PATUXENT RIVER NAVAL AIR STATION, MD – NAS Patuxent River Security cut the ribbon on its new Military Working Dog (MWD) Kennel this spring as part of its commitment to greater base security. The opening is the culmination of nearly two years of work between NAS Patuxent River, Naval District Washington, and various security entities among the U.S. Navy and U.S. Army.
Prior to the kennel’s opening at Pax River, the MWDs assigned to Pax River were housed in kennels at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling. Security personnel at Pax sought to streamline their MWD operations by improving the existing kennel into a DoD-compliant facility to house their own contingent of MWDs for improved security operations that negated transport from the D.C. area.
Taking on this task was a dedicated pair of Masters-at-Arms at Pax River, Master-at-Arms 1st Class Trevor Houseknecht, and Master-at-Arms 2nd Class Kaila Gentry.
“It was my job to determine the flaws of the original kennel structure, find out what we were missing to meet the standards of the Navy Instruction, and get dogs back on Pax,” said Houseknecht. “MA2 Gentry and I identified 126 discrepancies and made a Statement of Work to correct all but four of them that were too costly. We were there to watch every nail, cinder block, pipe, and paint get placed per our Statement of Work.”
The team began working on the project in late 2020 and linked up with a regional expert in MDW kennel operations, Army Capt. William Ciancarelli created a kennel that was up to code. Ciancarelli, the chief veterinarian of Joint Base Andrews’ Veterinary Branch under the Public Health Activity at Fort Belvoir, proved to be an invaluable resource for the project.
“My role in the kennel project was to provide subject matter expertise requested by the previous kennel master to assess the build of the Patuxent River kennel based on my knowledge of kennel design and its impact on animal welfare and safety,” said Ciancarelli. “Together from July 2020 to March 2022, we were able to get the addition of an isolation kennel, graded floors, larger drains, and removal of several trees that posed an imminent danger of falling on the kennel. Spending a total of 960 hours in planning and execution of the project.”
Ciancarelli added that Houseknecht hosted more than 30 in-person meetings and teleconferences ensuring kennel construction occurred timely and met the scope of work, ensuring seamless communication between Naval Facilities Command, Public Health Command Atlantic, and the NAS Pax River chains of command.
“MA1 Houseknecht and MA2 Gentry went in day-to-day once the final Scope of Work was put into place,” said Ciancarelli. “I went checked in at least monthly to quarterly usually during my military sanitation inspections; I have to say we would probably still be working on this if it were not for MA1 Houseknecht’s drive and support from his command to have this completed.”
By reinstating an MWD kennel at Pax River, the installation security team not only improved its overall readiness but also cut logistical costs associated with housing and transporting the dogs off-site. The increased boarding also allows for four additional MWD teams to support regional security operations.
“The NAS Pax River kennel covers the South Potomac Region, and having the Pax River kennel operational with the additional four MWD teams greatly enhances our response time and security posture,” said Houseknecht.
The specifications of the facilities necessary to house the MWDs denote the highly specialized nature of their training and handling. The MWDs and their handlers work diligently in the detection of explosives, narcotics, and intruders.
“MWDs come trained when reporting to their duty station but need to be advanced their training to obtain their certification before gaining authorization to search on base,” said Houseknecht. “This timeline is completed in no more than six months. Our teams gained their certification in two months – record time. A lot of hard work, long days, and sweat went into the success achieved by our junior handlers.”
The health of the dogs is also a primary concern as well. MWD veterinary care, including housing, ensures health readiness in the event of deployment needs. Prior to leaving the DOD MWD Veterinary Service Dog Center at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, they will receive a battery of preventative medical procedures, microchipping, and a tattoo number. The dogs are then seen monthly by a 68T Animal Care Specialist for weighing and body conditioning scoring with preventative medicine checks where flea, tick, heartworm, and internal parasite treatment is administered.
“Any concerns about the MWDs are relayed from handlers to the 68T and then to the Veterinary Corps Officer responsible for the kennel,” said Ciancarelli. “MWDs are seen by a VCO at least semiannually for their Semiannual Physical Exam. At least once a year dogs younger than 8 they will receive full blood screening, rabies tittering, tick-borne illness, and heartworm screening. They will also receive their vaccines yearly as well. All records will be inspected by a VCO at least semiannually to ensure that any ongoing problems are addressed and that the dogs are able to work unimpeded. Quarterly they will also go to the kennel to perform a kennel inspection and/or training for the handlers for working dog care. This is especially emphasized at Pax River due to their distance from a military veterinarian.”