JoAnna Lou

JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
FBI Begins Tracking Animal Abuse
This year the National Incident-Based Reporting System will include data on animal cruelty crimes.
Earlier this month the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) began collecting data on animal cruelty crimes through their National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). The hope is to prevent abuse and help flag violent offenders. This seems like a no brainer considering that studies have shown up to 70 percent of people convicted of violent crimes began their criminal history with acts of animal cruelty. Serial killers have also been closely linked to prior animal abuse.

In a partnership with the National Sheriffs' Association and the Animal Welfare Institute, animal cruelty crimes will now have their own organized category within the FBI's public collection of national crime statistics. The database includes information like age, criminal history, and location. Previously animal abuse fell into an "other crimes" category which includes minor offenses like spitting.

According to Mary Lou Randour at the Animal Welfare Institute, this change sends a strong message that animal abuse is an important issue.

NIBRS currently helps law enforcement track hot spots of burglary and gang violence, so now they'll be able to look for patterns of animal abuse as well. Animal rights organizations have also expressed that they'ill be able to better allocate their resources based on the new data.

Frankly this change should have been made a long time ago, but better late than never. The addition to the database adds to the growing trend in taking cruelty seriously through the the first state animal abuser registry and prosecuting pet related crimes as felonies. I hope to see even more developments in this area over the next few years.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pet Amenities in City Apartments
Residential developments are increasingly catering to dog lovers.
Finding pet friendly apartments is a common challenge, but in recent years, upscale residential buildings are increasingly catering to dog lovers. Many buildings are adding amenities such as pet wash stations, play areas, and day care and grooming services.

According to research organization Urban Land Institute, these kinds of amenities first began cropping up in the early 2000s and took off more recently as the real estate industry recovered from the economic downturn. This was further fueled by millennials who are typically postponing marriage and kids, and adopting pets instead.

Dogs also represent a new revenue source for the real estate industry through pet fees, for just having your pup in the apartment, or membership fees, for the special amenities. Typically there's a monthly or annual cost for these services, which ranges from $250-$750 (the later including daily day care and dog walking). Daria Salusbury, senior vice president at The Related Companies, says that the pet amenities are an important way of showing residents that they understand their lifestyle. But there's obviously a significant financial incentive as well!

About a decade ago, her company first experimented with adding small, unstaffed grooming stations in a couple of its buildings. Now they've gone all out, with their comprehensive Dog City program, which offers in-building day care, training, and weekly visits from groomers and veterinarians. Since it's not easy to travel with dogs in New York via subway or taxi, this is a huge convenience.

Dog City's first branch, a 1,000 square foot space, opened five years ago in a New York City complex, featuring an outdoor terrace and bone-shaped pool. It was so popular, an expansion was immediately planned. Their newest Manhattan location will even offer boarding facilities.

Other developments, like the Gotham Organization's buildings, weren't ready to take the leap on permanent amenities. So they partnered with canine spa Spot Experience to negotiate discounts and arrange for a van that picks up canine residents to bring them to Spot.

While many New Yorkers are grateful just to find an apartment that welcomes their furry family members, buildings with these amenities make a big difference living in a city with so much concrete. These apartments also build a like-minded community that's fun to be a part of. I hope that the popularity of these amenities will cause a trickle down effect to non-luxury buildings as well!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Secondhand Smoke and Pets
Study links health risks to dogs living in smoking environments.
The danger of cigarettes is well known, but people often overlook how secondhand smoke will effect our pets.

Professor Clare Knottenbelt at the University of Glasgow would like to change that by creating more awareness and understanding through her research. So far her team has shown a direct link between pets living in a smoking environment and a higher risk of health problems. Previous studies have shown a link to cancer risk, but the new research also uncovered a connection to weight gain in castrated dogs.

When the scientists examined the testicles of male dogs post-neutering, they found a gene that they believe acts as a marker of cell damage since it appears more often in dogs living in smoking homes versus non-smoking homes. In other studies, this gene has been shown to be altered in dogs with certain canine cancers. However, the effect on this gene was reduced when owners chose to smoke outside to reduce their pets' exposure. So this is a way for people to limit their pets' risk if they can't outright quit.

Interestingly, the researchers found that cats are even more affected by smoke than dogs. The hypothesis is that self-grooming may increase the amount of smoke ingested. Free access to the outdoors didn't significantly help reduce risk.

Clare's research is ongoing and is expected to be published later this year. However, I think the early findings, combined with what we already know about the effects of smoking, makes a compelling reason to quit smoking, or at least limit it as much as you can.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Anderson Cooper Honors Police Dog
The CNN anchor donates ballistic vests to the Norfolk Police K9 Unit.

Three days after Krijger, a Norfolk, Virginia police dog, was shot and killed in a standoff following a domestic dispute, Anderson Cooper made a touching tribute in memory of the heroic Belgian Malinois.

The CNN anchor donated his fee from an upcoming lecture in Norfolk to buy 18 canine ballistic vests for the city’s police dogs. It’s likely that Krijger would have survived if he was wearing one of the $2,200 Kevlar vests.

The donation was facilitated by Spike’s K9 Fund, an organization started by retired SEAL, Jimmy Hatch to help military and police pups. The non-profit is named after Jimmy’s loyal war dog, Spike, who was killed in Iraq back in 2006.  

Jimmy also volunteers with the police department, sharing advice learned while handling dogs in combat zones. Through that work, Jimmy knew Krijger, so he was extra determined to create a fundraiser to honor him. After seeing the effort on social media, Anderson contacted Jimmy to help out. The two had met last year when Anderson interviewed Jimmy about Spike’s K9 Fund.

The police plan on holding a memorial service for Krijger next Tuesday at the Norfolk Police K9 Range, followed by an interment with full police honors at the Garden of the Pines Pet Cemetery in Virginia Beach. While both services are private, the public is invited to pay tribute along the funeral procession route.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Quiet Fireworks
An Italian town considers banning loud pyrotechnics in consideration of animals.
While most people are thrilled by fireworks, dog families often brace themselves around holidays like Forth of July because many pets are afraid of the loud noises. Not only are these sounds out of the ordinary, they're extremely deafening, especially for sensitive animal ears. Every year, there are always stories about dogs who ran away from home after being startled by fireworks.

Domestic pets aren't the only animals to be affected. Researchers at the University of Guelph and Acadia University found that fireworks can disorient flying birds, even causing some to abandon their nests. Scientists also discovered that the day after fireworks, hens show extremely low egg production with an increase in malformed eggs.

The town of Collecchio, in the province of Parma, Italy, was concerned enough by these effects that their local government introduced legislation to mandate the use of quiet fireworks as a way of respecting animals and reducing stress. As crazy as it sounds, these fireworks do exist! The Italian company Setti is just one company that sells products to create a light show without the loud noises.

  I hope that the use of quiet fireworks becomes more popular around the world!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Working Pup is New York's State Dog
The Empire State designates a progressive choice as their official dog.
Not many states have an official state dog. Until recently, there were only eleven. But as of December 23rd, New York is joining that small group after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation naming the "working dog" as New York's state canine. While other states are represented by a single breed, the Empire State is celebrating all breeds, from the Belgian Malinois patrolling the streets of Manhattan to the Labrador Retriever helping a visually impaired person cross a busy intersection.

The inspiration for this bill came from Bari, the dog of Assemblyman Matthew Titone (D-Staten Island), who is trained as a therapy dog. Together they've worked with preschool autistic children and homeless young adults. Seeing Bari in action, Matthew wanted to sponsor this bill in order to honor pups like Bari.

This wasn't the first time that New York tried to designate a progressive choice as their state pup. In 2011, State Assemblyman Micah Kellner, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, and Senator Joseph Robach co-sponsored a bill to designate "the rescue dog" as the state pup. Although that attempt was unsuccessful, I'm glad my home state finally has its own official canine that also honors the work hard they do for us each day!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A Times Square Performance for Dogs
Laurie Anderson performs a music show designed for canines.
Last night hundreds of people and dogs braved the 17 degree weather to attend a special performance in Times Square. Unlike the many other artists who have visited New York City, this concert, performed by Laurie Anderson, was designed specifically for dogs. The musician-performance artist played low-frequency music for the pups, while their humans listened along on wireless headphones.

The event took place at 11:30 p.m. as part of the Times Square Alliance's Midnight Moment series, which features billboards transformed into digital art pieces. For Laurie's event, the screens featured a three-minute clip of her Oscar shortlisted documentary, Heart of a Dog, a film that reflects on life and death, particularly through the loss of her dog, Lolabelle, and the passage through bardo, the Tibetan concept of transitioning into the afterlife.

Performing for dogs has long been a dream for Laurie. She tells the story of being backstage with cellist Yo-Yo Ma eight years ago. Laurie turned to him and said, "I have this fantasy where I look out, and the whole audience is dogs." He replied, "Are you kidding? I have the same fantasy." And it certainly took a unique person to make that vision a reality. Yoko Ono said that a silent concert for dogs is something "only Laurie can get away with."

But the late night performance wasn't Laurie's first canine gig.  In 2010, she held a concert for hundreds of pups outside the Sydney Opera House, with music also emitted at a low frequency. Laurie describes seeing the dogs' reactions, barking along, as one of the happiest moments of her life.

  Hopefully there are plans for more canine concerts in the future! To check out last night's performance, visit this web page for videos and more photos.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Prosociality in Canines
Dogs may show co-species cooperation in a similar way as humans and primates.
Many scientists consider cooperation to be a unique aspect of human cognition and culture. Voluntary actions that benefit others, also known as prosocial behavior, had only been previously observed in humans and primates. But new research suggests that canines are also capable of prosocial behavior.

Researchers at the University of Vienna were interested in studying prosociality and dogs because of their high level of sociability and the presence of cooperative behaviors in puppy rearing, joint territorial defense, and group hunting. Also, since domestic dogs have been selected for social skills, that could also make them more likely to show pro-social behaviors.

In this study, dogs had the choice to pull one of two levers. One delivered a tray of food to a second dog and the other delivered an empty tray. The experiment was run with both strange and familiar pups (from the same household). As a control, the researchers also performed the test where the the receiver dogs were too far away to actually access the food or the receiver enclosure was empty.

The scientists found that the dogs were more likely to pull the lever for the food tray when they were paired with a familiar receiver. The dogs pulled the lever less when the receivers were too far away to access the food and they hardly ever pulled the empty tray.

According to lead researcher Friederike Ranger, this prosociality between dogs has never been experimentally demonstrated before. The team was most interested in how the degree of familiarity among the dogs influenced the behavior.

I'm curious to know how my dogs would respond to this experiment. If it were a decision between giving a treat or getting a treat, I know they would be much more selfish! What do you think your pups would do?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Can Dogs Improve Your Sleep?
Studies are conflicted on the benefit or disadvantage of sharing a bed with pets.
Many animal lovers sleep with their dogs by their side despite the fact that past studies have found the habit may not be healthy. One 2011 study claimed that allowing pets in bed could put people at risk for certain diseases, such as meningitis or parasites. A 2014 Mayo Clinic study found that more than half of the patients at their Center for Sleep Medicine were people who claimed that their pets disrupted their sleep.

However, a new survey from the Mayo Clinic indicates that there are at least a few benefits to our furry sleep buddies. In a sampling of 150 sleep center patients, 56 percent of the pet households (about half of the 150 surveyed) allowed their pets to sleep with them at night. Of the co-sleepers, 41 percent reported that their pet ether did not disrupt their sleep or actually helped improve sleep by providing warmth, contentment, or relaxation. Only 20% said that their pets had a negative effect on their sleep. Some also noted that having their dog in bed made them feel a sense of companionship when sleeping alone due to a lack of partner or a travelling partner.

These benefits probably come as no surprise to pet lovers, but it's nice to have some positive studies added to the literature.  

Does your dog disrupt your sleep at night?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Toxic Christmas Ornaments
A homemade salt dough ornament causes neurological damage.
When I was a kid, each Christmas we would make homemade ornaments made of salt dough. We'd use cookie cutters to create star and tree shapes, paint them red and green, and bake them in the oven to harden. It's a simple craft that remains popular with families today.

But it turns out that these ornaments are potentially dangerous, a lesson that a Pennsylvania family learned the hard way. Earlier this month the Pospisil family's dog, Lexi, snuck downstairs before everyone was awake and ate one of the salt dough ornaments on the Christmas tree. The couple had made them earlier in the season with their daughter, Alice.

The two year old pup was okay at first, but later started shaking uncontrollably and foaming at the mouth. The Pospisils immediately brought Lexi to the veterinarian, but it was too late. The high salt content of the ornament caused irreversible neurological damage and raised Lexi's body temperature to a dangerous 107 degrees. The poor pup had to be euthanized.

Heartbroken, the Pospisils took to Facebook to share their story and warn others about the danger of salt dough ornaments. So far their post has been shared over 80,000 times.

Some of my salt dough ornaments are well over 20 years old and are quite sentimental. Fortunately, we keep our Christmas tree behind an exercise pen, safe from the dogs and cat. However, I did move the salt dough ornaments to spots high up on the tree just in case. And for future crafts, I plan on switching to a clay recipe without salt.

Do you have salt dough ornaments on your tree?