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Caring for retired military dog

Lex, a U.S. Marine Corps bomb-sniffing dog who lost his handler in Iraq, is getting help facing the challenges of aging with war injuries.

Lex was injured in a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Fallujah that killed his handler, Cpl. Dustin Lee of Quitman, Miss. Lee’s parents, Jerome and Rachel Lee, adopted Lex when he was granted retirement from duty.

Lex came to Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in late October. Dr. John Thomason, a CVM small animal internal medicine resident, is his attending physician.

“The main concerns were his reluctance to stand and his difficulty in standing,” Thomason said. “He has also started to drag his hind limb when he walks.”

The college conducted a CT scan and a DNA test to evaluate for a specific genetic condition.

“The CT scan provides us the ability to evaluate his spinal cord and other neurologic structures that could be contributing to his condition,” Thomason said.

Rachel Lee said the blast that killed her 20-year-old son on March 21, 2007, filled Lex’s body with shrapnel, nearly severed his tail, and fragmented the rest of his body. The two had worked together since 2006.

“Dustin and Lex were out in front. They went ahead of the other troops, searching the roadsides and buildings for explosives. They made many, many hits,” Rachel said.

Lex had been a military working dog for eight years and was on his second tour of duty in Iraq when he was injured. After Dustin’s death, Lex went to Camp LeJeune, N.C., to recover and then returned to the Marine base at Albany, Ga., where he had begun his career with Dustin.

Rachel said North Carolina Rep. Walter Jones heard of Dustin and Lex’s story and spearheaded efforts for Lex to be granted retirement and adopted by his deceased handler’s family.

“We adopted him Dec. 21, 2007, nine months to the day after we lost Dustin,” Rachel said.

Dustin’s awards for his service include a Purple Heart, Navy-Marine Corps Commendation Medal with Valor, and a Combat Action Ribbon.

Lex received a commemorative Purple Heart in 2008 for the injuries he received while on duty. In 2008, he was named the American Kennel Club Law Enforcement Dog of the Year.

After he came to live with the Lee family, Lex began a new career visiting veterans’ homes to cheer the residents and visiting schools to teach the children what military working dogs do for their country.

“Lex carries on the spirit of Dustin,” Rachel said. “Lex brings joy where there is sadness. He helps to show the importance of the relationship between a canine and his handler, how close that bond is, and the trust they have with each other as they work to keep others safe.”

Lex’s family is awaiting results of the tests performed on him at MSU, and the diagnosis will determine future treatments. In the meantime, Lex is headed to Washington, D.C., for specialized stem cell exchange surgery, an attempt to rejuvenate his bones.

He may return to MSU’s veterinary college for physical therapy and rehabilitation using an underwater treadmill. Much information is available online about Lex and Dustin, and the family maintains a website at

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