Working Dog Center to open at South Bank this fall

Working Dog Center

From left, Mary Flood and Cynthia Otto, director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, helping out after Hurricane Katrina with working dogs Sage (the border collie) and Jake (the lab).

Though the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks will be a time for somber reflection, the Penn Vet Working Dog Center is using the day to celebrate the opening of a new physical space—located in the South Bank, 3401 Grays Ferry Ave.—for training detection dogs.

The Sept. 11 ribbon-cutting date is particularly resonant for the Center, a nonprofit within Penn born from the study of search-and-rescue dogs that sought survivors in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Officially formed in 2007, the organization has been without a physical home.

“The Working Dog Center has a research component, an education component, and what’s going to open on Sept. 11 is the training component,” says Sarah Griffith, the Center’s assistant director.

The new facility will offer a dedicated space for transforming young puppies into highly trained detection dogs that may go on to careers in search-and-rescue, bomb detection, or policing.

The Center is currently seeking foster families to care for the first class of eight-week-old puppies.

“The foster families will drop them off in the morning and pick them up in the evening,” says Griffith. “During the day there will be a full training curriculum.”

A professional handler will help train the dogs with the assistance of volunteers and interns, some of whom will be selected through partnerships between the Center and programs that assist at-risk youth, veterans, and parolees.

Working Dog

A lab puppy in training at the facility of one of the breeders likely to provide puppies.

When the dogs “graduate” after a year of training, they will be sold to national security organizations such as military groups, local police departments, and the Transportation Security Administration.

Cynthia Otto, Center director and an associate professor at Penn Vet, says some of the dogs will remain members of the Penn community.

“Two of our best female dogs will become Penn Police dogs and stay on campus,” she says. 

The dogs’ progress will be carefully tracked to advance the Center’s research program. Ultimately, Otto hopes to identify specific genetic elements and training techniques that allow the Center to breed consistently energetic, disciplined, and successful working dogs.

The Center is holding an information session on Friday, July 13, at noon in the Terrace Room of Claudia Cohen Hall for those interested in becoming a foster family for the puppies in the program for one year.

For more information about fostering, volunteering, and donating to the Center, visit www.pennvetwdc.org or email Sarah Griffith at griff@vet.upenn.edu.

Originally published on June 28, 2012