University of Pennsylvania graduates class of dogs
A Labrador retriever named Thunder under the direction of handler Donna Magness demonstrates his agility skills Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013, at the University of Pennsylvania's Working Dog Center in Philadelphia. The Center began training puppies in Philadelphia on Sept. 11, 2012. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
A Labrador retriever named Socks has her cap adjusted by Maureen Rush, Vice President of Public Safety, University of Pennsylvania, left, and her handler police officer Julie Wesley during a commencement ceremony Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013, at the University of Pennsylvania's Working Dog Center in Philadelphia. Socks is going to work with Wesley for the campus police force performing duties including bomb detection. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)
An excited yellow Labrador retriever named Socks was fitted with a mortarboard and tassel at Tuesday's commencement ceremony at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center before going off to start her new job on the campus police force.
Socks is among seven dogs in the inaugural class at the center, which opened in Philadelphia on Sept. 11, 2012. Cindy Otto, a longtime emergency clinician at the University of Pennsylvania's veterinary school, wanted to honor the animals that worked so hard after terrorists struck the U.S. in 2001.
"I spent 10 days at ground zero taking care of the working dogs there and recognized what an incredible gift those dogs are to our society and how important they are," said Otto, now the center's director.
All 16 dogs currently being trained at the center are named for canines who served on 9/11. Donated by breeders, the pooches live in "foster homes" with volunteers who care for them while they're not learning how to sniff out explosives, drugs or missing persons.
Six other dogs who graduated with Socks did not get mortarboards Tuesday because they are still awaiting permanent placements. But the pooches demonstrated their search skills on a manufactured "rubble pile" and their agility on an obstacle course.
Officials said local police and fire departments have expressed significant interest in the remaining dogs, including a chocolate Lab named Thunder. The animals cost $10,000 each, with the money going to defray the costs of training.
"Thunder is definitely an urban search-and-rescue dog," Otto said. "He is bold, he is strong, he has no fear on the rubble, and he will search like a machine, which is exactly what you want in a disaster setting."
A more mellow golden retriever named Bretagne will likely become a diabetic alert dog, able to help detect when her owner's blood sugar is getting low.
And Socks, the first canine member of the Penn police, has already started attending advanced bomb detection school, said Maureen Rush, superintendent of the campus force.
"Socks is way ahead of the game because of the great work that's been done already through the Working Dog Center," Rush said.
Meanwhile, the second class of working dogs is training hard. Three have already put their noses to work in an ovarian cancer detection study.
Follow Kathy Matheson at www.twitter.com/kmatheson
Our new comment system is not supported in IE 7. Please upgrade your browser here.