A Grand Opening for Penn Vet’s Working Dog Center

On a bright, blue-skied September day—reminiscent of the beautiful but tragic Tuesday morning 11 years ago—the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine paid tribute to 9/11 with a nod toward the future.

Penn Vet’s Working Dog Center marked its grand opening at the South Bank area of campus with music, a color guard, and remarks by the Center’s director Cynthia Otto and invited guests. The Working Dog Center will train and conduct research on detection dogs.

Three dog-handler teams that participated in search-and-rescue efforts in the immediate wake of 9/11 played a special role in the ceremony. They were presented with awards for their efforts from the American Kennel Club, and received a standing ovation from the audience.

Also during the celebration detection dogs and their handlers performed demonstrations, showing off the animals’ uncanny abilities to sniff out a hidden credit card, a bullet casing, and a simulated explosive device.

However, the undisputed stars of the event were the seven puppies—some sleepy, some wriggly—that will comprise the Center’s inaugural class of working dogs. Each weekday for the next year, the six retrievers and one Dutch shepherd, donated by breeders around the country, will receive specialized training to become effective police dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, or bomb or narcotic detection dogs. At night and on weekends, the dogs will make their homes with foster families.

When the dogs “graduate,” they will be sold to organizations such as local police forces, the military, and the Transportation Security Administration. Two females in the graduating class will join the Penn Police and may be part of the Center’s attempt to breed exceptional working dogs.

Otto says she was inspired to create the Working Dog Center after helping care for detection dogs that deployed to search for survivors in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attacks. To honor their legacy, each member of the Center’s first class of puppies has been named for a 9/11 dog: Bretagne, Kaiser, Morgan, Bear, Sirius, Socks, and Thunder.

Text by Katherine Unger Baillie
Photos by Steve Minicola