As adorable as they may be, the puppies at Penn Vet Working Dog Center are so much more than just a cute face. Visiting West Deptford High School on Tuesday, Jan. 29, these puppies will show the students of Bill Rumakers’ woodshop classes how they are preparing to become the service dogs of tomorrow.
“These are high-drive dogs,” says Sarah Griffith, director of operations at the center. “We’re are teaching and promoting that drive.”
Griffith explains that the center—which just opened on Sept. 11 of this year—works to provide fundamental training for dogs who will eventually go into various fields, such as bomb-sniffing or cancer detection. She explains that from the time the pups are donated to the center, they begin a yearlong process. She likens the process to an undergraduate liberal arts degree for detection dogs.
All of the puppies are donated at about eight weeks of age. Griffith says the center looks for puppies with hunt champion dogs in their pedigree from private breeders.
“These are not your typical pets,” says Griffith.
Despite the pedigreed pups, the Penn Vet Working Dog Center—which is self-funded and operates through grant support—is in need of some things, including training obstacles for the dogs.
Patricia Buad, an aide at West Deptford High School, volunteers two days a week at Penn Veterinary Medicine and approached Rumaker with the idea of having the courses constructed by his woodshop students.
“The support from the school has been fantastic,” says Buad.
To help Rumakers’ classes learn about the center and what they do, volunteer and FEMA Urban Search and Rescue canine search specialist, evaluator and instructor Pat Kaynroglu will provide an in-class demonstration with the help of one or two of the center’s current enrollees.
“These dogs are young,” says Griffith. “They’re not perfectly trained, but they are amazing.”
With a relatively small space, Griffith expects Kaynroglu to demonstrate the dogs’ abilities with some agility exercises since they are the easiest to execute in a classroom.
With approximately 150 volunteers working with the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, these detection dogs in training attend the center Monday through Friday for eight hours a day. After five days of hard work, the puppies have the weekends off, living with foster families in the area.
As a way of honoring the working dogs who served in the days and months that followed 9/11, each puppy is named after a service dog. For instance young Labrador puppy Sirius is named after the only dog to perish in 9/11. while the center has a number of Labradors, German shepherds and border collies, other breeds can be found at the center as well, such as a young springer spaniel named McBaine.
For the woodshop students at West Deptford High School, Griffith hopes they are able to leave the demonstration with a greater knowledge of the renowned capabilities these dogs possess.
“Man’s best friend can work beside us in an amazing way,” says Griffith. “It’s inspirational.”
She adds that to this day, modern technology is still unable to mirror the incredible abilities of detection dogs.