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Logan, a German shepherd working dog, assists with the on-the-ground relief effort soon after the attacks on 9/11.

Logan walked toward the rubble around Ground Zero. As she and veterinarian Cindy Otto made their way to the site, a man driving a large piece of construction equipment stopped and jumped down, tying his bandanna around the German shepherd’s neck.

In the midst of 9/11, working dogs like Logan were on the scene to help with the search and rescue process.

“These dogs are essential. The teams are incomplete without them,” said Otto, director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and an associate professor in critical care. “These dogs really deserve to have that veterinary care that we can provide.”

In 2001, Otto began a study in which she followed 9/11 search and rescue dogs. Through this day, she has continued to work to make sure that working dogs like Logan receive the care necessary to complete their jobs.

“The dogs have always been on my radar. What inspired it is that these dogs were being trained and being used to respond to disasters,” she said. “When I started to learn about it, it turns out that most of the agencies provide medical care for the teams that respond to the disasters, but don’t provide veterinary care for the dogs. That bothered me.”

In February, Otto and her colleagues at the School of Veterinary Medicine received an American flag from the U.S. Army Veterinary Corp, with a certificate honoring their dedication to working dogs.

Penn Vet Dean Joan Hendricks wrote in an email that the variety of work Otto has done for working dogs demonstrates her dedication to their cause.

“Her selfless dedication to providing new knowledge to improve the healthy, productive working life of these wonderful dogs is a credit to Dr. Otto and a perfect example of what is special about Penn Vet’s contribution to society,” she wrote.

Military veterinarian Clint George, who has interacted frequently with working dogs, added that Otto’s work has been instrumental to the military.

“Working with her and the support that she has given the military has been incredible,” he said. “She’s just an invaluable resource for us and her work helps us understand and make more progress in the working dog field.”

This coming fall, Otto is looking to expand the Penn Vet Working Dog Center as a new puppy foundation program commences in the new building for the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, located at 34th Street and Grays Ferry Avenue.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity because the community is going to have the opportunity to come volunteer down there and help socialize the puppies,” Otto said. “What we’re about is their health, their well-being and the fact that they can work with us and help us. We want to make sure they are doing that as successfully as possible.”

Some of the specific research that Otto has conducted over the past few years has included tracking cancer in working dogs in relation to their environment, as well as finding ways to keep the dogs hydrated while they are in the field.

“When they are doing their job, they are just focused,” she said. “They’re not thinking about anything else and by the time they are done, especially working in places like Afghanistan where is it really hot, they can have been working for a while and not thought about drinking and put themselves at risk.”

Otto and her team will also continue looking at the dogs’ fitness, performance and genetics to understand what makes working dogs successful.

She pointed out that working dogs are critical in not just the search and rescue side of operations, but also on the therapeutic side. In the days and months following 9/11, the dogs helped to brighten spirits around Ground Zero, Otto said.

“These dogs just worked really hard,” Otto said. “The really cool thing is that no matter what, the dogs kept working.”

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