Penn Vet Working Dog Center: Training hairy heroes

Bretagne, a 12-week old Golden Retriever, is part of the first class of puppies at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center.

When rescue crews responded to Ground Zero in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, one of the most important components were detection dogs who used their noses to find survivors in the rubble.

The work of those dogs was inspiration for the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, which opened yesterday on the 11th anniversary of the tragedy.

The center is headed by Dr. Cynthia Otto, a veterinarian at the University of Pennsylvania, who treated the detection dogs at Ground Zero and at Hurricane Katrina. The nonprofit center will train a small number of dogs for detection, but primarily focus on research to help those in the field determine the best training and breeding methods.

“Not every dog can do this work. Your average pet dog’s not going to do that work,” Otto said. “They have to have the mental capacity, the physical capacity and the drive to actually persist at that.”

The research could prove particularly helpful given the shortage of detection dogs bred domestically. Most working dogs, even those used by the military, are European-bred, according to Otto.

The center will not only observe the behavior of the dogs, but will also analyze their DNA.

After the dogs complete their yearlong training, they will be sold or donated to local or regional law enforcement agencies, Otto said.

The two finest dogs will work with the University of Pennsylvania Police Department as their only detection dogs.

David Kontny, an official with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said his agency will be keeping an eye on the work taking place at the center.

“I think we need to look to see what academia is doing across the country and really solidify that and take the things that they learn from research and apply it across the country, whether it’s with Homeland Security or [other] agencies,” Kontny said following the opening ceremony.

Otto said her hope is that the center will not only benefit those training detection dogs, but also yield some lessons for the average pet-lover.

“The information that we gather here … that has relevance to all of the different working fields, as well as some things that will be important for pet dogs that will help people learn to have a better relationship with their dog,” she said.

Named after Ground Zero

All of the dogs at the center are donated from kennels or breeders. While their breeds vary, Otto said it is important that the dogs are no more than a few months old, so that the training can begin when they are impressionable, but not scared.

“We’re interested in the health and performance,” she said.

As a tribute to the dogs involved in the 9/11 search and rescue, each of the seven dogs in the first class has been named after a dog who worked at Ground Zero. The center, which is funded through charitable donations, has also matched the dogs with foster families who are Penn employees.

As a nonprofit, the center is also looking for volunteers. Those interested in volunteering should visit the website,


Florida man charged with murdering son to play…

A Florida man annoyed that his 16-month-old crying son was preventing him from playing video games suffocated the toddler, police said on Friday.


Powerful 7.2 magnitude earthquake rattles Mexico

A powerful earthquake struck Mexico Friday, shaking buildings and sending people running into the street, although there were no reports of major damage.


OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…


Oval oasis: Summer of fun kicks off this…

A bold partnership between the Fairmount Park Conservancy and the city's Parks and Recreation Department is kicking off this weekend with family activities re-activating this unused public space.


Whoopi Goldberg makes her debut as marijuana columnist

"It helps my head stop hurting, and with glaucoma your eyes ache, and she takes the ache out. It's wonderful," she said.

The Word

Kate Middleton made fun of Prince William's bald…

Kate Middleton and Prince William are in Sydney, Australia, right now, and it sounds like that brash Aussie sense of humor might be rubbing off.

The Word

Is Tom Cruise dating Laura Prepon?

"Mission: Impossible" star Cruise is said to be dating Laura Prepon, star of "Orange is the New Black."


'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…


Jimmy Rollins is key to Phillies success

When John Kruk was asked about what the Phillies need to contend for a playoff berth, the ESPN analyst said Jimmy Rollins needs to play like a MVP again.


Ben Revere lifts Phillies to avoid sweep

Ben Revere came through with a two-out RBI single against Atlanta’s tough lefthander Alex Wood.


Season wrap: 76ers make the grade

The 76ers opened the 2013-14 season with a victory over the Miami Heat. The Sixers closed the season with a win at Miami.


Fantasy basketball: Finding next year's NBA studs

Before we put the 2013-14 fantasy basketball season to bed, it’s worth thinking about next year’s breakouts while they’re fresh in our mind.


VIDEO: 'Vein-scanning' may become the future of paying

Designed to make transactions quicker and easier, the technology works by scanning the unique vein patterns in each person's palm.


#FollowFriday: 10 of the smartest Twitter accounts

Spending lots of time on Twitter? You might as well learn something. Here are some of the smartest accounts to follow.


Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.


Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.