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Mending Military's Injured "Canine Heroes"

Since 9/11, the Defense Department has tripled the number of dogs the military uses to protect and assist U.S. troops here and abroad.

Just like humans, those four-legged soldiers get injured in the line of duty.

And now, reports The Early Show's resident veterinarian, Dr. Debye Turner Bell, there's a new facility to treat the canine heroes.

There are few warriors as gung-ho as military dogs, according to Capt. John Farmer, a canine operations officer. He told Bell, "These dogs are designed to go down range and keep our troops alive and, as far as we have advanced with technology, it still can't replace what these dogs do and bring to the fight."

Farmer helps run the world's largest military dog training center, at Lackland Air Force Base, in San Antonio, Texas. "If that dog can get into harm's way and keep that soldier, sailor, airman or marine safe, then the dog's done its job," he says.

During the Vietnam War, military dogs played a major role as sentries, Bell says. Today, dog teams are used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan to search out explosives. There are 1,000 m military canines in the U.S. and more than 200 helping overseas.

But if the dogs become casualties themselves, many are brought to the brand new, $15 million dollar veterinary hospital at Lackland, specifically designed to treat them.

"We have the capacity to take care of these more complicated cases and a larger number of cases," says Col. Bob Vogelsang, the hospital's director.

He adds that the diagnostic equipment there is comparable to what you'd find in a human hospital, including a CT scanner, which provides 3-D images of a dog's internal anatomy so real, it virtually gives veterinarians X-ray vision.

The facility "certainly" reflects how vital the military dogs have become, Vogelsang says. "These dogs have become so important during the last seven years (that) if we didn't have a facility like this to take care of them, we would just be letting them down, because they give us so much in return."

In Vietnam, injured war dogs were often euthanized or left overseas. But today, they can have a full career and long life even after being injured in combat.

Vogelsang says they're indeed heroes, "just like any other service member who has helped in the war on terror. They certainly have endured hardships that the rest of us haven't. They really are the quiet warriors. They are out there doing their thing every day, just because they want to please us. So certainly they all are heroes."

One dog handler who's been deployed twice with his canine partner told Bell the bond between them is indescribable. Bell says he told her he'd rather to go war with his dog than a human "hands down" because he put his life in the dog's hands/paws, and he comes through every time.