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Sandpoint's Own:   Veteran Veterinarian Back on the Beat

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When I met Dr. Cherise Neu in 2002, it was under rather stressful circumstances. Having just graduated from Ross University with a Veterinary Medical degree and returning home to her dream-job, she was subsequently abandoned by her employer, after a few short days, and informed that her job no longer existed. Within a week Neu explained her circumstance and was quickly hired by North Idaho Animal Hospital (NIAH) in Sandpoint. Who might have guessed the career turn she would take 15 years later? In 2011 Neu became a captain in the United States Army.

     Why, many might ask, would the Army need a veterinarian? The deployment of official Army dogs dates back to WWI and has become of even greater relevance today. These protective canines act as sentries, detect explosives and narcotics, attack insurgents, and track combatants to name but a few dangerous duties. Soldiers who train and rely on these animals develop immeasurably complex and emotional relationships. In Vietnam, it is estimated that the dogs and their handlers saved over 10,000 lives.

     Shortly after beginning her career at NIAH, Neu married Eron Singleton and started a family. In 2010 the couple relocated to Houston -following Eron's career needs as a structural geologist. It was at this point that Neu joined the United States Army Reserve. Not coincidentally, both of her grandfather's, Sam Wormington and Bill Neu, were soldiers in WWII. Their experiences provided a foundation for Neu's childhood perspective.

     Neu's eventual deployment first took her from the South Pacific (2013), where she performed an assortment of highly rewarding humanitarian work, to this year's stint in Kandahar, Afghanistan living “behind the wire” (2016). Black Hawk helicopter missions in full-body armor, night-time rocket attacks and traumatic injuries to both soldiers and their dogs were interlaced with periods of oppressive heat, lonliness, and waiting. Injured canine patients (mostly Belgian Malinois) received the full range of medical technology to treat the traumatic wounds, fractured bones, heat stroke, and the degenerative problems which occur in these dog-soldiers.

     Interestingly, tough medical and surgical cases were not the most difficult part of her job. The interruption/separation of family time nagged at her daily. Sleep deprivation, she followed one trauma-case through over 40 hours of care without a break, was also among her toughest challenges.

     The importance of the “Human-Animal Bond”is well understood. Dr. Leo Bustad (Washington State University School of Veterinary Medicine) described and celebrated this mutually beneficial relationship between people and other animals which is defined by behaviors that are essential to the well being of both. The Bond is publicly embraced by local author and television personality Dr. Marty Becker (also NIAH). Certainly, Neu's life experiences in Bonner County, and now her work with the Army, has given her ample fodder to witness the Bond.

     “I must say,” Neu recently opined, “the depth of the relationship between these soldiers and their dogs is something far beyond anything I could have imagined – the interdependence and love is hard to fathom and even harder to describe but has been a life-changing experience for me. ”

Dr. Neu returned to the Middle East to care for American contract working dogs in Iraq through December, 2016. 

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