Joining the thousands of personnel in Salt Lake that helped to secure the Olympic Games were more than 100 working dogs that also put in long hours and endured potentially dangerous conditions. For the first time, a state-of-the-art sports medicine center was established to help maintain the dogs' physical and mental health.
Staffed by four veterinarians and an animal physical therapist, the center worked to maintain the endurance and focus of the dogs through a variety of innovative treatment services, including acupuncture, thermography and chiropractic care.
"By taking some of the more proactive preventative techniques for equines and athletes and applying it to dogs, we can catch things earlier and do the types of therapies that eliminate downtime," explained Dr. Kimberly Henneman, the veterinary coordinator. Henneman and her colleagues, who donated their time, were available to all dog handlers involved in Olympic security.
Even before the Games began, dogs trained in search-and-rescue, explosives detection, avalanche rescue and other specialties were active in Salt Lake as part of what has been an unprecedented level of cooperation among local, state and federal responders.
For Shawn Winder of the Park City Fire District, the sports medicine center provided a strong measure of comfort. Winder's dog Nikko is trained in explosives detection and avalanche rescue. But those are not Nikko's only talents — he was also the ring-bearer in Winder's wedding. Not to be outdone, her husband's service dog Atticus was the best man.
"We have a family of service animals," said Winder. "Nikko is a little bit older, and this helps maintain him in top physical condition, so that he can retire healthy."
The efforts of Henneman and her colleagues were meant to enhance traditional veterinary medicine, not replace it. With Nikko and the other working dogs at peak performance, they were able to stay focused on what they do best — so Olympic athletes and visitors were able to do the same.