New Bolton Center Kennett Square, PA
Emergencies & Appointments:
Ryan Hospital Philadelphia, PA
Working Dog Center Team

About Us

Vig, Penn Vet Working DogSniffing, Searching, Saving Lives

Download our latest infographic and get the latest information about how we integrate service, education, and research in our daily tasks at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center.

Our Mission

  • Transforming global health and safety

Our Vision

  • To be a center of excellence for working dog-driven science and education

Our Goals

  • To serve as a consortium to unite programs that employ detection dogs to benefit society throughout the US and around the world.
  • To 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.
  • To prepare for future demands and facilitate research by developing a detection dog breeding/training program that will implement, test, and disseminate the knowledge gained.

Meet Our Team

What makes the Penn Vet Working Dog Center a very special place is our team – a unique combination of people with a broad range of expertise. Get to know our core team. Come visit the Center and get a sense of the place.

Leadership Team


    Executive DirectorDr Cindy Otto and Working Dog Blitz

    Dr. Otto is a tenured professor of Working Dog Sciences & Sports Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, School of Veterinary Medicine, after 23 years as an attending clinician in the Emergency Service, in 2015 she transitioned to full-time Executive Director of the Penn Vet Working Dogs Center and Canine Sports Medicine clinician. Dr. Otto is board-certified in both veterinary emergency and critical care and veterinary sports medicine. She oversees the fitness and medical care of the detection dogs in the program, and the rehabilitation and conditioning for police and other working dogs

    She has been involved in disaster medicine as a member of the Pennsylvania Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 1 from 1994 to 2010 and Veterinary Medical Assistance Team – 2 from 1999 to 2016. She began monitoring the health and behavior of Urban Search and Rescue dogs in October of 2001 after serving as a first responder for the 9/11 attacks. This work inspired her to establish the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, the premier national research and development program for detection dogs.

    Her research program has been funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, the American Heart Association, the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, American Kennel Club Companion Animal Recovery, Morris Animal Foundation, Kleberg Foundation, Kaleidoscope of Hope and other foundations. Her research on and by detection dogs, includes studies of exercise, hydration, factors affecting olfaction, predictors of working success, medical detection of both human (e.g. cancer, infection and COVID-19) and animal (chronic wasting disease) disease.  She has published over 70 articles in peer reviewed journals, authored over 10 book chapters and lectured nationally and internationally on Emergency Medicine, Disaster Medicine and Working Dogs.

    She was named Pennsylvania’s 2002 “Veterinarian of the Year” and received an Alumni Recognition Award in 2006 and the OSU Distinguished Alumnus Award in 2008 from the Ohio State University. The Philadelphia Kennel Club named her “Dog’s Best Friend” in 2016. Dr. Otto was also the recipient of the 2018 AVMA Bustad Companion Animal of the Year Award and the 2019 International Canine Sports Medicine Symposium Mark Bloomberg Award.

    Advisory Positions

    • USAR Veterinary Group – 2007 - present
    • Scientific Working Group on Dog and Orthoganol Detector Guidelines 2011-2014
    • NIST Organization of Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) Dogs and Sensors Subgroup 2014-present
    • National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) Organization of ScientificArea Committees (OSAC) Dogs and Sensors2014-Present
    • American Academy of Forensic Science (AAFS) Standards Board, Dogs and Sensors Consensus Body, Vice-Chair 2016-Present
    • Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association Ad Hoc Committee on Operational K9s 2017-2019
    • Subject Matter Expert Homeland Security Information Network 2017-Present
    • Explosives Detection Canine Capacity Building Working Group 2019 – 2020
    • Vaika 2019-present


  • Vicki Berkowitz

    Associate DirectorVickiEloise

    Vicki is a graduate of The George Washington University with a BA in Communications. She joined the Penn Vet Working Dog Center in 2013 as our Associate Director after spending 11 years with the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) where she had key leadership roles with Regional, Divisional and National teams. Vicki not only managed relationships with National sponsors and events, but guided District teams through management of budgets, strategic business plans, and staff development.

    Vicki’s career background prior to joining the MDA included helping build executive and leadership teams for high-tech start-up companies for a retained search firm as well as working in the brokerage industry where she worked with a Midwest based financial firm to help them enhance operational efficiency and overall industry compliance.

    Vicki is an avid hiker and is slowly working her way through the Appalachian Trail.

  • Annemarie DeAngelo, MAS

    Training DirectorADeAngelo, Rebelion-Left, Waya-Right

    Major Annemarie DeAngelo retired from the New Jersey State Police in January of 2012, concluding a distinguished thirty-one year career.

    She was assigned to patrol, canine, investigation and administration before rising to the command staff positions of Executive Officer in the Homeland Security Branch and Field Operations “Troop C” Commanding Officer.

    Annemarie was the founder and architect of the New Jersey State Police Canine Unit. She began training dogs for obedience and personal protection under the guidance of a military canine trainer in 1980. That experience steered her law enforcement career and she became the first NJSP narcotic dog (Buddy) handler.

    For the next 13 years she served in the Canine Unit as a handler, trainer, and ultimately unit leader. She earned trainer certifications from both the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office and the United States Police Canine Association. She is an active canine trial judge and advocate for law enforcement and civilian canine organizations.

    Annemarie and her canine partner “Buster” were awarded the National Detector Dog “Case of the Year” for an investigation and scent detection that led to the seizure of 1,200 kilograms of cocaine concealed in a tractor trailer.

    She was also the recipient of the prestigious “Gene Catre Memorial Award” presented by The College of New Jersey Criminal Justice Department for career contributions to the law enforcement community.

    Annemarie earned her Masters of Administrative Science degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University where she also earned a graduate certification in School Security and Safety Administration. 

  • Pat Kaynaroglu

    Training ManagerPat Kaynaroglu, Working Dog Center

    Pat graduated from the University of Northern Colorado with a B.A. in Special Education. She began training search and rescue dogs after discovering them with one of her special needs students.

    She has partnered with working dogs in her special education classrooms ever since and received the Teacher of the Year award from the Kids in Need Foundation in 2010 for the Cody Project, which teaches middle and high school students the skills necessary to train search and rescue canines.

    Pat has been a search and rescue handler since 1992. She has participated in over 400 search and rescue missions as a handler, as an Incident Commander, and as Planning & Operations Coordinator with a specialty in managing K9 operations. She has certified three Disaster Search Canines, three Human Remains Detection & Water Search canines, and four Wilderness Search Canines.

    Pat is currently a Canine Search Specialist with Pennsylvania Task Force 1 and is a national Instructor and Evaluator with FEMA for live-find and HRD.  She served with Lake County Search and Rescue in Colorado from 2002- 2012 and currently serves with the Lambertville-New Hope Ambulance & Rescue Squad K9 Unit with her live find canine Rip and HRD canine Pacy.

    Pat and her husband Hakan, who is also a FEMA Canine Search Specialist, founded Emergency Response K9 in 2000 and helped establish the Disaster Search Dog Program in Turkey. They conduct search dog trainings, evaluations, and seminars as well as raise funds to support the purchase of working dogs. Pat and Hakan love the outdoors, skiing in Colorado, and spending time with their family.

  • Bob Dougherty

    Law Enforcement Training CoordinatorBob Dougherty, Working Dog Center

    Bob is a certified USPCA Level 1 Patrol Dog and Detector Trainer, Regional Judge for PD1, National Detector Judge, and has attended numerous training seminars to include decoy training seminars, and explosive and narcotics detector training seminars over the years to learn how to “help” both dogs and handlers be their best. 

    Open to learning all training methodologies and philosophies from various sources (police, sport and civilian trainers), Bob’s personal moral code is to never be cruel in the training of dogs in general as well as patience specifically in training police working dogs.

    Bob’s approach is one that first looks at each dog as individualistic, focuses on establishing a solid foundation of training those basic skills necessary for young dog’s to be successful in a career which will demand operational applications outside the training environment, and removing the conflict which can occur between a dog and handler/trainer due to harsh and or premature physical pressure before a dog understands what is expected of him or her.   Bob believes that trainers need to be passionate about what they do, actively involved and not just sitting back evaluating from afar, and continuously seek new knowledge and skills for the dog and not for their own personal egos.

Medical Team

  • Major Brian Farr, DVM
    Major Brian Farr-Penn Vet WDC

    Resident and Research Fellow

    Major Brian Farr, DVM, is a veterinarian, sports medicine and rehabilitation resident, and research fellow at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center.

    Major Farr graduated from the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine in 2012 and commissioned into the U.S. Army Veterinary Corps. He served at the tactical and operational level and spent five years with several Special Operations commands. He has experience with the selection, training, program management, and operational utilization of conventional and Special Operations military working dogs. He also developed and taught highly realistic Canine Tactical Combat Casualty Care courses. MAJ Farr will continue his active duty service after completion of his training at the Working Dog Center.

    Major Farr is completing a Master’s Degree in Translational Medicine through the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. His research projects are focused on developing and validating assessments and training programs for all aspects of working dog physical performance.

    Major Farr is married and has four young children who keep him quite busy when not at work. He enjoys gardening, doing home repair projects, and being outside with his kids.

  • Meghan Ramos, VMD

    Research FellowDr. Meghan Ramos, Penn Vet Working Dog Center

    Dr. Ramos is a Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation resident at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center.She received her VMD in 2018 from the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine.

    Following graduation, Dr. Ramos began her veterinary specialty internship while simultaneously pursuing a National Institutes of Health funded Master in Translational Research through the Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

    Dr. Ramos is ecstatic to begin her journey as a Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation resident as she is dedicated to advancing the field of canine sports medicine via scientifically valid clinical trials and advanced diagnostics that will benefit not only our elite working dogs but will impact the canine community at large. 


    Director of Medical EducationLee Palmer, DVM, Penn Vet WDC copy

    Dr. Palmer is a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner (CCRP). He earned his Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Washington State University in 2006. Dr. Palmer earned his Masters of Science degree in Biomedical Sciences and completed his clinical residency in Small Animal Emergency and Critical Care at Auburn University in 2013.

    Dr. Palmer possesses over 20 years of military, tactical and operational medicine experience, and over 10 years of supervisory, instructor and academic investigative research experience. He has served in the military since 1996 in active and reserve status in the roles of Senior Explosive Ordinance Disposal Technician and US Army Veterinary Corps Officer. Currently, Dr. Palmer is assigned to the 20th Special Forces Group, Alabama Army National Guard, in the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. In addition to his veterinary attributes, Dr. Palmer is a national registry paramedic (NRP) and he actively functions as a Certified Tactical Paramedic (TP-C) and reserve Deputy Sheriff for the Lee County SWAT Team in Alabama.

    Dr. Palmer lectures and provides training and consultation nationally and internationally in the field of K9 Tactical Casualty Care (K9 TECC) to military, law enforcement and Search and Rescue (SAR) K9 handlers, Tier 1 operators and Tactical EMS (TEMS) personnel. He is a Veterinary Consultant for various military and federal agencies to include the USAF Para-rescue group, US Marshals Service, and DHS Federal Protective Services. Dr. Palmer has authored numerous peer-reviewed manuscripts and serves as the Section Head for the Journal of Special Operations Medicine, Ongoing Canine Series. He is currently serving as the Medical Education Director for PennVet’s Working Dog Practitioner program and also serves in the following capacities:

    • Lead, K9 Tactical Emergency Casualty Care (K9 TECC) working group.
    • Lead, Veterinary Committee on Trauma (VetCOT) Prehospital subcommittee.
    • Board of Adviser, Committee of Tactical Emergency Casualty Care (C-TECC).
    • K9 Advisor, Domestic Highway Enforcement, High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas working group.
    • Member, DoD Canine Combat Casualty Care Committee and K9 TCCC Education & Training Subcommittee.
    • Consultant, Emergency and Critical Care, Veterinary Information Network (VIN).
    • Instructor for:
      • North Carolina State University CVM, “K9 Down” program
      • Counter Narcotics & Terrorism Operational Medical Support (CONTOMS) EMT-Tactical Program, SEI, Special Tactics Operators Advanced Life Support (STOALS) course

    Adjunct Associate Professor of Canine Performance Sciences & Rehabilitation
    Bess Pierce, DVM, Working Dog Center

    Dr. Pierce has been involved with planning, opening and developing programs at the Penn Vet Working Dog Center since 2009 and was appointed as Adjunct Faculty at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine in 2017.  She also holds a full time faculty position as Associate Professor of Small Animal Internal Medicine and Canine Sports Medicine at Lincoln Memorial University College of Veterinary Medicine in Tennessee.

    Dr. (Colonel) Pierce also serves in the US Army Veterinary Corps, where her passion for working dogs began with her first assignment in 1992. Since that time she has been honored to serve working dogs, soldiers and family members around the world in both the active duty and reserve components.

    Dr. Pierce is board-certified by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners, the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation.  She is currently enrolled in the Master’s program in Fitness and Wellness Leadership at SUNY Plattsburgh, and her primary research interests are in canine sports medicine and comparative athletic conditioning and injury prevention. She has received five US Army Meritorious Service Medals, the Order of Military Medical Merit, the 2015 Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award given by the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the 2018 Zoetis Teacher of the Year award at LMU.

    In her free time, Dr. Pierce enjoys spending time with her veterinarian husband and two dogs traveling, hiking and kayaking.


  • Ruth Desiderio

    Tessa Desiderio, Penn Vet Working Dog CenterVolunteer & Outreach Coordinator

    Ruth Desiderio joined the Working Dog Center after 23 years in public education. A graduate of Gettysburg College with a Masters from LaSalle University, Ruth taught students at the elementary level for twelve years before becoming Supervisor of Special Education at North Penn High School and then Director of Special Education for the district. As a special education teacher and administrator, Ruth collaborated with diverse teams of families, educators, counselors, and related service providers to help students reach their potential in inclusive and supportive learning environments. While in North Penn, Ruth developed and supported programming in the areas of positive behavior interventions and mental health while championing inclusive practices district-wide.

    Ruth is the proud parent of three grown children and looks forward to welcoming her first grandchild this summer. She loves the outdoors, particularly hiking and exploring new places. A dog-owner since birth, Ruth has primarily adopted mixed breeds, with the exception of her beloved greyhound, Tessa, who passed away in 2018.

    In all of her professional and personal endeavors, Ruth has been energized by the people with whom she works. She is excited to develop relationships with volunteers, students and all in the wider community who are inspired by the mission of the Working Dog Center.

  • Tessa Seales

    Foster Program Coordinator & Social Media Manager

    Tessa Seales and K9 Skiff

    Tessa graduated from Drexel University in 2017 with a BA in Political Science and from the University of Pennsylvania in 2019 with a MS in Criminology. She was introduced to the WDC through the Drexel CO-OP Internship Program in March of 2015 and went on to complete two CO-OP’s at the WDC.

    At the end of her second CO-OP, she returned to the WDC as a part-time trainer. In the Spring of 2017, Tessa transitioned to the Foster Program Coordinator full-time, where she has the privilege of recruiting and training all WDC Foster Families.

    Tessa has also fostered two WDC dogs – K9 Skiff (Montgomery County Sheriff’s Department) and K9 Gunner (currently in training).

Research Team

  • Jennifer Essler, PhD

    Postdoctoral Research FellowDr. Jenny Essler, Penn Vet Working Dog Center

    Dr. Essler received her B.A. in Psychology from Georgia State University and her M.Sc. in Animal Behavior from Bucknell University.

    Her earlier work was on cognition and social behavior in non-human primates, focusing on capuchin monkeys. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, where she studied the effects of domestication on cooperation and inequity aversion in pack-living dogs and wolves.

    Her interests center around how we can quantify the training of working dogs, and how we can use this to improve the selection and training process. At the Working Dog Center, she is working on a collaborative project investigating the genotype and phenotype of working dogs.

  • Amritha Mallikarjun, PhD

    Postdoctoral Research Fellow

    Dr. Amritha Mallikarjun, Penn Vet Working Dog Center

    Amritha obtained a B.S. in Cognitive Science with an additional major in Human-Computer Interaction from Carnegie Mellon University. She then joined the University of Maryland Language Development Lab as a Ph.D. student in the fall of 2014. Her interest in speech perception and auditory processing in dogs drove the formation of the UMD Canine Language Perception Lab at UMD in 2017. Her thesis research focused on the impact of ambient noise in the environment on speech perception and word learning in infants and dogs. She is currently working on several scent detection studies at the PVWDC.

  • Dana Ebbecke

    Research Assistant

    Dana Ebbecke, Penn Vet Working Dog Center

    Dana is a certified professional behavior consultant and dog trainer with 15 years of experience working with dogs. She spent five years working as a behavior specialist for the ASPCA in New York City and one year as a behavior coordinator at the Pennsylvania SPCA in Philadelphia. She holds a BA in psychological and social sciences from Penn State University and a graduate certificate in applied behavior analysis from Arcadia University.

    Dana has loved animals and animal behavior since she was a child. The opportunity to combine research and applied work at the WDC was a dream for her and she happily joined the team in 2020. She shares her home with several dogs, periodic foster dogs, and a cat (affectionately referred to as their zoo), as well as her partner and their toddler.

  • Sarah Kane


    Sarah Kane, Penn Vet Working Dog Center

    Sarah Kane, a recent graduate of Hamilton College, has been volunteering at the Penn Vet Working since high school. While in her senior year of college Sarah wrote her thesis using data from the PVWDC on "Identifying predictive behaviors for a search and rescue career in puppies." The preliminary results from her thesis informed some of the work she will be presenting about at the 2020 conference. In addition to the research she conducted for her thesis, Sarah has done research with diabetic alert dogs. Sarah's main research interests are early predictive behavioral testing in future working dogs, and the relationship between early socialization and future career aptitude in working dogs. 

Training Team

  • Danielle Berger

    TrainerDanielle Berger, PV Working Dog Center

    Danielle has been involved in the animal sciences and animal rescue world since she was a child. She worked part time as a domestic animal and wildlife veterinary technician while raising her two sons in South Jersey.

    Her dog training career began when her brother, a medic with US Army, and his unit rescued a puppy from the streets of Iraq in late 2007. She has since graduated with honors from the Animal Behavior College Dog Training Program, completed an intern/externship with the behavior team at Pennsylvania SPCA, trained in and taught advanced off leash obedience in group classes, assisted in training service dogs for veterans with PTSD, and owned and operated her own dog training business.

    Danielle began as a WDC volunteer in the Spring of 2014 and quickly realized that she was extremely interested in the practices, research, and scent detection training here at Working Dog Center. She became involved in all aspects of training, behavior, and research and participated in a five-day Wilderness Search and Rescue seminar with WDC K9 Logan (donated by Watcher Engle Kennels) and worked part-time as a research technician during the summer of 2014.

    She joined our training team as a full time trainer in May 2015 and enjoys being a back- up foster for our WDC dogs. In the fall of 2016, Danielle became full time foster to Roxie P (AKA Parsons from Zzissa litter 2014) and realized Roxie's potential as a single purpose detection canine. The two are currently in the process of completing the narcotics detection curriculum at the Working Dog Center. 

    When not at the WDC, Danielle can be found enjoying activities involving the great outdoors with her family, her own pet dogs as well as our WDC pups.

  • Danny Eliasen

    Law Enforcement TrainerDanny Eliasen and P-Odie, Penn Vet Working Dog Center

    Danny Eliasen joined the Penn Vet Working Dog Center in March, 2019 as a Law Enforcement Trainer. Danny is a retired Sergeant First Class with the Glassboro Police Department in Glassboro, NJ.

    Throughout his career in law enforcement, Danny served as a trainer and supervisor for the Glassboro PD K9 Unit, is a NJ Certified Patrol and Scent Trainer, received his certification as a Supervisory K9 Trainer, and is also a USPCA certified Level 1 Patrol and Detector Dog Trainer.

    Danny is also proud to have handled two law enforcement K9s in his career – K9 Buster and K9 Kato, both were dual purpose Patrol/Narcotics detection K9s.

  • Alena Heyer

    TrainerAlena Heyer, Penn Vet Working Dog Center

    Alena began working with canines at the age of 16 when she got her German Shepherd, Baily.

    She competed in Schutzhund Obedience and achieved her dog handler’s license and passed the German equivalent of the Canine Good Citizen test. For four years, she volunteered and assisted training others and their dogs in agility, protection work, tracking, and obedience classes 3-4 times a week. She has been working with dogs for more than 9 years and continues to grow more passionate about training.

    Once moving to the United States as an au pair from Germany. She moved to the United States for good in 2016. She got a job as Dog Trainer at Petco and became certified as an all Positive Dog trainer. In 2017 Alena joined the PVWDC team as an intern and could not get enough, so in June of 2018 she became one of their full time trainers.

    Alena says, “I have been working with dogs for more than 9 years and continue to grow more passionate about training and working alongside others who share my same love for dogs. Working at Penn Vet has been incredibly rewarding, and seeing the difference a Penn Vet Working Dog can make in law enforcement and the medical field has only reinforced my desire to continue helping dogs realize their full potential.”

    Alena married a dog trainer and owns two dogs. Additionally, she is fostering one of the Penn Vet Working Dogs: Casey. In her free-time, Alena enjoys camping and hiking with her dogs.

  • Bridget Stewart-Beardsley

    TrainerBridget Stewart-Working Dog Center

    Bridget’s interest in canine behavior started at a young age. She began working dogs in 4H with her Rhodesian Ridgeback and as a puppy raiser for The Seeing Eye.

    Through these experiences she learned about puppy development and learning curves. Throughout college she worked at a local animal shelter as a trainer and behavior evaluator. She worked with the shelter dogs teaching obedience, loose leash walking, and kennel manners. She also worked with staff and volunteers teaching positive training methods and canine behavior and body language. This helped the shelter team facilitate better matches with potential owners which led to more successful adoptions.

    Bridget attended Delaware Valley University and graduated with a Small Animal Science degree with a focus in animal behavior. The school provided a hands on learning program and she was able to successfully train a variety of animals from chickens to horses.

    After graduating, she began interning at the Working Dog Center where she learned about drive, scent work, and the training of working dogs. Now as one of our full time trainers Bridget says she is continuing to learn and improve her skills every day and that she “absolutely loves her job!” Bridget also offers her expertise to the public through evening classes offered through the Working Dog Center.