,” said K9s For Warriors Veterinary Medical Manager Alyssa Standridge.  

“With their assistance, we were able to identify a few minor medical concerns in our dogs. This prevents future complications for our Service Dogs and Warriors.” 

From there, the teams could schedule further diagnostics and necessary additional care. The UF team performed ophthalmic and cardio exams on each of the dogs, looking for any abnormalities, ensuring both eyes were working properly.  

They inspected the cornea, the clear layer over the eye, as well as the anterior chamber, the area between the cornea and the iris. They also used a XX to examine the back of the eye, looking at the dogs’ retinas, assessing for disease or damage. 

For those of us non-veterinarians?

“We were looking at eyes and listening to hearts to make sure the tickers were ticking properly and our pups could see properly,” Dwyer said. “These dogs need to be able to see to do their job and help their partners.” 

For residency students like Dwyer, this was invaluable hands-on experience. “I want to be able to see as many dogs as possible, finding any abnormalities that I can spot myself. I was with my mentor, Dr. Karen Plummer, and it was an incredible learning opportunity,” she said. 

Aside from the important practical experience, the visit also sparked Dwyer’s sense of pride and purpose, reminding her why she started her career in the first place. “These dogs are so passionate about their jobs, it makes me want to be even more passionate about mine,” she beamed. 

To join the K9s For Warriors team, apply for a position today! 

To receive a life-saving Service Dog like Polar, APPLY here 

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