Penn vets share stories of working dogs at Ground Zero after 9/11

The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks didn’t just take the lives of nearly 3,000 people, they also irreversibly affected the lives of tens of thousands more, including survivors, victims’ families, first responders, and recovery workers. Their stories are being recorded and preserved by the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City—and now those oral histories include the perspective of veterinarians who cared for the search and rescue dogs who responded at Ground Zero.

Cynthia Otto, director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, and Lisa Murphy, an associate professor of toxicology and director of the Pennsylvania Animal Diagnostic Laboratory System at the School of Veterinary Medicine’s New Bolton Center, were both on the ground in Manhattan in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, supporting the dogs that worked tirelessly to recover victims’ bodies in the rubble of the fallen World Trade Center buildings.

“It was life-changing,” Otto says. “To me, it was the first time that search and rescue dogs made center stage, and that people recognized the value and impact that these dogs were having.”

Murphy, who responded as part of the National Disaster Medical System’s Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams, provided physical exams, hydration therapy, and other care for the working dogs during 12-hour night shifts for 10 days at Ground Zero. During a visit to the 9/11 Memorial Museum in 2015, she met with Amy Weinstein, the museum’s director of collections and senior oral historian, about the significant contributions of the veterinary responders. Weinstein made a note and followed up with Murphy last year to schedule a time to record Murphy’s memories of her experience.

Rather than travel to New York to do the recording, Murphy convinced Weinstein, a Penn alumna, to come to Philadelphia and do the recordings at the Working Dog Center.

“What better place to do these recordings, not just to have that link to veterinary medicine but also because it’s a way to see something positive that came from that day,” Murphy says, referring to the fact that Otto was inspired to create the Center because of her experience caring for the 9/11 working dogs.

Weinstein prompted Otto and Murphy to recall their memories of working at Ground Zero, an often emotional process.

“Those are powerful memories,” Otto says. “I recall driving to the site each day and seeing the streets lined with people offering us bottles of water and waving flags and supporting us. And I vividly recall seeing the photos of the missing that families posted along the fence around the site.”

Visit the museum’s oral history page here.

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