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JoAnna Lou participates in agility, rally obedience and therapy work with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She supports her canine hobby with a career in professional training and development at a New York financial firm. JoAnna has a diverse background working with animals that includes researching birds at the Bronx Zoo and helping a friend run a rat rescue group (yes, rats!). Her writing has appeared in The Bark, DogSport, New York Tails and New York Resident.

6,000 Mile Journey for a Cause
Cross country trek raises money and awareness for veterans and their dogs.

When Dan Spangler returned home injured from Iraq, he faced a long, painful recovery. Fortunately, Dan adopted Spanky, a Norwegian Duck Tolling-Retriever mix and the two quickly became inseparable. There were dark times, but Dan credits Spanky with pulling him through and being a constant loyal companion.

Veterans struggling to adapt to civilian life can have a hard time supporting themselves, let alone a pet. Inspired by his relationship with Spanky, Dan decided to create a charity to help veterans needing financial assistance to care for their dogs. Many would otherwise have to give up their precious pets.

When Joe Trainor Jr. heard about Dan's mission, he was determined to join the cause. As an Army Ranger, Joe sustained brain injuries in Afghanistan and is now going blind. Returning home with post-traumatic stress disorder, Joe fell into a deep depression until he found CT, a Pitbull-Bulldog mix. Like Dan, Joe credits the pup with saving his life.

Now the two veterans and their dogs are on a 6,000-plus-mile journey from Camp Lejeune in North Carolina to Camp Pendleton in California to raise awareness of the impact dogs can have on veterans, and to raise money for Dan's charity. The mission is called Operation: Keep Your Spanky and can be followed on Facebook or Twitter.

There are a number of ways you can support their journey. Tax deductible donations are being accepted as a per-mile pledge or flat-fee. If you're along their route, Dan and Joe would love to share a meal or part of their walk with their followers.  

Dogs and Drones Take on Fungus
Canines team up with flying technology to save Florida's avocado crop.

The availability of guacamole, popular party snack and essential burrito ingredient, is being threatened by a fungus spreading insect. The ambrosia beetle, an invasive species from Asia, is infecting avocado trees with laurel wilt. The deadly fungus first appeared in the U.S. in Georgia in 2002, and has since spread around the Southeast to the avocado plant. Once infected by the fungus, the tree can die within six weeks.

According to Jonathan H. Crane, a tropical fruit crop specialist at the University of Florida, this is the biggest threat to the Florida avocado that's ever been seen. Avocados are Florida's second biggest fruit crop, behind citrus. Researchers and farmers are racing to halt the fungus before it advances to California, which produces nearly 90 percent of the nation's avocado crop.

Part of the challenge of fighting laurel wilt is that by the time a farmer sees evidence of the disease—sawdust residue left behind by the burrowing beetle—it's too late to save the tree. If farmers could catch the disease before symptoms emerge, there's hope of saving the tree with fungicide. That's where a new strategy comes in.

Scientists from Florida International University and the University of Florida have teamed up with a drone company and a canine detection team to fight the fungus in a very non-conventional way.

Drones carrying a thermal digital imaging camera are being used to fly over avocado groves, allowing researchers to find the stressed trees. They then send in the trained canines to sniff out the infected trees. Once the dogs identify a diseased tree, the farmers can burn it and inject nearby trees with fungicide.

The canine team is made up of two Belgian Malinois and two shelter pups that can detect the fungus in trees showing no visible signs of infection.

Besides affecting crops, laurel wilt has had a widespread ecological impact. Since 2011, the fungus has killed swamp bay trees scattered across 330,000 acres of the Everglades. And hundreds of millions of redbay trees have succumbed across six Southeastern states since 2002.

The drone-canine collaboration is being funded by a $148,000 state grant. Ken Furton, an FIU provost and professor of chemistry, hopes that the novel detection system will not only stop the avocado epidemic, but also be adopted to stop other crop diseases, such as citrus greening.

Who knew dogs and drones would work together to save our guacamole!

Apartment's Canine Mascot
D.C. building has a community dog for residents to enjoy.

Many people don't have the time or resources to take care of a pet, so one Washington D.C. apartment building is making it possible to enjoy a dog without all of the work.

2M building manager Doug Crawford's English Bulldog, Emmy, will be playing the role of community dog. Residents can come down to the building office seven days a week to visit the 10-month old puppy and take her for walks. Each night Emmy will still go home with Doug, who is responsible for her full care as his dog.  

In addition to providing a benefit to the residents, Emmy will be an exceptionally well socialized pup!

2M made me think about programs I've seen where shelters let tourists borrow a dog, giving the humans an enthusiastic sightseeing companion and the canines some exercise and exposure to potential adopters.

The residents at 2M are fortunate to have a building manager who is willing to share his pup, but it would be nice to see other apartments collaborate with local shelters to connect people looking for their pet fix with rescue pets.

Wilderness Rescue
Oregon's volunteer animal rescue team helps injured pups in the backcountry.

It's really important for people that hike with dogs to have an emergency plan. Besides bringing canine first aid supplies, I usually bring a large backpack so that I can carry my pup if she's injured. But both people and dogs can get themselves into situations that require professional help when entering the backcountry.

Earlier this month a man was hiking along the Butte Creek Falls in Oregon when he got separated from his dog, Ranger. When he finally found the Great Dane/Mastiff mix, the poor pup was injured in a deep ravine. Unable to get down the steep cliff, a friend went to get help. Firefighters were the first to arrive on the scene and kept watch while a team of seven volunteers from the Oregon Humane Society Technical Animal Rescue Team (OHSTAR) were deployed from Portland to perform the actual rescue.

OHSTAR is made up of volunteers that are trained to evacuate injured pets from wilderness areas, including spots that can only be accessed safely using ropes, climbing equipment, and other technical rescue gear.

The specialized team drove two hours to the trail head and hiked in a mile to the rescue site. It took several attempts before they successfully pulled Ranger to safety. One person rappelled down and secured Ranger in a rescue basket. Then the two were hoisted to the top of the cliff. Although the most dangerous part was over, they still had to carry the 80-pound dog out to the trail head on a gurney where Ranger could then be driven to the emergency clinic.

Ranger was lucky on so many levels. He suffered a broken leg, scrapes, and other injuries, but was fortunate to not have any life threatening injuries from the 230-foot fall. Additionally, most areas don't have a specialized rescue team like OHSTAR. Emergency teams for people don't have the mandate or proper equipment to attempt an animal rescue, so they often can't help in a situation like this.

It's critical to be prepared when enjoying the outdoors with your dogs, but it's great to have people like OHSTAR's volunteers to help when things take a turn for the worse. 

Urban Canine Good Citizen Test
AKC adds a new set of skills for city dwelling pups.

I've long wished that the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen test would grant well behaved pets more privileges. Why should a few unruly pups ban all dogs from apartment complexes, parks, and other community spaces? It's not a magic solution, but it's a start. Since 1989, more than 700,000 dogs have passed the test, which requires pets to demonstrate manners such as sitting politely for petting and walking on a loose leash.

This month the AKC introduced a new level of the CGC test called the Urban Canine Good Citizen, which focuses on the special skills that city-dwelling dogs need. The Urban CGC can only be taken by dogs that already have their CGC certification and is comprised of ten parts in a public area:

  • Exiting/entering a doorway (of a dog friendly building) without pulling
  • Walking through a crowd on a busy urban sidewalk
  • Reacting appropriately to city distractions (horns, sirens, etc.)
  • Waiting on leash at a crosswalk and crossing the street under control
  • Ignoring food and food containers on sidewalk
  • Allowing a person to approach on a sidewalk and pet the dog
  • Staying in a 3-minute down in the lobby of a dog friendly building
  • Safely negotiating stairs and elevators
  • Being housetrained
  • Entering/exiting and riding dog-friendly transportation (car, subway in a carry bag, taxi)

The first Urban CGC test was administered by the Obedience Training Club of Palm Beach County at the pet friendly shopping mall CityPlace, where dogs had to walk by teenagers on skateboards, wait patiently while their handlers ate lunch at an outdoor cafe, and hop into a taxi. Moving the CGC test from the classroom to a public space also results in some good publicity for well behaved pups!

Creative Shelter Dog Photos
Playful pictures boost adoption rates in Utah.






















Good photographs can make all the difference in successful adoption rates. Even my local city run shelter has started taking pictures of dogs against a wall with painted flowers or wearing bandannas. Fortunately many rescue organizations are lucky enough to have professional photographers lending their talents to the cause. But one shelter in Utah has been taking canine glamour shots to a new level.

Photographer Guinnevere Shuster, a volunteer with the Humane Society of Utah, came up with the idea to take photo booth style portraits of dogs to capture the many aspects of their personalities. Guinnevere wanted the pictures to change people's perceptions of shelter pups and showcase some of the harder-to-adopt animals. Now the shelter has a 93 percent adoption rate!

This wasn't her only creative photo venture at the humane society. Earlier this year Guinnevere started another photo project to highlight the notoriously hard to adopt dark furred pups. In this series, the dogs were highlighted with a glowing light and homemade flower crowns. Since the photos were posted in January, six of the eight pups featured were adopted, including two 10-year old Labrador Retrievers who had received no interest previously, despite being featured on the Humane Society's weekly television spot.

Since then, many shelters and rescue organizations have reached out to Guinnevere for tips on how to creatively photograph their own homeless pets. I hope that these incredible pictures inspire more photographers to get involved with their local shelters and encourage more people to consider adoption.

Tax Deduction for Shelter Pups
New York lawmakers propose tax credit to encourage adoption.

As we enter the height of the tax season, it's natural to think about getting some relief related to the countless dollars we spend each year on our pups. Getting a tax break on pet care has been proposed before, without success, but recently there has been new energy around getting a law passed. This time the relief would be specific to rescue pups. Deductions related to fostering is already allowed, but does not include expenses related to adoption.

Since January, four bills have been drafted in New York State that would offer a tax credit to residents who adopt a pet. City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras says that the tax credit would encourage more people to adopt, bringing relief to the state's shelters. She estimates that 3 million animals in New York shelters are euthanized each year due to overcrowding.

  • S4576-2015, sponsored by Sen. Phil Boyle, R-Nassau County, would offer $100 per dog or cat, with a maximum of 3 adopted pets covered per household
  • S2894A-2015, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Parker, D-Brooklyn, would offer $100 per dog, cat, or other animal, with a maximum of 3 pets
  • A5182-2015, sponsored by Assemblymember Alec Brook-Krasny, D-Brooklyn, would offer a single $350 credit for a dog or cat
  • S3670-2015, sponsored by Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, would offer $500 per household pet, with a maximum of 3 pets — which means a credit of up to $1,500

If one of these bills is approved and signed by the governor, it would make New York the first state in the nation to offer a tax credit like this. I certainly welcome anything that will get adoption numbers up, but I'm also sensitive to the fact that state budgets are already stretched thin. In 2012, a similar bill was defeated in Pennsylvania by a tiny margin--97-96, so it's clearly a divided issue.

Are you for the adoption tax credit?

Delta Adds Pet Tracking to Select Flights
New gadget relays real time data to people traveling with their pups.

















Flying with pets in cargo is nerve wracking, no matter how short the trip or how perfect the weather conditions. While fees have gone up in recent years, there haven't been a lot of improvements in how large pets fly. In some cases, a seat inside the cabin could cost less than the fee for a dog to travel in cargo. It continues to be an extremely frustrating topic for animal lovers.

Starting this week Delta Airlines has added a service to help give traveling pet parents peace of mind. A new gadget, available for $50 per flight from ten U.S. airports, is attached to crates to provide real time data on the surrounding temperature, what position the animal is in, and the kennel orientation. If the temperature rises above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, the device will send an alert to Delta's call center. The statistics can also be checked by through a web site.

The major limitation so far is that the system can only send alerts before and after a flight because restrictions on cellular communication while airborne. Still, the device is useful since many mishaps with temperature control happen on the tarmac. However, I think that this tracking service should be included for all pets traveling in cargo.

The gadget doesn't appear to have GPS capability, but given the stories of pets lost on the runway, this would be a good feature for the next version.

According to Transportation Department data, animal deaths have been down among U.S. carriers over the last few years. In 2014, U.S. airlines reported 17 animal deaths, down from 39 in 2010. This doesn't include lost pets, like Ty, the American Staffordshire Terrier that escaped while flying with Delta in October and hasn't been seen since

Delta's gadget isn't perfect by a long shot, but I hope that this is the beginning of a trend to make flying safer with pets.

Dog Saves Puppies in Forest Fire
A canine miracle lifts the spirits of displaced residents in Chile.

As a forest fire ripped through Valparaiso, Chile earlier this month, thousands of residents were told to evacuate. However, one mother seemed to know there was no chance of escaping to safety with her babies and came up with an alternate plan. The mixed breed dog was seen leading her 2-week old puppies away from flames, digging a hole under a large metal container, and burying them inside. The mama then stood watch in a protective corner.

After the fire was contained, paramedics and volunteers dug out the puppies and named the hero mom Negita ("Blacky"). It took nearly an hour to recover all of the pups from the deep hole. Mom and babies were all healthy and are now being cared for by volunteers. Thankfully, with all the media attention they've been getting, I'm sure they'll find forever homes soon.

Negita's brave actions brought uplifting news to displaced residents who saw the story as a miracle amid the destruction and loss. The fire was believed to have started in an illegal landfill, and has killed one person and seriously injured five firefighters. Fortunately the fire is now contained and Valparaiso can begin recovering.

Right to Post Negative Reviews
Defamation lawsuit served for a negative experience at obedience school.

Online reviews have become a large part of how we choose restaurants, hotels, and other businesses to patronize. For small mom and pop shops, these testimonials can make or break their success. Positive reviews build a loyal fan base, while just one negative review can turn off countless potential customers. It's become a powerful way to give a voice to consumers.

When Jennifer Ujimori was dissatisfied with her puppy, Yuki's, obedience class in Virginia she took to Yelp and Angie's List to document her experience with Burke's Dog Tranquility. She said that the services delivered were not as advertised and that the owner refused a refund. Jennifer thought she'd never have to deal with the company again--until she was served a $65,000 defamation lawsuit. The company's owner, Colleen Dermott, claims that Jennifer's statements were false and damaged her small business, which had great reviews until that point.

While it would be easier for Jennifer to delete her review, she's standing by her decision to make a point. Lawsuits over negative reviews have risen in recent years and it can be difficult and expensive for defendants to fight as individuals coming up against a business. Virginia legislators are currently sitting on an anti-SLAPP law (strategic lawsuits against public participation) that would allow for the quick dismissal of cases a judge deems to be targeting First Amendment rights. Washington D.C. and more than half of the states have a similar law in place and Jennifer hopes her case will spark public attention to pressure lawmakers to pass the bill.

While online reviews are extremely subjective, and must be taken with a grain of salt, it's important to protect our right to post them.

Do you use online reviews to choose which businesses to visit with your dogs?