The Sniff that Saves Lives

The Sniff that Saves Lives

Come meet the Penn Vet Working Dog Center dogs and learn what they do. Different Breeds, different colors, different personalities, but all have the same goal – to join the ranks if the elite working dogs who serve our country.

Opened on September 11, 2012, the Penn Vet Working Dog Center serves as a national research and development center for detection dogs. With the United States national security under constant threat from attacks, detection dogs are still the best tool that we have to detect and mitigate potential threats. Search dogs are also critical for locating victims of natural and man-made disasters. The special scenting ability of dogs also allows them to serve in important ways such as medical or conservation detection. As pioneers in the working dog field, our goal is to increase collaborative research and the application of the newest scientific findings and veterinary expertise to optimize the performance of lifesaving detection dogs. After completion of foundation training, our dogs are prepared for careers in different disciplines.

What our dogs do:

    • Prevent crime and acts of terrorism, working alongside military, police, TSA, and the Department of Defense to find explosives and narcotics
    • Rescue victims of accidents or disasters, using expert search-and-recovery skills
    • Detect medical conditions such as ovarian cancer and alert people with diabetes when their blood sugar is out of normal range

Biography
Dr. Cindy Otto
Executive Director

Dr. Otto is a tenured associate professor of Critical Care at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine, after 23 years as an attending clinician in the Emergency Service, in 2015 she transitioned to full-time Executive Director of the Penn Vet Working Dogs Center and Canine Sports Medicine clinician. Dr. Otto is board-certified in both veterinary emergency and critical care and veterinary sports medicine.She has been involved in disaster medicine as a member of the Pennsylvania Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1 from 1994 to 2010 and Veterinary Medical Assistance Team – 2 from 1999 to 2016. She began monitoring the health and behavior of Urban Search and Rescue dogs in October of 2001 after serving as a first responder for the 9/11 attacks. This work inspired her to establish the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, the premier national research and development program for detection dogs.Her research program has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the American Heart Association, the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, American Kennel Club Companion Animal Recovery, Morris Animal Foundation, Kleberg Foundation, Kaleidoscope of Hope and other foundations. She has published over 60 articles in peer reviewed journals, authored over 10 book chapters and lectured nationally and internationally on Emergency Medicine, Disaster Medicine and Working Dogs.She was named Pennsylvania’s 2002 “Veterinarian of the Year” and received an Alumni Recognition Award in 2006 and the OSU Distinguished Alumus Award in 2008 from the Ohio State University. The Philadelphia Kennel Club named her “Dog’s Best Friend” in 2016.

Vicki Berkowitz
Associate Director
Vicki Berkowitz is a graduate of The George Washington University with a BA in Communications. After graduation, she began her career in the brokerage industry earning her Series 7 & Series 8 licenses and a position working with branch offices across the Midwest to enhance their operations efficiency and overall industry compliance. After six years in the industry, Vicki pursued an opportunity experience life in another culture and spent a year teaching English to college professors in Ecuador, South America. After returning to the United States, Vicki joined a retained search firm in Albany, NY specializing in building executive and leadership teams for high-tech start-up companies.Vicki spent 11 years in various roles with increasing responsibility at Muscular Dystrophy Association. With the last seven years as a leader on Regional, Divisional and National teams, Vicki not only managed relationships with National sponsors and events, but guided District teams through management of budgets, strategic business plans, and staff development.Vicki enjoys hiking with her Leonberger, Eloise, who is not only a registered therapy dog but also a decorated “Dock Dog” competitor.