JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
University of Florida study compares shelter breed assessments and DNA tests.
February 19 2016
My local shelter is filled to the brim with homeless bully dogs, but because of the stigma around these breeds, these dogs are often overlooked. It's such a problem that some area rescue groups transport non-bully breeds from the South to make available for adoption.
A recent study at the University of Florida found that shelter pups are often mislabeled as Pit Bulls, which can adversely affect their chances of being adopted. According to Julie Levy, a professor at the school and the lead researcher on the study, animal shelter staff and veterinarians are frequently expected to guess the breed of dogs on appearance alone.
"In the high-stakes world of animal shelters, a dog's life might depend on a potential adopter's momentary glimpse and assumptions about its suitability as a pet. If the shelter staff has labeled the dog as a pit bull, its chances for adoption automatically go down in many shelters."
The researchers evaluated breed assessments of 120 dogs made by 16 staff members, including four veterinarians, across four area shelters. These staff members had at least three years of experience working in a shelter environment. The researchers took blood samples from the dogs, developed DNA profiles, and compared the findings against the staff's initial assessments.
There was a wide range of skill when it came to correctly associating a dog to a predominant breed. Dogs with Pit Bull heritage breed DNA (defined to include the American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier), were identified only 33 to 75 percent of the time, depending on the staff member. They also found only a moderate level of agreement among staff members who evaluated the same dogs.
While there's a larger problem at play--changing the unfair perception of bully breeds--inaccurately labeling dogs as Pit Bulls can have significant implications like reduced adoption rates, higher insurance fees, and even exclusion from living in certain cities or buildings. Animal shelters have hundreds of pets come in every month, making it hard to spend more than a few minutes determining a pup's predominant breed. This is no easy feat for overwhelmed rescue organizations. However, this study shows how important the label can be in determining a dogs' fate.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Fetch! identifies your pups' breed makeup through new technology.
February 12 2016
A few years ago, consumer canine DNA tests became popular among dog lovers curious about their pets' heritage. Through a cheek swab or blood sample, you could see what interesting mix of breeds your rescue pup was made up of. But for many, the novelty didn't warrant the price tag.
Now there's a free, though less scientific, alternative through an app called Fetch! The program was created by Microsoft Garage, a project lab that lets Microsoft employees work on projects not related to their regular job (it's been compared to Google's famous "20% time" initiative).
Using machine learning technology, Fetch! uses a photo database to classify the makeup of a dog. When you take a picture of your pup, it'll tell you the closest percentage of your dog's breed. If your dog is a mix, you can tap the percentage of see the top five potential breeds. My rescue dog, Scuttle, came up as 99% Border Collie, which I think is accurate, but I tried the app with my friends' pups and they came up mostly Basenji and Chihuahua, which I was doubtful about. However, I can see that the accuracy can very depending on the quality of the photo you use.
If you take a non-dog photo, it will say "No dogs found" and offer a guess as to what it is. I tried a photo of my cat and it successfully identified her as a cat. If you use a photo of a person, it will go into Fetch! Fun mode and put cartoon ears on your head and playfully suggest a breed.
Fetch! uses a technology called deep neural networks to identify subtle of differences in images. According to Mitch Goldberg, a development director at Microsoft Research, this is what makes the app successful. You don't train the algorithm on a particular dog breed. In the training process, you give it a number of images and the computer determines what's unique in each of the photos.
Fetch! should improve over time as users leave feedback on the accuracy of the results. Currently the program is available as an iOS app and through a web site.
Whether it's accurate or not, it's certainly a fun program to try with your pups!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A Virginia man faced jail time for failing to bring his dog to the vet.
February 10 2016
Deciding when to say goodbye to a beloved pet is never an easy one. When Travis Evans drove to the Stafford Animal Shelter last July to euthanize his family's Labrador Retriever, Buxton, he never imagined that he would be charged with animal cruelty. However, eleven days after Buxton was euthanized, Travis, still grieving, faced a class one misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.
The story began in December 2014 when the Evans family noticed a mass on Buxton's front paw. They brought him to a veterinarian who surgically removed the growth, however the procedure revealed that the seven year old pup had terminal cancer. Buxton did pretty well after the surgery until last July when the he had a seizure in the family's kitchen. Travis immediately called their vet office, which was closed, and then local emergency hospital. But by that time Buxton seemed to rebound and was walking around their backyard. Since he seemed to be doing okay, and they already knew about the terminal illness, the family decided not to take Buxton to the emergency vet appointment. But a few days later Buxton collapsed on the floor. Travis then made the decision to euthanize Buxton through the animal shelter.
The animal cruelty case focused on the four day gap between Buxton's first seizure and when Travis brought him in for euthanasia. The Commonwealth's Attorney's Office contends that the family ignored veterinarian recommendations and allowed Buxton to suffer. There's a lot of information missing from this case, so I can see why the charges were later dropped, citing the family wasn't intentionally cruel.
While I understand that the Evans' may have been short on money and felt they already knew Buxton had cancer, but if it were me, I would've brought my dog to the veterinarian immediately following the first seizure. That decision is certainly at the crux of the misdemeanor charge, however it seems like a bit of a slippery slope. The other side of this case is also interesting because the decision of when to euthanize a pet is often a bit subjective. Thinking about one of my past cats, I often think that I let him suffer too long because I didn't want to say goodbye.
I'm glad that Stafford officials seemto be monitoring potential cruelty so closely, but I can see how these charges could be applied inconstantly. I also fear that this case could discourage people from calling the veterinarian, thinking that it could put them on the radar for a possible charge.
How do you think the Evans' family case should have been handled?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A Florida police officer adopts a dog after responding to a call at a local shelter.
February 6 2016
There have been many altercations between dogs and police officers in the news lately, but not all of them are negative. Last month Officer Marcus Montgomery, of the Fort Walton Beach Police Department in Florida, responded to a routine call at the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and ended up leaving with a new furry family member!
While conducting his investigation, Officer Montgomery spotted a puppy who had been abandoned the night before. He jokingly said, "don't bring him in here or else I will take him home right now." But before he knew it, he was holding the pup who proceeded to lick his nose. Officer Montgomery couldn't say no to the convincing puppy that he later named Kylo.
Kylo was left in a box behind the shelter overnight, during freezing cold weather. Now the lucky pup joins the Montgomery family's Pit Bull Terrier, Vader. Kylo also continues the tradition of Star Wars themed names.
Officer Montgomery hopes that Kylo's story will inspire others to visit their local animal shelters to give these abandoned dogs a new lease on life.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The maternal instinct is strong in humans and canines.
February 4 2016
Last month Karen London wrote about the importance of maternal care on puppies' development. Young dogs whose mothers interacted with with them a lot were more socially and physically engaged than those with less involved moms. Maternal instinct is clearly important for canines, and that extends to "adopted" puppies.
A stray dog in Canada had such strong maternal instincts that she broke out of her kennel to comfort a litter of puppies.
It all started at Barkers Pet Motel and Grooming in Alberta Canada which fosters many dogs while they wait to be adopted. Maggie, a dog whose own litter had already been adopted, heard another litter of abandoned puppies whimpering in the middle of their first night in the facility.
When motel owner Sandy Aldred checked the surveillance camera, she saw that Maggie had somehow broke out of her kennel and was laying in front of the puppies' enclosure. So Sandy went to the kennel and let Maggie into the puppies' enclosure. The next morning, Maggie was still cuddled up with the puppies. Sandy's son, Alex, believes that Maggie needed the frightened puppies as much as they needed her.
The little ones are around ten weeks old and are still looking for homes through Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society (AARCS).
According to AARCS worker Deanna Thompson, it's not the first time they've seen this instinct at play. They've even seen male dogs console crying puppies to make sure they feel safe.
Just another way we humans share similar qualities to canines.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Runners in an Alabama race were surprised at their canine participant.
February 1 2016
Runners in Alabama were starting the Elkmont Train Trek Half-Marathon when they were soon accompanied by a four legged participant. Ludivine, a two-year old Bloodhound, was outside for a bathroom break when she joined the runners at the start and followed the speedy participants to the finish line.
Not only did Ludivine, also known as Lu, complete the race, but she crossed the finish line seventh overall after about an hour and a half. The race organizers were so impressed that they awarded Lu a finishers medal.
April Hamlin was mortified at first to learn about Lu's adventure, worrying that she'd get in the way of the runners. But ultimately April was surprised to hear about her pup's athletic feat, saying she's "actually really lazy," but joked that Lu's debut had her inspired to be more active.
Although the race is officially 13.1 miles, racers that ran alongside Lu said that she ran even further, making her seventh place finish even more impressive. While the human participants stayed on the course, Lu greeted a dog sitting next to the road and visited a field with mules and cows.
Lu isn't the first dog to compete alongside humans to finish a half marathon. In 2011, Dozer, a three-year old Golden Doodle ran a half marathon in Maryland after escaping from his invisible fence. He finished in just over two hours, prompting Maryland Half Marathon co-founder Jon Sevel to promise he'd get Dozer his own bib number that said K9.
If Lu can turn around her lazy reputation, I think we can all find the inspiration to follow through on any fitness related New Year resolutions!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
This year the National Incident-Based Reporting System will include data on animal cruelty crimes.
January 28 2016
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
Residential developments are increasingly catering to dog lovers.
January 23 2016
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
Study links health risks to dogs living in smoking environments.
January 21 2016
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
The CNN anchor donates ballistic vests to the Norfolk Police K9 Unit.
January 15 2016
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.
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