War dog shows heart, gets veterinary care

A bomb-sniffing war dog that saved thousands of American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan has a new lease on life after heart surgery Sept. 16 at CSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Photo of Brandon, Kay and Brandi
Brandon, Kay and Brandi meet with the media after the dog’s release from the hospital on Sept. 17.

Kay, a 9-year-old pit bull and Labrador mix, served two tours in Iraq hunting down improvised explosive devices. Then U.S. Army Spec. Brandon Donahue became the war dog’s handler and grew devoted to Kay during three years of grueling bomb-detection work in Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Donahue adopted Kay in May 2013, after the soldier and dog finished their final tour of duty. Donahue and his wife, Brandi, wanted to give back to Kay after he had given them and others so much. They hoped to provide the retired war dog with a relaxed life at their home in Brighton, Colo.

But the Donahues learned that Kay has an inoperable heart tumor, a condition that some veterinarians told them would require euthanasia. The Donahues were undaunted in their desire to help Kay – and they found the help they sought with canine heart specialists and surgeons at CSU.

“He put his life in danger, sometimes more than I did,” Brandon recalled of their military service. “It means the world that we were able to return the favor and help him out.”

Brandon said the Taliban called Kay “the devil dog,” not only because he was so effective at finding IEDs, but because the war dog’s eyes turned a glowing reddish color in the desert’s bright sunshine.

Kay’s story was aired by Denver media in early September, prompting donors to contribute $9,825 through an online fundraising account for the dog’s surgery and subsequent at-home care.

The surgery involved draining fluid from the sac around his heart, allowing the heart to function more effectively even with inoperable cancer. Overseeing the procedure was Dr. Catriona MacPhail, a CSU surgical oncologist and small animal chief medical officer.

The procedure will extend Kay’s life and increase his comfort – providing heart help for a dog that for years gave his all for others.