She didn’t expect it, but she couldn’t have been surprised when a police officer with a canine partner recommended her for an award.

Janelle Stubbings, RVT, VTS (EEC), ICU supervisor at VCA Alameda East in Denver, Colo., is part of a team that often works on military or police dogs, the canines in “K9 handler.” She makes herself available 24/7 for phone calls from them. She’s been working with these unique canine clients for as long as she’s worked with Alameda East, where she started with hospital founder Dr. Robert A. Taylor more than 30 years ago. She even married a K9 handler.

And she’s learned to love and respect these working dogs. To help out her husband during training sessions, she used to slip on protective arm sleeves and volunteer as the person the dogs would chase down in a field for practice.

“We’d go out at night, and they’d hide me in a truck or up a tree,” Stubbings says. “And I’d have a little pistol with blanks, and I was supposed to yell at the dogs. They’d be on the other side of a football field, and they’d coming racing right at me, slobbering all over.”

Her care for one particular police dog, Roman, led his handler—Deputy David Zimmerman—to nominate her for the Arapahoe County Sheriff’s Office Meritorious Service Medal.

Especially happy about Stubbings’ work was probably Roman, a Belgian Malinois, who gave Zimmerman and his colleagues a big scare one night back in May.

She refused to leave Roman

It was almost midnight, and Deputy Zimmerman and Roman were running through training exercises. Suddenly, Roman started throwing up blood. Zimmerman called VCA Alameda East, where Stubbings immediately started presurgical procedures.

Things did not look good, as emergency surgery helped doctors diagnose Roman’s mesentery torsion, an often-fatal twisting of the intestines.

However, that night Roman got lucky. Board-certified surgeon Dr. Mandy Rollins removed 70 percent of Roman’s large intestine and saved his small intestine. But the fight wasn’t over, as Zimmerman, Stubbings and others waited to see if Roman would make it through the next few days.

Stubbings worked with the critical care unit to manage round-the-clock care for 72 hours post-surgery, giving pain medications, transfusions of blood and blood platelets, and frequently checking oxygen and blood pressure levels.

Stubbings didn’t say it in an interview with VCA Voice, but a press release from the Sheriff’s Office made clear her dedication: “She refused to leave Roman until he was stabilized, despite multiple nurses and staff members encouraging her to go home.”

“'These dogs are extensions of the officers,' Stubbings says, and they keep these brave men and women safe.'”

 These dogs are extensions of the officers

Treating military and police dogs is a long tradition at VCA Alameda East, according to Stubbings. Founder Dr. Taylor had been in the military, and “K9 dogs have always been close to his heart,” she says.

She and the rest of the team have proudly kept that tradition alive. First, it was five police dogs from Aurora. Then Denver’s dogs started coming in, and soon working dogs were traveling from all over the country. Today, 15 police departments bring in dogs regularly for preventive care, routine procedures and emergency surgeries like Roman’s.

Dr. Taylor’s initial rules about these dogs have also stayed: Officers don’t need to leave their dogs, whether they’re in the operating room or staying overnight. They get discounts for the life of the animals, even when those dogs retire to cushy lives at home (usually with the handler).

Dr. Taylor knew “these dogs are extensions of the officers,” Stubbings says, and they keep these brave men and women safe.

Roman was no different. And like many military and police dogs trained to love their handler more than anybody else, Roman could be high-strung and a little aggressive, she says. He was a “biter,” but he liked Stubbings, and that meant she stayed around to help.

“They can be a handful, if you don’t know what you’re doing,” she says. Only a few staff members at VCA Alameda East are allowed to handle the dogs when they’re not sedated or anesthetized.

It took a village

Roman’s handler, Zimmerman, worked his normal shifts and showed up between them, walking and visiting with Roman and the medical team. After a weeklong hospital stay, Roman went home to retirement with Zimmerman with medications and a new special diet to make sure he’d be okay digesting with his new, shorter intestines.

Stubbings kept in touch with Zimmerman and Roman during follow-up visits, where she enjoyed a special bond with the dog. Unfortunately, a dog who’s experienced twisting once can wind up with torsion again, and that’s what happened to Roman. He underwent a second exploratory surgery for a possible torsion, but then passed away shortly thereafter.

The good part, in Stubbings’ view, is how Roman’s life was nicer in the end, as the rules for handlers have changed. Years ago, handlers weren’t allowed to stay long in K9 jobs, and they couldn’t retire with their partners. Today, you never lose your dog after retirement, so Roman enjoyed many more months of fun and love with Deputy Zimmerman, his best friend.

“It took a village to get this dog where he needed to go,” Stubbings says, considering the entire team of doctors and surgeons who helped make sure Roman lived through a scare and enjoyed a life after service.

"It’s a special thing this hospital allows,” she says. “And corporate has let me continue to focus on them over the years. It’s such an honor to work with them, to sit and watch a police dog stare into their officer’s eyes, just waiting for them to tell them what to do and seeing the love between them.”