TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Eleven years ago, search and rescue dogs helped look for the living and the dead in the rubble at Ground Zero. Today, a new detection dog training center opened at the University of Pennsylvania to train dogs for search and rescue missions and to study what helps them succeed. My guest is the founding director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, Dr. Cynthia Otto.
She's a veterinarian who tended to the health needs of working dogs at Ground Zero, and she's tracked the health of all the 9/11 first responder dogs ever since. She specializes in emergency critical care and disaster medicine. She's consulted with the military about the health of search and rescue dogs, including Cairo, the dog on the bin Laden mission.
Also with us is the center's training director, Annemarie DeAngelo. She founded the New Jersey State Police K9 Unit. With her dog partners, she searched for missing children, criminals and drugs. We have a third guest, an extraordinarily cute 11-week-old puppy named Brittania(ph), who is beginning her training as a detection dog.
The dogs at the center who graduate successfully will go on to work with national security organizations, including the military and local police departments. Dr. Cynthia Otto, Annemarie DeAngelo, welcome to FRESH AIR, and welcome to the dog you've brought with you, Brittania. Tell us a little bit about the dog.
CYNTHIA OTTO: Brittania is an 11-week-old golden retriever.
(SOUNDBITE OF BARK)
OTTO: She actually wants to speak for herself, clearly here. She was donated by a kennel in Illinois, and she is from a hunting line. And she is from a very sound line where they're very concerned about their health and their performance in hunting, and that is why we accepted her as our very first puppy in the Penn Vet Working Dog Center.
GROSS: So I'd like to ask each of you to tell us a story of something remarkable that a dog you worked with did, just to show what dogs are capable of.
OTTO: Wow. There's so many amazing dogs that I have worked with, and I would have to say that probably the dogs that have inspired me most are really the legacy - this is the legacy of the dogs that worked at 9/11. And I spent nine days at Ground Zero with numerous dogs, but most closely with four dogs from the Pennsylvania task force and then another dog that was - belonged to a Philadelphia police officer that did bomb detection.
GROSS: And tell us a story of what one of those dogs did.
OTTO: I think that what those dogs did, and one of my biggest visuals was a German shepherd named Logan(ph). And Logan belonged to Rose DeLuca(ph). And Logan was working, and all of the dogs were just working constantly in that environment. And what Logan did, and it was just what dogs do, is that people would look at Logan, and they would actually smile.
And at Ground Zero, there weren't any smiles unless it was one of the dogs that just allowed a person that glimmer of hope, that sense of, you know, love that this dog was exuding - that powerful connection with the dog and the people and allowing them to escape for just that moment from that really horrific scene that we were involved in.
GROSS: And what was the dog's job?
OTTO: The dog was there to find live, trapped victims, and unfortunately there weren't any. The dog was so amazing, though, because she learned how to identify human remains kind of on the job. She really was able to alert Rose when she found the remains of one of our fallen firefighters or one of the victims of the collapse.
GROSS: And I guess dogs are trained differently to find living people than they're trained to find remains.
OTTO: That's correct. It's a very different approach. With finding the live people, it's very important that they're trained to very quickly identify a concealed person, and that allows them to work in an area where there are lot of other people that are visible but aren't concealed. And those dogs typically have what we call a very active alert. They bark.
It may be used in the human remains also to have an active alert, but most of them are a more passive alert, which means that they would either sit or paw to alert that there is something there. The urgency with a live find is really what's so important because we have such limited time to be successful.
GROSS: Dr. Otto, you were given an American flag that was flown in Afghanistan in recognition of your commitment to the health of working dogs. How are dogs being used in war, you know, in a different way than they'd been used before?
OTTO: There are so many jobs now that dogs are being used for. Originally it was kind of looked at as that patrol dog or the bomb detection dog. But now they're being used to find the IEDs. They're being used - some of them are actually being used for therapy in the field, which is really incredible.
But they're starting to look at all of the different potential components that these dogs can contribute to, and it's not just the Army now. The Navy has their dogs. The - there are dogs that are working on submarines. There are dogs that are really being incorporated in a number of different missions.
And the detection area is so important because these dogs are better than any machine that we have, and they can save lives, and it's been shown over and over again that these dogs are really vital.
GROSS: So dogs are being used in war to detect IEDs, to detect...
OTTO: They're also being used to detect explosives. They can be used to track people, to find people - again, the same way that they're used down at the border for people that are being smuggled or hidden. They can be used for that. They can be used to screen areas for any kind of drugs, if that's part of what's happening in that war front.
I think one of the things that amazes me the most is the fact that they're basically skydiving with these dogs. So they are at very great altitudes, and these dogs are strapped to their handlers, and they're jumping out airplanes, and the dogs are fine with it. It would scare me to death.
But these dogs are able to manage with that, and we're looking certainly at any impact it might have on their health to have these high-altitude jumps, but it really is something that is incredible. You wouldn't expect a dog to be comfortable jumping out of an airplane, but they've gone through the process of training these dogs so that they are comfortable in this environment.
GROSS: Have you consulted with people handling those dogs?
OTTO: I have consulted with the Veterinary Corps that actually supports those dogs, yes. And so we do discuss - you know, are there potential adverse effects? And really they haven't seen anything very obvious that would say that there is any adverse effect to this, certainly behaviorally or physically. But we're paying attention to that because these dogs are so important and so valuable, and we really want to make sure that they're able to perform in the best health and the most success.
GROSS: Do dogs ever wear night goggles?
OTTO: They do have goggles. They're called doggles, and they have - whether it's actually to help their vision or mostly to protect their eyes from the dirt and the other things that might injure their eyes, you know, whether the environment is jumping, or if it's in a sandstorm or something like that. So they do sometimes use those goggles.
GROSS: Now, I know one of your specialties is critical care for animals. So if a dog is on an IED team, trying to sniff out IEDs, and say the dog is injured in an explosion, the actual soldiers are often, anyways, wearing armor of various sorts. And they have various things to protect them. They're not necessarily going to be protected in the long run, but the dog isn't wearing anything like that, right?
OTTO: They actually do have body armor for these dogs.
GROSS: They do? OK.
OTTO: Particularly these, you know, dogs that are going into very active areas. And there's a lot of work being done on what's the best body armor for them. That's not an area that I've been actively involved in. But we have come up with a strategy, it's called the Trauma Combat Casualty Care Guidelines, which they have for the humans that are injured in the field. We've come up with the same guidelines working with this advisory group for the dogs.
So if something happens, what's the first thing you do? How do you stabilize that dog? How do you get that dog out? That dog is treated just like any other member of the military. They are treated and evacuated and taken care of because they are truly a member - they're not just a tool, but they are actually a deployed troop.
GROSS: So Dr. Cynthia Otto, one of the reasons why your center is going to be training detection dogs is apparently that a lot of the detection dogs used in the United States actually come from Eastern Europe. Do I have that right?
OTTO: That is correct. Almost all of the military dogs and most of the police forces in this country rely on sources in Eastern Europe to breed these dogs, and then they raise their dogs to be probably 14 to 16 months, sometimes older, and then they purchase these dogs at that stage.
GROSS: I'm shocked to hear that. I don't understand why Eastern Europe is such a capital for training detection dogs and why that isn't done here.
OTTO: I think they have a long history. They have a lot of farmland that they have used. And so they've established these breeding kennels. They also have been focused on these dogs as working dogs, whereas in this country, a lot of the dogs have shifted more into the pet dog or the show dog world, and they're very different in their attitude and their behavior than the dogs that are working in these fields that we're really looking at.
And so historically they've been a very good source of high-quality dogs with the characteristics that people were looking for. Unfortunately, the pressure on those breeding facilities has gotten much, much greater because there are so many people who want detection dogs for numerous different jobs. There are just more and more things that these detection dogs are being used for.
So there are more of these dogs being bred, and they're not of the quality that they used to be, but they're harder to get also. And we believe very firmly that in this country we have the resources, we have the dogs that we can tap into to be able to domestically produce the dogs to meet our needs. And it just, it just helps with all of national security not relying on a foreign source for most of our dogs.
GROSS: My guests are veterinarian Dr. Cynthia Otto, the founding director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center; and Annemarie DeAngelo, the center's training director. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: We're talking about training search and rescue dogs. My guests are Annemarie DeAngelo, the training director at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center; and veterinarian Dr. Cynthia Otto, the center's founding director. The center opened its dog training facility today.
Annemarie DeAngelo, you're the director of training at the new Penn Vet Working Dog Center. So the dog that is with you both today, she's going to be one of the dogs you're training.
ANNEMARIE DEANGELO: Yes, she is.
GROSS: She's already being trained now.
GROSS: But she's an adorable puppy right now.
I mean, she's just so cute, and she's sitting on a chair in between the two of you. She has a little, like, candy-cane-striped fluffy toy, like a rope toy, that she's been playing with. And Annemarie, you've been petting her and tickling her and giving her little - you've both been giving her little treats.
So she's very much a puppy now, though I could see you've already taught her how to, like, sit and lay and, you know, answer certain commands. So at this stage - how many months did you say she was?
DEANGELO: She's 11 weeks.
GROSS: Eleven weeks. Geez, she's so young. Now, do you know what job she's best suited for? Or is that something you're going to have to figure out during the course of the training?
DEANGELO: Well, yeah, we'll figure that out as time goes along. So no - nothing right now.
GROSS: How are you going to tell what she's best suited for?
DEANGELO: Well, we'll see how she searches, you know. If she's a real aggressive searcher, we may put her towards one thing. If she's methodical, we might focus her more on another substance. And also I believe that what the demand is at the time when she's ready to go will also have something to do with what's she trained in.
As long as she has all the basics, and we teach her during training with different search techniques and how to apply herself, she'll have a really good upper hand on everything.
GROSS: So you don't train just any dog. You're looking for certain traits, and certain breeds have those traits more than others do. What are the breeds that work best for the search and detection missions that you're training dogs for?
OTTO: I think that we rely on breeds because those breeds have been used, and the hunting breeds are definitely a major source, particularly the Labradors and the golden retrievers. But the herding breeds, like the German shepherds, the Belgian Malinois, those - the border collies as well, those have all been used successfully.
And to me it's not as much the breed as it is the dog and their drive. And when we talk about drive, we're talking about that need to go and find the ball for the 67th time. You know, so it just keeps going, and it really wants to work and do that, and it loves that. And that's what we're looking for in the dog.
We're also interested in their physical characteristics. So when we're looking at dogs, we're looking for health. We're looking for a dog that's structurally sound. So we're probably not going to pick any bulldogs because they just aren't going to have that physical fitness, that capacity, and they also don't have much of a nose, so that they're not able to actually take advantage of all of that area of the longer-nosed dogs.
GROSS: Annemarie, let's talk about training. You teach dogs how to identify and then search for scents.
GROSS: So where do you start? I mean, like, Brittania, the adorable little puppy sitting between you right now, you're going to be teaching her soon how to search for scent. What's the first step?
DEANGELO: Well, like Dr. Otto just said, you look for that dog who likes to chase that ball so many times. So the beginning part would be basic retrieves, just throwing the ball out, throwing the toy out, allowing the dog to go have fun and go find it and bring it back to you. And then you start to hide it, where it's sort of visible to the dog but maybe not quite as obvious. Send him out again.
The whole time, you're giving them the same command, whether it's search or find it, whatever the handler, the trainer chooses to do. And once the dog learns to start to search, you begin to hide it in more complex places so that he or she will have to find that object really hidden.
During that period, you will scent that article up, scent the towel or the ball, with the substance that you want them to find. So if you want them to find narcotics, you would do that. You would scent the article up with that. So it's - the whole training experience is a game. It's a game for the dog. They're having a good time. And the more they love to play, the better that they are.
GROSS: Say you're teaching the dog to search for human remains.
DEANGELO: They have substances that you can purchase that have the same odor. We also have people that when they pass, they allow you to use their, you know, body fluids or skin samples to train the dogs with that also.
GROSS: Oh, interesting, so - but...
DEANGELO: But you can use, you know, nail clippings, hair samples, teeth pulled, things like that. Those items are all used when we train the dogs.
GROSS: But does one set of human remains smell like another? Like say you're searching for human remains in a catastrophe, whether it's 9/11 or an earthquake, it's not a specific individual you're looking for, it's just any human remains.
DEANGELO: Right, no, they all have a basic component that, you know, the decay and the odor and...
GROSS: I see. What would you like to know, Dr. Cynthia Otto, about what goes on in a dog's nose that enables a dog to experience all these smells that humans cannot?
OTTO: I would love to have a picture of what they see with their nose. I would love to be able to figure out what the wiring is, because dogs use their noses like we use our eyes. We see in multi-color, in three dimensions, and dogs smell in multi-color and three dimensions.
They can pick out the individual components of a smell. They can break it down, but they can also recognize that combined components. And so they can recognize one person from another. They can recognize parts, but they can also generalize. They can recognize the drugs that are hidden in coffee grounds, the drugs that are hidden with perfume around them.
So they can pull that scent out and just piece it, and I would love to know the wiring that makes that work because it's fascinating. How do they capture that information, process it in their brain and then respond to it? That to me is just absolutely fascinating.
GROSS: What do you hope to learn at the new center, the new training center that you've set up for dogs, either about how dogs smell or how they can best be trained in detection?
OTTO: I think one of the most unique aspects of our program is that we're bringing our puppies in at eight weeks. And those puppies are first of all living with foster families during the rest of their lives, but from Monday through Friday, from 8:00 to 5:00, they come into our center and they get their foundation work. It's kind of like a puppy college.
So they'll be in class during that time, and part of what we want to do is we want to figure out what are the best techniques, what can they learn at what age. So one of the most challenging things that we have is all of the information that we're capturing. So this is about collecting data.
We are recording how often they are trying to do a behavior, how successful, how fast, how many repetitions. Do we have to ask them more than once? And then that will allow us to kind of plot the progress and the success and combine that with different behavioral tests, genetic tests, and that - those pieces of knowing when we can look back and say, wow, we knew at 16 weeks this dog was destined to become this, because right now there are no good tests when they're puppies to tell if they're going to be successful.
So we want to collect that information, but we also want to take advantage of the early childhood development of the puppies and help to see if we can't influence their brain development in a way that's going to make them happier doing their job, more resilient to the stresses that they face, because they're not stresses anymore because this is just their normal life.
They're used to going to work for eight hours a day. They're used to going in all sorts of places. They'll be taken on field trips. They're going to go all over the place as they're young.
GROSS: We'll talk more about training search and rescue dogs in the second half of the show with Dr. Cynthia Otto, the founding director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, part of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine; Annemarie DeAngelo, the center's training director; and Brittania, a puppy in training. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LONG AND WASTED YEARS")
BOB DYLAN: (Singing) What you doing out there in the sun anyway? Don't you know the sun can burn your brains right out.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're talking about search and rescue dogs. Today, the Penn Vet Working Dog Center opened new facility to train detection dogs. The center is part of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. With us is the center's training director, Annemarie DeAngelo. She founded the New Jersey State Police Canine Unit and went on many search missions with a dog as her partner. Also with us is veterinarian Dr. Cynthia Otto, the founding director of the center. She tended to the health needs of first responder dogs at Ground Zero and did a follow-up health study of those dogs. Also with us is puppy in training, Bretagne.
How do you prepare a dog for something like 9/11?
OTTO: That's a really good question. And I think that by giving them as much opportunity as possible is going to be a big thing. I think that the dogs were remarkably resilient at 9/11, and I think it's preparing the team is something that we really need to think about, because it was much harder on the people than it was on the dogs.
GROSS: Were the dogs not afraid? Did the dogs not sense that just an unspeakable tragedy had taken place, that there was suffering all around - both emotional and physical, that there were dead people in the remains, that everybody was in a state of shock and despair?
OTTO: Well, Terry, I think there's a couple of things there. One, they knew that their handler was really upset. They knew that something was wrong with their person, and that they understood. They don't really care about dead bodies around them. It's not an emotional connection for them. And what we saw was that the emotions of their handler were more likely to influence them and the environment around them.
I think the other thing that really was difficult there was the degree and intensity of work, and that's really hard to prepare for because usually when we train or when, you know, the police dogs are working, the border patrol is working, they're working, you know, for a half an hour and then they are taking time off. And, you know, or they're in the patrol car waiting for something to happen. Same with the search and rescues dogs, they might train on the weekend, and they'll, you know, it's their turn for 20 minutes of searching and then they are kind of resting or doing something else. So this constant - these 12, 16 hour days that these dogs were being asked to work and some of the dogs weren't given the time to rest and the time to recover. And you can look at some of the photographs and there were dogs in very uncomfortable places because they were exhausted - but same as the people.
(SOUNDBITE OF BRETAGNE BARKING)
OTTO: And so that's one of the things that we hope to look at in the future, as well, is how do we build that team, not just the dogs. Because we can have the best dog, but if we don't have the team and have the tools for that person to work effectively with the dog we haven't done our job.
GROSS: Dr. Cynthia Otto, one of the things you did in the aftermath of 9/11 was study happened to the approximately 300 dogs who were working as search dogs during - as detection dogs - during that period at Ground Zero. And you wanted to know, like, did they get sick, did they die of cancer, what could you do to help dogs in the future, what could you do to help those dogs? And you found, shockingly, that the dogs who were at Ground Zero weren't, really, any worse off, health-wise, than dogs who weren't in the control group. And it's not what you expected because the dogs weren't wearing, you know, like facemasks like the humans working there were. They didn't have the same kind of, you know, body protection, they didn't have heavy boots to protect themselves from the ground and all the toxins on the ground.
OTTO: Yeah. It was really amazing, because being there in the midst of it and watching this it was very clear before I left that we have to follow these dogs. We had to know what the effects of this experience were both physically, but also behaviorally. So we have been following their behavioral responses as well and those dogs are incredibly resilient, both physically and behaviorally.
And Bretagne here is actually named after one of our still surviving 9/11 responders - a golden retriever from Texas. And the thing that we found that was really encouraging is that these dogs seem to live longer and healthier lives than your average dog that we see in our hospital at the University of Pennsylvania. So I have a theory that I would love to explore, as well. If the physical activity and the fitness and the mental stimulation and just the joy of life that these dogs have, because they're doing something so great and have such a great bond with their handlers, if that doesn't enhance, not only the quality of life, but their longevity.
GROSS: Well, that's interesting because you're saying just as people need meaning in life, it might be helpful for a dog to have - to find some meaning in life?
OTTO: That is something that I believe. And I love training dogs, even pet dogs, to do fun things, to do tricks, to interact, to build that bond because it, it just enriches our relationship with our dogs, it enriches their lives, it gives them something to do, it really engages their brains - which, you know, is part of that quality of life.
GROSS: So I'm looking at this adorable 11-week-old puppy, Bretagne, who is sitting on a little chair - actually on a regular chair between the two of you, and you've both been given her teeny little treats. So how are you using treats, now, at 11 weeks old and she prepares to be more seriously trained?
DEANGELO: Puppies respond very well to treats. They're always hungry. They always want to eat. And treats are a form of positive reinforcement where she does a correct behavior and she's given to treat. They teach the puppy to focus on the handler, on the trainer and it just makes it - it makes it fun for her. You also see we have some toys around so we'll play with her a little bit, but mostly the treats are keeping her attention right now.
GROSS: And are you rewarding her for just sitting there nicely in the chair?
OTTO: I'm rewarding her for various behavior right now. I just asked her to focus, which is to look at me. I've asked her several times to sit or down in the chair, just to kind of breaking things up.
GROSS: Whoops. She just fell off the chair.
OTTO: Fell off the chair.
GROSS: She wasn't paying attention.
OTTO: She was not. Puppies are very clumsy.
GROSS: I don't think they're used to sitting on chairs.
OTTO: No. No we have not trained her to sit on a chair.
DEANGELO: Especially one with wheels.
GROSS: Oh, good point. Yes. Well, puppies particularly aren't on office chairs very often.
OTTO: But that is something that is a good exposure for her to be on something that moves out from under her and to have her confidence, because, you know, searching situations, she may have to maneuver around things that move. And so this building this sense of no fear is actually really this is part of her training. And also her being able to sit here calmly and not kind of lose her mind is really part of the training. We want them to be ready to go and when they're going they're going full steam, but when they're relaxing then they just - they need to learn how to kind of be contained. And that's an important part of her training.
GROSS: Now she's wearing a little like a Penn Vet vest on, and I've - one search and rescue dog trainer I spoke to talked about how when a dog has his or her vest on, the dog knows that they're at work. It's not time for play. It's time for work. When the vest is off it's time for play. Does Bretagne know that yet, that that's like - is that a vest that's supposed to signify work or is that just like a cute vest signifying that she is part of the Penn Vet Program?
DEANGELO: It is a vest that signifies work. Bret has not made that connection yet. Right now she knows that she puts it on she doesn't know. Eventually she will, because when she has the vest on she's not supposed to socialize with people and go out and play, and she'll make that connection during training but she doesn't have it yet.
(SOUNDBITE OF BRETAGNE PARKING)
GROSS: Dr. Cynthia Otto, an interesting thing about the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, which you directed in which has now has an actual building, an actual residence, and will actually be training dogs now. You're going to be using volunteers, and some of those volunteers are kind of surprising. Tell us about some of the categories of volunteers that you're going to be using.
OTTO: The three groups that were working most closely with right now are some of our veterans. We have a veteran who is now our first intern, Ashley Crandall, and she is a wonderful person. She is suffering from mild traumatic brain injury and posttraumatic stress disorder but she is wonderfully functional with her support dog from Puppies Behind Bars, and she is there to help us work with other veterans, as well, because working with these dogs has healing effect and it gives them the resources to look at jobs and careers in the dog world - whether that be dog training, dog grooming. Ashley is looking to become a veterinary technician and we are trying to help position her so she can do that successfully.
The other group that we're working with are parolees, that have come from the programs where they're actually working with dogs in prison. So, New Leash on Life here in Philadelphia has a program that's been running now for a year. And when their inmates are paroled we're hoping that they too can come in, become interns with us and learn some of those skills and continue the effects that those dogs have on them as well as helping guide them into careers.
The last group is a group of people from 18 to 21-year-old, and those are the homeless kids from Covenant House. And those kids have been working with a program called Hand to Paw where they start to learn animal related skills. And again, we want to have them work with our dogs, learn more skills so that they can then move into the job world where they can utilize those skills and really have the opportunity to be successful.
GROSS: Well, Dr. Cynthia Otto, I want to wish you really good luck with the new Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania. And, you know, congratulations on all of the work you've been doing. You have to leave us now, but I'm hoping, Annemarie DeAngelo, that you can stay around for a few more minutes and then we could talk some more.
DEANGELO: It would be my pleasure. Thank you.
GROSS: So we'll be back after a break with Annemarie DeAngelo, but without puppy in training Bretagne who had to leave with Dr. Otto.
This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Annemarie DeAngelo and she is the training director at the new Penn Vet Working Dog Center at the University of Pennsylvania. And she was a New Jersey trooper for 31 and a half years and worked with police dogs, trained them, they were her partners and she's worked on all kinds of missions with these dogs.
So how did you get into training police dogs?
DEANGELO: Oh, training dogs has been a passion of mine since I was a very young girl. I started actually training in 1980 with a military trainer, and came into the state police same year. And I always thought that if I could combine the two, because at the time the state police didn't have a K-9 unit. So I did a lot of research and I bought a yellow Lab and I went up to school in Atlantic City Canine Academy on my own time. But it paid off. I put in a proposal. The state police adapted the program and it's one of the largest in the state now. They make me very proud every day.
GROSS: Tell us about a mission that you did with the New Jersey police with one of your dogs, that you're very proud of.
DEANGELO: Yeah. I was always proud to work with my dog. And when I came in to patrol program was just, the patrol dog program was really just getting started. My dog and one of the other troopers that were there, we had the first two patrol dogs in the program so they weren't really used like they are now. The missions that they go on now are much, much more exciting. Just tracks of fugitives, you know, fugitives for wanting, wanted for assaulting a police officer, they are always exciting because they're out in the woods and you're looking for them and you don't know if there are armed or not armed. And yet the helicopters flying all around and you the streets blocked off. And then, you know, the dog goes up steep trestles and goes through some woods and, you know, my dog eventually found the guys. So that's always...
GROSS: Where was the guy? Where was he hiding?
DEANGELO: He was actually bedded down under some, like, wooded, it's a wooded area so, you know, hiding in the leaves and pretty much surrendered when the dog approached, because if you got a dog out there people don't want to get bit, you know, most of them.
GROSS: OK. So the biggest drug bust you ever did with a dog was how big?
DEANGELO: Twelve hundred kilos of cocaine.
OK. How did the dog find it?
It was in a tractor trailer and we did an exterior search to see if the dog would alert to the odor of narcotics. And he did and we went and got a search warrant and then we took the trailer apart and emptied out and inside was 1,200 kilos of cocaine.
GROSS: So you can get a search warrant based on the fact that the dog smells something?
DEANGELO: Yes. The dog sniffs the air around. It's called a free air search and in this case the trailer was abandoned. We knew who had driven it there, he kind of left it. So we did an exterior search with the dog. He sniffed the air around the outside of the trailer. Indicated. We use that with other things that we had gathered and got a judge to issue a search warrant for the tractor-trailer.
GROSS: And you're the person who speaks on the dog's behalf.
DEANGELO: I do. I do.
GROSS: The dog who was with us for most of the interview, Bretagne, how long is her training likely to be? And assuming she graduates and makes it - because not all dogs do - how long is her career likely to be?
DEANGELO: She'll probably stay with us for at least 12 to 14 months and, again, that depends. This is a new program so the exact amount of time - I would say at least a year she'll be with us before she graduates. Her career, you know, I've had dogs that worked till they were 10 and 11. Of course, you have to really monitor their health and look at the demands on the job.
You know, if they're doing something like 9/11, up at the World Trade Center, you know, do you really want to take an older dog into that type of search? But if it's a wood search or it's something that's not really tough on their body and they can still handle it, can they work? Yeah. They love it. It's a great job, you know, for them. My Labrador told me when it was time, when he didn't want to work anymore.
GROSS: How did he tell you?
DEANGELO: He stopped getting up to go in the car.
DEANGELO: Yes. He was 12 years old and I had already had my second dog so the second dog was doing all the - he was doing all the real jobs and I would bring Bud out just to do a search that I would put out for him. But one day he just said no more. You know, I'm done. I'd rather just lay here on the kitchen floor and be a bum.
And so he stayed home and we just went for walks and, you know, that's how he enjoyed the rest of his life. But he went to work with me every day until he said no more.
GROSS: And you were ready for it. You were ready to hear that.
DEANGELO: No. I was - no. You're never ready to hear that.
DEANGELO: You're absolutely never ready to hear that. I had him for a few more years before he passed but, you know, it's hard. You know, when you take an animal who is your partner to work with you every day for 10 years and then all of a sudden, it's over, you know, it's hard to take.
GROSS: It's been a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.
DEANGELO: Thank you.
GROSS: And good luck with your new position.
DEANGELO: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
GROSS: Thank you. Annemarie DeAngelo is the training director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center which opened its new training facility today. It's part of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. We took some photos of Bretagne, the puppy-in-training who joined us earlier on the show. You can see them on our website, freshair.npr.org, and you can watch a video of her at the FRESH AIR mic on our Tumblr, npfreshair.tumblr.com.
Coming up, Ken Tucker reviews Bob Dylan's new album. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
A center for scientists to study what helps dogs succeed in search-and-rescue operations opens Tuesday at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Cynthia Otto, who created the center, and Annemarie DeAngelo, the center's training director, tell Fresh Air why they depend on their canine companions.
Cynthia Otto, a veterinarian who tended to the health needs of working dogs at ground zero, created the Penn Vet Working Dog Center.
Annemarie DeAngelo, the center's training director, founded the New Jersey State Police Canine Unit and has worked with canines for more than 13 years.
A detection dog-training center opens Tuesday, on the anniversary of Sept. 11, at the University of Pennsylvania so scientists can train dogs for search-and-rescue missions — and study what helps them succeed.
Cynthia Otto, who served on a team that used working dogs to search for survivors in the rubble at ground zero, created the Penn Vet Working Dog Center. She's a veterinarian who specializes in emergency, critical care and disaster medicine, and she has consulted with the military about the health of search-and-rescue dogs, including Cairo, the dog who worked on the Osama bin Laden mission. She tells Fresh Air's Terry Gross that detection dogs are invaluable.
"There are so many jobs now that dogs are being used for," Otto says. "Originally it was kind of looked at as that patrol dog or the bomb-detection dog, but now they're being used to find the IEDs [improved explosive devices]. Some of them are actually being used for therapy in the field, which is really incredible. But they're starting to look at all of the different potential components that these dogs can contribute to...and the detection area is so important because these dogs are better than any machine that we have — and they can save lives."
Annemarie DeAngelo, the center's training director, founded the New Jersey State Police Canine Unit and has worked with canines for more than 13 years. With her dog partners, she has searched for missing children, criminals and drugs — one drug seizure involved 1,200 kilos of cocaine.
With her canine companions, DeAngelo says she feels "very confident that I know my partner is doing his job, and that no harm is going to come to me, and we're going to find what we're looking for."
A scientific approach to maintaining hydration for working dogs
Cynthia Otto: "One of the big concerns that we have not only with the military dogs but also the search-and-rescue dogs from Sept. 11 and Katrina is maintaining their hydration, and so that's a project we're very actively working on at this time because these dogs are so focused on what they're doing. They're really intent, and so they're just gonna keep on doing it and they forget that they need to have a drink. And what happens is then they're more likely to get overheated, they're more likely to really get exhausted if they don't take a break. ...
"And so we're looking at different approaches to keeping them hydrated so that they can stay safe, they can work well, and that's a question that people have lots of ideas about, and no one's taken that scientific approach. And that's what we're doing."
On how dogs are trained to find the living
Otto: "With finding live people, it's very important that they're trained to very quickly identify a concealed person, and that allows them to work in an area where there are a lot of other people that are visible but aren't concealed. And those dogs typically have what we call a very active alert — they bark. It may be used in the human remains also to have an active alert, but most of them are a more passive alert, which means that they would either sit or paw to alert that there is something there. The urgency with the live find is really what's so important, because we have such limited time to be successful."
On how training dogs to apprehend criminals is different from search and rescue
Annemarie DeAngelo: "When you're sniffing, the dogs are using their olfactories to locate a substance, whether it's explosives or narcotics. When you're making a criminal apprehension, that is when the dog is assisting the officer and he bites and holds the person until the officer gets there, or if someone is assaulting the officer, dogs are automatically trained to protect that officer. ...
"[The training] starts out as game of tug of war and it evolves. It's a long process, but it evolves to a sleeve, and you just keep training every day until the dog will go out and make a clean apprehension."
On whether dogs have a sense of service
Otto: "I would love to think that, but I think they think it's a game. ...
"They don't care who they find. If they find somebody, they get their Frisbee; it's a game and that's what life is all about. I believe dogs have such an amazing connection with us, and I think that sometimes what it's all about for them is what they're feeling from their handler — that pride that we can give them — that feeling, just that connection, because that is important to them. But it's about the game. I don't think that they really do know that they're being so amazing and so patriotic and so helpful. They're doing what they do naturally."