For two years, K-9 Ace has been his handler’s best friend.

“He joined the department in April 2020,” said Zayne Rhed, police officer at the DuBois City Police Department. “And since then, I have spent more time with him than I have spent with my wife! We run together, go for walks together, take time out for tug-toy playtime together, and of course, we spend the whole workday together. We have an unbreakable bond.”

On April 18, 2022, Officer Rhed noticed that the adventurous Belgian Malinois just was not himself.

“It was snowing hard that day, so normally he’d be eager to run, play and work outside in the snow,” said Officer Rhed. “He is a very high-energy dog who never says no to being outside. That day, he just kept laying by my feet, quietly whining, and crying. Then, he started drooling, which was unusual for him. I am with him every day, all day, and I know his normal behaviors well. I know what he does and does not do. I know when something is wrong – and something was wrong.”

“I thought maybe he had an upset stomach, so I let him outside,” said Officer Rhed, “and he just took off running towards the woods. Then he collapsed. I could not believe what I was seeing. I called him back to the house, and he came, but now he was dry heaving, and nothing was coming up.”

Officer Rhed relied on his first aid and CPR training to assess Ace’s health. And then he noticed something unusual happening in Ace’s abdomen.

“I tapped on the left side of his stomach,” he said, “and it sounded like I was tapping a basketball. I knew that air and gas was building up, and we needed to get Ace to a doctor.”

Officer Rhed spoke with Police Chief Blaine Clark, who agreed: Ace needed emergency care.

“There were no 24-hour veterinarians in my area,” said Officer Rhed, “so I called VCA Metzger Animal Hospital in State College, Pennsylvania.”

Roger Miller, emergency technician supervisor at VCA Metzger, was the one who took Officer Rhed’s call that night.

“While we can’t diagnosis without seeing the pet, I did agree with Officer Rhed that the symptoms were very similar to animals with bloat,” said Roger. “Fortunately, the officer recognized these symptoms from past dogs and understood how urgent the situation was. Within 2-3 minutes of our call, he was hopping into the car and heading over. Any time we hear these symptoms, the response is always the same: come here immediately. It is never a wait and see.”

The 90-minute drive to VCA Metzger was long enough for a dog in excruciating pain. On April 18, the region was blanketed with heavy snow, with six to eight inches more falling overnight. Major roadways, including the interstate, were closed to traffic. And Officer Rhed was struggling, just to see his partner in such intense pain.

“There were a lot of tears on the ride out here,” he said. “If it was not for my take-home vehicle, we may not have made it to the hospital on time. We might have wound up in a ditch somewhere.”

When Officer Rhed arrived at the hospital, the care team was ready for Ace.

“I carried him right into the hospital, into the operating room, and put him on the operating table,” he said. “He was in so much pain he could no longer move. When Dr. Granite ran his bloodwork, she rated him a five. She said that six or higher was an extremely critical patient.  Somehow, we had gotten to the hospital right on time.”

Every minute mattered

Dr. Annie Granite was about 90 minutes into her overnight emergency shift when Ace arrived at the hospital.

“The owner noticed Ace’s abdomen appearing more and more distended,” said Dr. Granite, “so the first thing we did was take an X-ray to confirm the bloat. Our team was such a well-oiled machine that night: while Roger managed his catheterization, another veterinary technician started administering fluids, and another stabilized his vitals. Then, we needed to talk to the owner about what was going on.”

“I was convinced, from Ace’s symptoms and the condition of his stomach, that we were dealing with a bloat. And I knew we had to act fast. We got Ace into surgery as soon as possible.”

“He was pretty scared,” said Roger, “but he was stable. Seeing Ace confirmed everything I had heard on the phone: there was a big bulge on his side, and he was retching, panting, and drooling profusely. He was definitely going through a traumatic event.”  

“Ace was everyone’s top priority,” said Roger. “Once we confirmed everything, we began prepping for surgery even before Ace was at the hospital. By the time Ace got there, he had a direct path to the operating room without waiting.”

Bloat, clinically known as gastric dilatation and volvulus (GDV) is a life-threatening disorder that can affect any dog. It begins with the stomach filling with gas, causing a noticeable “bloat” effect. If the bloat progresses, it leads to a life-threatening volvulus, where the overextended stomach twists and blocks both the stomach entrance and exit. The condition requires immediate veterinary intervention and emergency surgery to resolve.

The exact cause of bloat is unknown. Anxiety may contribute to the condition, as well as ingesting substantial amounts of food or water after exercise. It is one of the most serious, non-traumatic conditions that can affect a dog’s health.

“It's a weird thing and it happens pretty quickly,” said Roger. “If you have a barrel-chested breed, including Dobermans, Great Danes, German Shepherds, Saint Bernards, Basset Hounds, and Irish Setters, know that they are prone or predisposed to bloat. You must pay close attention when they start vomiting. If they are dry heaving, i.e., nothing is coming out, you might be dealing with bloat. If they are pacing, uncomfortable, drooling, crying, seek emergency care. Anytime, anyone mentions bloat symptoms over the phone, I recommend they come into the ER, just to be on the safe side.”

Prolonged bloat can cause irreversible tissue death if left untreated.

“The stomach is compromised by bloat,” said Dr. Granite, “and sometimes this can be repaired. But when there is significant tissue death, there is neither any way to repair or survive the condition.”

“Fortunately, there were no other emergencies at the time, so Ace was everyone’s top priority,” said Roger. “Once we confirmed everything, we began prepping for surgery even before Ace was at the hospital. By the time Ace got there, he had a direct path to the operating room without waiting.”

“The VCA Metzger team was so understanding,” said Officer Rhed. “They let me stay with him until the surgery began. I was able to be with him while he was hurting and scared. They comforted me throughout our stay. It was fantastic.”

“Ace’s reputation preceded him at the hospital. Many of his caregivers grew up in the region. They heard about his work from TV or newspapers. There was an overwhelming sense of gratitude for his community service.”

“I will never forget Dr. Granite coming in, and saying, ‘if you or the City do not have the money to pay for this surgery, I want to pay for it myself. It is the right thing to do.’  Fortunately, we had our own means to cover the costs.”

The next hour was hard for Officer Rhed. It was the longest he had been separated from Ace in two years.

“It felt like days, waiting for him to come out of surgery, but it was probably only 60 minutes,” he said. “So much was running through my mind. I knew how serious bloat was. I kept worrying we had not caught it fast enough. I worried that Ace might not survive.”

When Officer Rhed returned from picking up donuts for the team, Ace was out of surgery.

“They told me he was alive and well,” he said, “and the tears just came.”

“The surgery went very well,” said Dr. Granite. “The whole night went great. Ace started eating again quickly and went out for walks only a few hours after surgery. He recovered a lot faster than most bloats I have seen before. In addition to Roger Miller, I would like to thank Ida Phelps, Honey Kanouff, and Barry St. George, who were all quite pivotal in Ace’s successful outcome.”

“Ace’s surgery went as smoothly as any bloat surgery could go,” said Roger. “He was standing up in his cage shortly after being extubated. He was immediately less anxious and more comfortable. Typically, when we deal with service dogs, they are on high edge all the time, regardless of what they are being seen for. Ace was different:  he can be calm, comfortable, and friendly. He is not ‘on’ all the time.”

“Officer Rhed was definitely relieved by all means,” said Police Chief Blaine Clark, “but he is being a bit modest. In all my years in the police force, I have never seen a bond like the one those two share. This dog is a member of his family. If something happened to Ace, it would have been like losing a human partner. We are all more than thankful for the VCA Metzger team for this life-saving event.”

“As the Chief of Police for DuBois City, I must comment Officer Rhed’s ability to identify the health issue causing K-9 Ace’s distress. The K-9 would not be here today without his fast action. K-9 Ace is a huge ambassador for our community – and it would have been a tremendous loss if he had left us.”

Back on the beat

Ace went home the day after surgery.

“He thought he was back to normal,” said Officer Rhed, “but it was difficult for him to move from a laying position to a standing or sitting position. I had to help him out quite a bit for the first two weeks. On his first day back to work, he was so happy to get to the station and see all his friends and co-workers.”

Ace went back to work a week after surgery, but with some cautious limitations. He was not supposed to run, jump, or exert himself. Of course, Ace did not listen very well to his doctor’s advice.

“He’s always been so fearless,” said Officer Rhed. “So, I was not surprised when he jumped right through a car window. And I thought, oh Ace, Dr. Granite would not be too happy with you right now!”

Two weeks later, Ace was back to full-time duty. If not for his shaved stomach and his incision scar, nobody would have ever believed the ambitious dog just had life-saving surgery.

DuBois City recently issued citations honoring VCA Associates Dr. Annie Granite and Roger Miller for their “immediate, courageous, brave and compassionate” care which will “never be forgotten.”

K-9 Ace attended the ceremony in person.

“He was sniffing, leaping, and playful,” said Roger. “His tail was wagging like crazy. He was feeling himself again – and he was so happy to see us.”

“Ace is really important to the area as a whole,” said Dr. Granite. “He has really made a name for himself on the force. It was an honor to care for an animal that has done so much for so many.”

“I grew up in DuBois City,” said Roger, “and the town has gone through a lot of changes since I lived there. I do not remember any police dogs when I lived there, but we all have heard so much about Ace. He’s a jack of all trades:  he helps people who are lost, supports police operations, tracks criminals on the run.  It is amazing how one dog can help a whole community like he does.”

“We understood the importance of getting him back on the job,” said Roger. “But I understood -- at the awards ceremony they held for us – how much the police consider Ace a hero among heroes. From the outside looking in, it was good to see how highly he is regarded.”

“Ace has been such a tremendous success for us,” said Chief Clark. “He is proven everyone’s notions wrong and became their hometown hero. Officer Rhed serves 99% of the credit for Ace’s performance. He has done a fantastic job of training him. And we have a great dog to work with!”

“Ace’s first reaction to people is always the same,” said Officer Rhed. “All he wants you to do is pet him and praise him. He is a 24/7 attention seeker. At the same time, I know that this dog would defend me to the death. He would do anything for me. His demeanor, his personality, his spirit…he can switch from personal to professional in a second.”

“I take more photos of Ace than I take of my wife!” confessed Officer Rhed. “He only has a brief time on the earth, and I want to remember every moment.”

Nobody expects an emergency. Be confident that care is close to home. Click here to locate the closest 24/7 veterinary emergency hospital near you.