Working Dog Center seeks foster families

There’s no doubt, puppies can bring joy to people’s lives with their antics and unconditional love. But what if providing a home for one of these cute and furry critters could reap benefits for society at large, even save human lives?

Working dogs

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).

On Friday, July 13 at noon, the Penn Vet Working Dog Center will hold an information session in the Terrace Room of Claudia Cohen Hall for potential foster families interested in caring for labrador and golden retriever puppies for one year.

The dogs will spend their days training at the Center’s new physical home, which is set to open September 11, 2012, in the South Bank, 3401 Grays Ferry Ave. At the end of the year, the puppies will be transformed into highly trained detection dogs that may go on to careers in search-and-rescue, bomb detection, or policing.

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.

Foster families will care for the eight-week-old puppies on evenings and weekends. The Center is also seeking volunteers who will assist with tasks such as socialization of the puppies and outreach and education for the program.

A professional handler will 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.

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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.

For more information about fostering, volunteering, and donating to the Center, visit or email Sarah Griffith at

Originally published on July 10, 2012