Philly canine search and rescue program, inspired by 9/11, celebrates 10th anniversary

Penn Vet Working Dog Center in Grays Ferry has become nationally-recognized
One of the dogs being trained at Penn Vet Working Dog Center in Grays Ferry.
One of the dogs being trained at Penn Vet Working Dog Center in Grays Ferry. Photo credit John McDevitt/KYW Newsradio

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — A canine search and rescue program inspired by efforts in the wake of the 9/11 attacks has reached a key milestone. The Penn Vet Working Dog Center in Grays Ferry is celebrating its 10th year in operation.

“Good Boy! He is a super athlete,” Penn Vet’s Dr. Cindy Otto says about Austin, a 6-month-old Belgian Malinois as he demonstrated his search and rescue skills by climbing an 8-foot ladder and walking across a plank to the other side at the center.

Inspired by the working dogs of 9/11, Dr. Otto founded the Working Dog Center in 2012. It’s become a nationally-recognized research and development center to train detection dogs.

“It’s so important to realize that these dogs are individuals. They have their own skill set,” said Dr. Otto, the center’s executive director.

“They have their own personalities, but even physically, some of the dogs are more comfortable doing things than others. Some of our dogs actually will never climb that really tall ladder. Taking that into account and then looking at what their career should be [is] based on that information.”

The dogs enter the program at eight weeks old and get trained for about a year. More than 150 dogs have graduated from the program. Almost all go on to specific scent-detection careers, like search and rescue, recovery, explosives detection, and medical illness detection.

“The demand for those dogs, given how we have proven how our dogs can perform, is exceptional,” said Dr. Otto. “There is a two-year waiting list to get one of our dogs now.”

One of the dogs being trained at Penn Vet Working Dog Center in Grays Ferry.
One of the dogs being trained at Penn Vet Working Dog Center in Grays Ferry. Photo credit John McDevitt/KYW Newsradio

Fosters homes are always needed during the training period.

“We believe so much in the relationship with the dog, that we do not want our dogs living in kennels,” Dr. Otto explained.

“We want them to have that relationship and we only sell our dogs to organizations that will have their dogs live with their handlers.“

For the future, the center wants to engage the community more and is welcoming volunteers.

Featured Image Photo Credit: John McDevitt/KYW Newsradio