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K-9 Hero

Photos by Dan Bishop

January 2015

Dr. Marla Lichtenberger with one
of her K-9 pals.

Marla Lichtenberger sees a lot of police and sheriff’s department K-9s at her Milwaukee Emergency Center for Animals and Specialty Services in Greenfield. The board-certified critical care veterinarian not only provides health care for the dogs, but she trains the officers in first aid and CPR so they can help their K-9 heroes in an emergency.

She quickly learned that dogs are often the first to apprehend suspects, and "they’re the first ones shot or stabbed." So she founded the MECA Foundation, with a goal of purchasing safety vests for all the police dogs in Wisconsin. The foundation also purchases dogs, mostly from Europe, for smaller police departments that otherwise would not be able to afford them.

"It’s just been such a wonderful fit. These guys are so wonderful," she says. "We’ve supplied probably about 10 dogs and many, many vests — maybe 25 or so." Every summer, the MECA Foundation hosts a fundraiser to provide even more life-saving vests and law enforcement K-9s.

But Lichtenberger’s 24/7 emergency veterinary practice goes far beyond dogs with a badge.

"We see a lot of dogs hit by cars, a lot of dogs with hypothermia," she says. "People don’t realize that once it’s below zero, especially older dogs and the thin and smaller dogs can’t tolerate temperatures that are so low. Five minutes is enough for them to get frostbite."

Cats, reptiles, chinchillas, birds, rabbits and hamsters get into their share of emergency situations, too. The hospital has seen them all. Lichtenberger’s own dog, Packer, often greets them at the door. The terrier mix has three legs and is missing an eye.

Perhaps Lichtenberger’s most difficult case was a terrier mix named Beatrice, who was found roaming the parking lot at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino last March, her skin essentially burned off. The Milwaukee Area Domestic Animal Control Commission (MADACC) was called, and the organization found the owner because luckily, the dog had a chip.

Beatrice was "shakey and cold and in really bad shape," Lichtenberger says. The dog had been abducted from the yard of the owner, who’d spent six days frantically trying to find her pet. After a reward was posted for information about the case, a tip led police to a man whom they arrested for animal abuse. He was charged with burning Beatrice intentionally, in his bathtub.

Lichtenberger treated Beatrice for "months and months," she says, but when the dog’s skin became infected, she called on Dr. John Weigelt at Froedtert & the Medical College for help. Weigelt, a veterinarian turned surgeon, was able to secure donated pigskin, which was grafted onto Beatrice.

"After we put that pigskin in, everything started turning around," Lichtenberger says. "It’s super fun to have a good outcome. And (Beatrice) is such a sweet little thing. She would lick our faces every time she came in here."

Lichtenberger says every day at the emergency medical center brings a new challenge.

"I’m just thrilled to death to help all these animals, and everybody here has the same kind of energy," she says. "You never know what’s going to come through your doors."


This story ran in the January 2015 issue of: