The Working Dogs of 9/11: A Legacy of Love


 Big Barker was privileged to sit down recently with Dr. Cynthia Otto, veterinarian, researcher, and founder of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, which celebrates its fourth anniversary today. The Penn Vet Working Dog Center trains working dogs using only positive reinforcement techniques and defines the cutting edge of research in the areas of training, selecting, and placing working dogs.



Dr. Otto was part of the Pennsylvania FEMA Task Force that responded to the events of September 11, 2001. She was onsite for the duration of the FEMA search and rescue effort, which lasted 10 days. Her mission was to provide veterinary care for the search and rescue dogs who served at Ground Zero.

Realizing that our knowledge of working dogs was limited and intrigued by the need to understand how events like 9/11 impact a working dog’s life, Dr. Otto received a grant to lead a study of the more than 70 working dogs who served at Ground Zero. The study ended in the summer of 2016 with the passing of the last 9/11 canine hero. One of the main conclusions from the study is that being a working dog actually has benefits for the dog—in addition to, of course, the great benefit to humans.

Dr. Otto calls the Working Dog Center a legacy of 9/11. She says, “Dogs in general make us whole, but working dogs make us safe and whole.”


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