It’s been eleven years since the tragic events of 9/11, but my recollection of many aspects of its aftermath vividly stand out in my mind. In September 2001, I was living in Washington, D.C. and working at a veterinary hospital situated three miles from the Pentagon.
When the planes struck the Pentagon, toppled the World Trade Center, and crashed in Shanksville, PA, I was out of town and evaluating the job market for a potential move to California (my current and hopeful forever home).
Upon returning D.C., I was shocked to see the enormous hole ripped in the side of the Pentagon and to hear my coworkers’ recollections of the explosive sound the plane made upon impact. Over the next few weeks, my urban existence transitioned from a place of cultural and intellectual intrigue to a hostile police state.
The alarming presence of fully armed police guards constantly swarmed my Red Line Metro stop. Anthrax (Bacillus anthracis bacteria) filled envelopes were sent to the post office I frequented, resulting in me having to undergo nasal passage culture and a course of stomach cramp and diarrhea inducing Ciprofloxacin. Fortunately, I tested negative for Anthrax and discontinued taking the medication (although I keep the prescription bottle as a keepsake).
I didn’t directly suffer any personal loss in the 9/11 crisis, but D.C. life as I knew it was over. After enduring countless Code Red (Severe) Homeland Security Advisor System warnings to tape my windows shut, I heeded the strong urge to gracefully exit the Nation’s Capitol. Southern California better suits my personal and professional lifestyle preferences. I realize a terrorist attack could occur here in Los Angeles, but I feel safer and more at ease than I did in D.C.
I hope our country never endures another similar assault, but I’m comforted in learning of the steps being taken to better prepare our emergency response teams. My alma mater, the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, is undertaking the remarkable task of creating the Penn Vet Working Dog Center (PVWDC).
The PVWDC concept was masterminded by a veterinary idol of mine, Dr. Cindy Otto, DVM, PhD, Dipl ACVECC, who was part of the response team that scavenged the World Trade Center rubble for survivors. Otto started evaluating the behavior and health of Urban Search and Rescue canines shortly after the 9/11 attacks, which motivated her to found the PVWDC as a "space specifically designed for the study of search-and-rescue dogs, and the training of future working dogs."
This space will:
- Serve as a consortium to unite programs that employ detection dogs to benefit society throughout the U.S. and around the world.
- Collect and analyze genetic, behavioral and physical data, and integrate the latest scientific information in order to optimize the success and well-being of detection dogs.
- Prepare for future demands and facilitate research by developing a detection dog breeding/training program that will implement, test, and disseminate the knowledge gained.
To best develop the next generation of search and rescue dogs, PVWDC puppies will have a normal home life with foster families and spend their days doing on-site training at the PVWDC. "It gives the puppies the best of both worlds," says Otto. "They get to live with families and learn how to adapt to that kind of lifestyle, which will be the way they will live when they’re working and living with their handlers."
In commemoration of 9/11, the PVWDC is having its grand opening on Tuesday, September 11th, at 10:30 a.m. RSVP by contacting Sarah Griffith at 215-989-2211 or e-mail [email protected].
I look forward to witnessing the outcome of the PVWDC’s efforts to promote the health and training of service dogs. Should their skills ever be needed, I’m sure these pooches will be up to the task of putting their best paw forward to help save human lives.
Dr. Patrick Mahaney