JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Obesity at Crufts
Research finds that one in four dogs at the prestigious show are overweight.
Obesity is a growing epidemic in pets, a condition that can lead to a myriad of health problems. Often when I talk to people about their dogs, they simply don't know how to gauge ideal weight.

Many people assume that show dogs are the healthiest and best representation of their breeds, but recent research found that one in four dogs competing in the prestigious Crufts is overweight. As the U.K.'s national canine show and the world's largest, these pups get a lot of visibility.

The study looked at over 1,000 images of dogs from a span of twelve years at Crufts. The canines were drawn from a pool of pups that placed between first and fifth in their class. After coding and anonymizing the images, a researcher graded the body condition of each dog.

Some breeds were far more likely than others to be assessed as overweight--80 percent of the Pug images, 68 percent of Basset Hounds, and 63 percent of Labradors. Standard Poodles, Border Terriers, Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Hungarian Vizlas, and Dobermanns were the least likely breeds to be assessed as overweight.

Researchers acknowledged that the rate of obesity in the show dogs was still less than the general pet population, but the fact that a quarter were above the ideal weight is still a concern.

They hope that their work will draw attention to the obesity issue and encourage education of owners, breeders, and show judges on how to recognize ideal weight in dogs.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Party Puppies for Hire
Renting out dogs is a growing business.
Who wouldn't want a group of cute puppies at their next party? Apparently renting dogs for soirees has become a growing business in the last few years. The companies behind this new trend have reported bringing the furry entertainers to birthdays, office events, and even bachelorette parties. But is hiring dogs for parties sending the wrong message?

One such company in Los Angeles, Calif., which has been selling dogs for decades (already a red flag for the welfare of these animals), started offering puppy parties in the 1990s. Business has picked up recently and they expect to do 800 parties this year. The company has around 70 dogs and puppies at any given time, which are rented at $200 an hour for up to ten puppies.

Most of their business is in children's parties, where the puppies and kids sit in a playpen after being taught proper petting technique. I'm glad they have workers supervising and advising on handling, but the scale of this business makes me nervous that the dogs' best interest is not the first priority.

In a different set-up, Provo, Utah's Puppies for Rent has the ultimate goal of getting customers to adopt puppies. Jenna Miller founded the company three years ago after missing her dog while studying at Bringham Young University. Now with three locations near college campuses, Jenna takes unwanted pups (from rescue organizations and owner surrenders), puts them in foster homes, and then rents them out to students by the hour. Afterwards, renters can apply for permanent adoption. Most puppies have gone to forever homes within two months. This model seems better since the interaction is one-on-one and encourages long term adoption.

I'm a bit conflicted on the whole puppy party idea. It can certainly be a way to socialize young pets, while teaching kids how to to safely interact with dogs, but I worry that turning this into a business model can lead to overworked and overwhelmed puppies. Allowing people to rent dogs can also support the idea that caring for a pet isn't a long term commitment.

This concept would be cool if it could be adapted for animal shelters and rescue organizations. Instead of renting a playpen of puppies, parents could have someone from the local shelter come with a dog or two in exchange for a donation. It would be a great opportunity to not only teach kids about the proper way to approach dogs, but to also educate on homeless pets and canine behavior.

What do you think about puppies for hire?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Fitness App Raises Money for Rescue
ResQWalk allows users to track their exercise while benefiting homeless pets.
When I started training for a half marathon last year, I used a fitness app to track my runs. It was encouraging to see the progress I made, increasing my mileage from one to ten miles over a few months. But what if I could keep tabs on my exercise and benefit rescue pets, with minimal additional effort on my part? Seems like a no brainer!

ResQWalk, launched last year by Bailey Schroeder, combines the popularity of fitness apps with the opportunity to help animals, even for those who might not have a lot of time or money to donate. The app is a fun way to tap into what people are already doing.

Inspired by her rescue pup, Charlie, Bailey wanted to create an easy way for people to donate to the animal welfare organizations of their choice. Other apps link donations to walking, but ResQWalk has a lot of additional functionality that make the app more interactive.

Each week ResQWalk announces a donation pool, typically around $2,500, which is funded from an Indiegogo campaign. Users choose a rescue or shelter to walk for before they head out. The distance is recorded in user profiles and is added to each organization's weekly sum. At the end of the week donations are paid out to the rescue and shelters proportionally to the total distance walked.

Similar to fitness apps, users can view their walk history, including time and distance traveled, and the rescues they've supported. The app also has a leaderboard to see which rescues and shelters are racking up the most miles over each week. I hope that they include some runner-specific functions in the future, like recording your average pace. There are a lot of aspiring marathoners that would love to use this app!

Bailey and her team vet each organization that apply to be sure that their mission aligns with theirs. Bailey's next step for ResQWalk is to enlist corporate sponsors to pick up when the Indiegogo funds are done.

This is such a cool way to raise money for shelters!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Advocating for Dogs Left in Cars
NFL player sits in a hot vehicle to raise awareness.
There's been a lot of news lately about dogs being left to suffer or die in hot cars. Recently Arizona Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu took a challenge to sit in a hot car in 90-degree weather to see how long he could handle it. As a dog lover, Tyrann wanted to participate in the test to raise awareness for not leaving pets in cars, no matter how quick the stop.

In the video it's obvious that Tyrann was distressed as the car's temperature reached 120 degrees. He only lasted eight minutes, saying "I couldn't imagine leaving my dog in a car like this."

Tyrann urges people to be responsible when taking pets on trips where they'll have to stay behind in the car--even if the windows are rolled down or if it's a cloudy day.

I hope that this video makes people think twice about leaving dogs in the car, but also wish Tyrann highlighted the danger of hot vehicles even when the temperature isn't excessively high. Many people won't leave pets in the car when it's 90 degrees and sunny, but it's not as obvious that a 70 degree day can heat a vehicle to over 100 degrees in 30 minutes. However, I'm still happy to see Tyrann create some awareness around this topic!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Portraits of Failed Shelter Pups
Florida artist is raising awareness for the thousands of rescue pets killed each day.
When Florida artist Mark Barone was looking to adopt a rescue pup, he learned just how overwhelming the situation is at animal shelters across the country. Inspired to raise awareness, he decided to take action through his art. Mark started painting portraits of pets who never made it out of the shelter system alive. He set a goal to paint 5,500 pieces to represent the approximate number of dogs killed at shelters on a daily basis.

The project, called An Act of Dog, wasn't without its challenges. Mark's partner, Marina Dervan, says it was deeply saddening to choose which dogs to pick. She would look at their eyes and connect with their souls, making sure to use a variety of pups--including senior, injured, deaf, and blind dogs.

After completing 4,995 portraits, Mark experienced a major setback when a storm damaged nearly 1,000 paintings. But the massive task finally completed this spring, four years after starting. In the meantime, Act of Dog has become so much more than just an artistic marathon.

There are now two more planned phases of the project. The second is underway, selling prints of the artwork to raise money for shelters and rescue organizations. And they're currently fundraising for the third phase, an exciting showcase of the 5,500 portraits and eleven additional larger paintings which will represent other important issues, such as dog fighting, puppy mills, and animal testing.

The Museum of Compassion is planned as a poignant exhibit and educational platform. The 5,500 individual portraits will come together to make up the Wall of Compassion, collectively making a bold statement about the dogs we lose each day. There will also be a space for conferences and talks on compassion and humane solutions, as well as a learning spot for kids.

Check out their web site for more information on this exciting project!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Bucket List for Dying Shelter Dog
Senior pup with cancer spends his last days loved and appreciated.
Senior dogs are hard enough to adopt out when they're healthy, so the Animal Ark Rescue in Georgia knew it would be no easy task to find someone to care for Chester, a 14-year old pup suffering from terminal cancer. The elderly dog had a huge tumor on his head and was rescued in April from a high kill shelter to live out his final days in peace.

Fortunately Nicole Elliot happened to be browsing the rescue's Facebook page when she came upon Chester's photo and story. Seeing his sad face, Nicole was determined to make the most of the pup's remaining days. Before Nicole picked up Chester from the rescue, she came up with a handful of little adventures to guide his remaining time on earth.

Chester and Nicole spent almost two weeks together before he passed away. In that short time, they played in the river at Flatrock Park, ate a hot dog at a Nathan's restaurant, went on a shopping spree at a local pet store, and had a professional photo shoot. Their adventures are documented on Facebook.

Their story also raised thousands of dollars for Animal Ark Rescue's hospice program, highlighted how special older dogs are, and showed what a big difference we can make in just a couple of days. I hope Chester inspires others to take a second look at senior pups!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Rescued From Utah Mountain
Firefighters save a runaway pup scared from holiday fireworks.
The Fourth of July is considered the scariest holiday for dogs, as thousands of pets go missing each year due to noisy fireworks. This past weekend, a frightened puppy from Salt Lake City had quite the adventure, first running away to the mountains and then being rescued by firefighters.

Rue, a one year old Vizsla, was spooked by fireworks on Saturday and bolted into the nearby mountains. The next day hikers discovered the young dog on a trail, nervous, thirsty, and injured. After calling the local fire department, a crew of firefighters banded together to hike up the mountain and rescue Rue.

Realizing Rue was too tired and hurt to walk by herself, firefighter Tony Stowe ended up carrying the sizable dog down the mountain, draped over his shoulders. The team then brought Rue to Animal Services, where her microchip was used to find her family.

Rue's story is an important reminder to microchip your pet and to take extra precautions around potentially scary holidays, like Fourth of July and Halloween.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Legalizing Pets in Our Final Resting Place
Mass. considers allowing pet burials in human cemeteries.
Cemeteries serve as a final resting place for families, so it's only natural that people would want that family to include their pets. However, it's not easy to include animals in traditional burial plans. Most states don't allow pets to be buried in human cemeteries and, a few years ago, New York temporarily banned the spreading of human ashes in pet cemeteries. It's apparently a controversial topic.

However, this could soon change for Massachusetts residents. Sponsored by State Rep. Nick Collins, Massachusetts legislators met last week on a bill that would allow the state's cemeteries to designate land for humans and pets to be buried alongside each other, including cremated remains.

Although the bill is in motion, it's not a straightforward issue. Critics oppose the legislation due to environmental, sanitary, and religious concerns. The Massachusetts Cemetery Association has not yet taken a position on the idea and has been considering what exactly the law would mean. They're currently looking into the impact on other people who own plots or have relatives buried in cemeteries and if the law would permit humans to be buried in unregulated pet cemeteries.

If the bill were to pass, it would make Massachusetts the fifth state to allow pet burials alongside humans. There is also much variation among the current laws. Last year Virginia passed legislation that permits pets and pet owners to be buried side by side, as long as they're not in the same grave or coffin. In Florida, pet remains can be interred with a human provided the pet died first.

What do you think about pet burials in human cemeteries?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
World's Ugliest Dog Crowned
Is this annual contest a good or bad thing?
Last week a new dog was crowned the world's ugliest dog. This year the title went to Quasi Modo, a Pit Bull-Dutch Shepherd mix from Florida. Quasi Modo has multiple birth defects to her spine, which made her back abnormally short. However she is still able to run and play. Quasi Modo took the award from a pool of 27 other pups at the Sonoma-Marin Fair's annual contest in Petaluma, California.

The dogs are judged on first impressions, unusual attributes, natural ugliness, personality, and audience impression. Karen Spencer, marketing director for the fair, says that inner beauty and personality shine in the popular contest.

Based on past winners and the first and second runner-ups, Chinese Crested Chihuahuas, and their characteristically funky appearance, seem to take the top prize a lot. But Quasi Modo embodies the contest's core mission--to encourage the adoption of dogs, regardless of their physical appearance.

Quasi Modo's owners say that their 10-year pup has been mistaken for a hyena or Tasmanian devil and people have even jumped in their cars to get away. But once they get to know her, Quasi Modo wins everyone over with her bubbly personality. She's become an ambassador for teaching people about acceptance and tolerance for things that are different.

Initially I was turned off by the idea of an ugly dog contest. First, it assumes there is some agreed standard of beauty or ugliness. Second, some of these "winning features" could very well be the product of exaggerated characteristics resulting from inbreeding or other questionable breeding practices in the search for perfection.

But, I do love that this year the contest is celebrating a rescue pup who was probably passed over many times before finding her forever home. I hope others are inspired to open their home to one of the less popular dogs at the shelter.

What do you think about this annual contest?

Culture: DogPatch
Live from Brooklyn: Canine Improv

The play I was watching was just 10 minutes in when a black Labrador jumped up next to me and settled in for a nap. This was going to be no ordinary theater experience.

I was at JACK, a performing-arts space in Brooklyn, N.Y., to see Comfort Dogs: Live from the Pink House, the latest experimental play written and directed by William Burke. The Labrador, Gypsy, along with mixed-breed pups Bronco and Bluet, was part of the play’s canine cast.

Comfort Dogs explores the relationship between humans and canines, and our dependence on them, through music and spoken word. Burke was inspired to create the play after reading about therapy dogs visiting a local nursing home in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It sparked his curiosity about the emotional responsibility we assign to dogs, and their willingness to stay by our side despite not understanding most of what we say or do.

Normally, when dogs are involved in theatrical productions, their roles are carefully scripted and their behaviors are thoroughly rehearsed. Burke wanted something that felt more natural and spontaneous for Comfort Dogs.

“I didn’t want trained dogs doing things because they had to. That’s not what we were trying to do,” Burke explained. “The idea was to create an environment where the dogs could do anything they wanted, and no one would tell them not to be a dog.”

The result was about an hour of organic interaction between human and canine actors that complemented the play’s monologues and songs. The people also acted like dogs, sniffing, howling and scratching, while the three canine stars were free to be themselves. The dogs’ unscripted roles also meant that each show was unique. It felt like canine improv.

Working with animals, especially in an unscripted setting, presents logistical challenges—among them, finding the ideal performance space. An early iteration that enclosed the dogs on stage, per the original theater’s requirements, took away from the show’s free spirit. The space at JACK allowed Comfort Dogs to unfold as Burke had originally envisioned, showcasing the dogs’ natural behavior.

The three canine actors, each a different breed, size and personality, complemented each other as well, although they were primarily chosen because they were familiar with all of the people on stage. Bronco is Burke’s dog; Gypsy is bass player Paul Ketchum’s pup; and Bluet, whom Burke rescued from a local park, now lives with a friend. The actors’ existing relationships with the dogs grew as they worked on the play together.

It will also come as no surprise to any dog lover that the human actors learned a lot from being on stage with their canine counterparts.

“When you’re an actor, you always talk about ‘being present’ on stage,” says Burke. “With the dogs, they’re present all the time. It was certainly exciting to see.”

Now that Comfort Dogs has closed, the director hopes to work on a longer piece that incorporates more dogs. One of his ideas is to partner with a local shelter so that audience members could adopt the canine actors, making the play even more immersive.

It was refreshing to see Comfort Dogs explore canine theater in this manner, and I look forward to Burke’s next work. Incorporating shelter pups would be an exciting way to give back to dogs, who give us so much.