MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan --
The 35th Security Forces Squadron has 10 military working dogs stationed at Misawa Air Base, aiding in the safety and security for Team Misawa. Just like our Airmen, these dogs have routine medical checkups to ensure they remain fit to fight.
Rachel Hixenbaugh, a Misawa Vet Clinic animal health assistant, tends to these dogs, ensuring their health is up to standards.
“I love working with animals,” said Hixenbaugh. “It’s really fun and fulfilling for me to work with these patients and keep them as my clientele.”
She started at the Misawa Pet Kennel as a volunteer and made her way to the Misawa Vet Clinic in the summer of 2017. This isn't her first time in a clinic, though; she's worked with animals for the past 12 years.
“I missed animals and the medical aspect of taking care of them,” explained Hixenbaugh, as she described her transition from the pet kennel to the vet clinic. “I love participating in the surgeries and dental cleanings for the dogs, and I wanted to educate people on what it took to actually own and care for a pet.”
The Hawaii-native explains some people are not prepared for the many responsibilities associated with pet ownership. As a result, she does her best in explaining the needs of different breeds to those considering buying a dog.
“She is on top of things, and she’s been a ton of help around the clinic, especially covering noncommissioned officer work when we didn’t have one,” said Capt. Kevin Smith, the Misawa veterinarian. “She’s always willing to jump in and do whatever it takes to help.”
Hixenbaugh has a passion for working with all kinds of dogs, but she empathizes with military working dogs because of their potential to be aggressive.
These dogs are responsible for detecting explosive ordinance and drugs and conducting perimeter checks with their handlers, which requires them to be disciplined and obedient.
“I really like working with aggressive dogs because most of them are misunderstood,” said Hixenbaugh. “If you actually take the time to work with them and be patient with them, you’ll see a whole other side of the animal you did not know existed.”
Hixenbaugh is a pillar of stability for military members and their animals because she has shown them she can be trusted with their pets.
“A lot of the families here at Misawa appreciate her as the familiar face,” said Smith. “In the military, things change often, and it’s nice for people to have a vet they know and trust with their animals.”
Hixenbaugh dedicates her life to taking care of animals and continues to do so, even when she is not at the clinic; she has 10 animals of her own between her home in Hawaii and here.
“There are so many abused and neglected animals, but when we give them attention and love, we see the change,” said Hixenbaugh. “That means a lot to me; there is something about it that’s very healing.”