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Looking after Lex

A wounded canine war veteran gets cutting-edge care with the help of The HSUS and friends

  • His service in Iraq left Lex with a commemorative Purple Heart and shrapnel injuries. Connie Harriman-Whitfield/The HSUS

by Julie Hauserman

Lex is a war hero who knows about loyalty. The German shepherd was wounded in a 2007 rocket attack that killed his handler, 20-year-old Cpl. Dustin Lee, in Iraq. Lex’s shrapnel wounds left him with a painful gait. Now, thanks to an assist by The Humane Society of the United States, Lex has received cutting-edge treatment for his pain.

“This is a beautiful story of giving on the part of many people,”’ observed Connie Harriman-Whitfield, senior advisor to The HSUS's president and CEO, Wayne Pacelle.

A revolutionary procedure for an old friend

Harriman-Whitfield happened to be in her veterinarian’s office in Washington, D.C., with her own dogs when she spotted a brochure describing a revolutionary treatment that helps dogs grow new cartilage. A veterinarian injects stem cells from the dog’s own fat into the affected joint. The treatment takes about three days and has an 80 percent success rate.

Harriman-Whitfield immediately thought about Lex. She had seen the retired service dog in February 2009, during a ceremony in which he was honored at Capitol Hill and later when Lex visited wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Hospital and Bethesda Naval Hospital. She was worried about his painful gait.

So she asked her veterinarian, Dr. Lee Morgan, if Lex would be a candidate for the stem-cell treatment. He told her yes.

Friends in need

Lex lives in Mississippi. Over time, his condition had worsened. Harriman-Whitfield got on the phone to raise money to pay for treatment and get the canine war veteran to Washington. She was able to raise $4,400—The HSUS donated $2,000, and 30 individuals contributed the remainder.

On Nov. 15, Lex began his four-day treatment. It takes four to six weeks to show improvement, but Harriman-Whitfield and Lex’s owners say he seemed better right away.

“He was visibly improved within 24 hours, which is amazing. He didn’t seem to be in as much pain,” Harriman-Whitfield said.

“I think a lot of people are watching the outcome,” she said. “There are a lot of military dogs who are wounded, and hopefully this will be an option for them.”

Retired, but still serving

Lex, now retired from military service, was awarded a commemorative Purple Heart for his bravery in Iraq. Through the efforts of U.S. Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina, Lex was granted early retirement and adopted by his late handler's family, a military first. He now lives in Mississippi with Cpl. Lee’s parents, Jerome and Rachel Lee. Lex tours veterans’ facilities and visits schools to teach children about military working dogs.

"When he came home to us, it was like he'd always been here," Jerome Lee told Mississippi’s Clarion-Ledger newspaper. "He bonded with all of us."

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