JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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's Life: Lifestyle
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.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Social App for Dogs
Connecting NYC pups through technology.
In a city of over half a million dogs, it might seem crazy that finding compatible canine playmates would be a problem. But for my Sheltie, Nemo, making friends wasn't easy in Manhattan. There was a dog run right down the street from our old apartment, but Nemo always seemed to get picked on by the other pups. Every weekend I'd search the internet and the local newspapers for any events like canine walk-a-thons, shelter fundraisers, and pet fairs to meet fellow animal lovers and their pups. Eventually Nemo did make a few furry pals in the neighborhood.  

Now with an app for everything, a new iPhone program called Dogways aims to solve this dilemma by connecting dogs around New York City through more casual gatherings. The app allows users to attend and create events, like group walks, meetups, and play dates, as well as the ability to add friends in a canine Facebook-like way. The events can be marked as public, friends only, or private, and can be limited by breed or size. An interactive map makes it easy to find nearby events and view which dogs are attending.  

Similar to my situation with Nemo, founder, Andy Simon, came up with the idea for Dogways after being frustrated that his Westie, Marley, couldn't find any playmates at the park. He then decided to create an app that would equip dog lovers with a tool to socialize and exercise their pups.

For now the app is only available in New York City on iOS, but there are plans for a national roll out and an expansion to Android later in the year.

Have you used technology to find playmates for your pups?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Custom Cart for an Ailing Pup
California Home Depot builds a wagon for a cancer stricken dog.

When Risa Feldman's 15-year old dog, Ike, was diagnosed with bone cancer, she wanted him to be able to enjoy their last few months together. Ike's illness made it painful to move, even with his special wheelchair or harness that Risa uses to help him walk. So she decided to build Ike a cart that would allow him to continue their favorite outings along California's Manhattan Beach.

Risa went to Home Depot asking for help in modifying an existing wagon and got much more than just advice. When employee Ernesto Moran heard Risa's dilemma, he teamed up with co-worker Justin Wadman to create a solution. Not only did they build a custom cart, complete with a small ramp, they also committed to building a ramp for Risa's car to help Ike get in.

Ernesto said that Home Depot allows them to give back to the customers, so he and Justin chose this project to help out Risa and Ike. Their manager didn't hesitate to approve the venture. Risa was incredibly touched by their generosity and now Ike can continue to people watch and bask in the sun from his new cart.  

Check out Ernesto demo the creative ramp feature in this video.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Training on the Streets
N.H. police "click and treat" law abiding citizens.

In dog training, we often say, "what you click is what you get," meaning the behavior you reward will be repeated again. This is true in humans and canines, yet people typically rely on punishment to control behavior in every day life. It may be unrealistic to eliminate giving tickets to speeders or time outs to rowdy kids, but what if we could use successful principles from reinforcement based dog training to increase desirable behaviors in people? One town in New Hampshire is doing an experiment to explore just that.

This winter, the Farmington, N.H. police department, began an experiment to increase desirable habits, like people walking their dogs on leash and using crosswalks. The officers began randomly handing out gift cards for free pizza and fries to people abiding by the rules.  

Police Chief Jay Drury came up with the idea after watching a man make his way to a crosswalk despite this winter's heavy snow. He wanted to reward the man for his perseverance, but didn't quite know how. That's when he teamed up with local convenience store Crowley's Variety & Grill and began the gift card program.

So far the initiative has been well received and they even gained a second sponsor, Holy Rosary Credit Union. By recognizing good behavior, the officers are building a new level of trust with the community, while getting citizens to think twice before breaking the law.

We can get so stuck focusing on bad behavior that it can be good to push ourselves to notice the good!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Simpsons Creative Force Donates Royalties to Charity
Sam Simon has created a lasting legacy of helping animals and people

Editor’s note: Sam Simon died at his home in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles on Sunday, March 8, 2015. He will be remembered for his creative spirit, generosity and love of animals.

Nine-time Emmy winner Sam Simon is famous for his work on the Simpsons television show, but to the countless people and animals he's helped through his charity work, Sam is best known for his dedication to helping others. While many celebrities make donations to their favorite causes, you can tell that Sam's philanthropy has become an important part of his life.

Tragically, Sam was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer earlier this year. He since announced plans to donate nearly all of his Simpsons royalties to charity, thought to be in the tens of millions of dollars annually. Sam says that everyone in his family is taken care of and he loves to be able to use his money to make a difference.

While Sam's decision got a lot of media buzz, this final gift is only part of the legacy that he will leave behind. Over the last decade, Sam has been tireless in his dedication to helping people and animals.  

In 2002, he created the Sam Simon Foundation which runs pet visitation programs at nursing homes, trains shelter pups to be service dogs, and funds a mobile veterinary truck that offers free non-orthopedic surgeries. The organization even runs a vegan food bank for human families in need.  

Sam has also been a longtime supporter of PETA, Save the Children, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. His support of the latter recently funded four ships now being used to hinder whaling and illegal fishing.  

Sam first got involved with animal rights initiatives after trying to change a greyhound racing episode of The Drew Carey Show. Since he couldn't get the writer to edit the script, Sam decided to donate the money he earned from the episode to PETA in order to make a statement about dog racing. Sam teamed up with PETA again after his diagnosis to buy out zoos and circuses. His dream was to see these animals walk on grass for the first time.

Sam will be missed for both his talent and compassion for others, but he will live on through the philanthropic initiatives he's put in place. We certainly need more celebrities like Sam in the world!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Amtrak to Welcome Dogs and Cats
Recent legislation mandates Amtrak to become pet friendly.
Rep. Jeff Denham with Lily, the inspiration for the pet friendly legislation.
The White House and Republican-controlled House of Representatives don't agree on much these days, however, in a rare bipartisan vote, a bill was passed this week that will continue funding to Amtrak and make the train line pet friendly. While the White House didn't fully agree with the legislation, it's believed that support on both sides was won over by the pet-related part of the bill. Amtrak will now be mandated to create a pilot program that welcomes dogs and cats system wide.

The provision was included in the bill by California Representative Jeff Denham who has been advocating for pet friendly trains since he realized several years ago that he couldn't ride Amtrak with his French Bulldog, Lily.

The bill specifically directs Amtrak to figure out parameters of the program within one year of its passing, which will need to include a designated pet car on each train. Traveling animals will ride in a kennel and be subject to a to fee (amount to be determined).

For now, pet kennels must fit within Amtrak's carry-on luggage size limits, 28" x 22" x 14". That's bad news for big dogs, but it is larger than the standard in-cabin size for pets traveling by plane.

Hopefully it won't take long for Amtrak to finalize the parameters since they've already been running pet friendly trains in a pilot program on two lines in Illinois since last spring. 145 dogs and cats have ridden the train since the initiative began.

It's always great to see more pet friendly travel options, particularly alternatives to air travel. I hope to see the kennel size increased in the future to make Amtrak accessible to more dogs.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Trigger for Bone Cancer Identified
Scientists have possibly found the protein behind osteosarcoma.
UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine intern Kathleen Tsimbas checks on Yurtie, a canine cancer patient, in the UW Veterinary Care oncology ward.

With so many dogs I know affected by cancer, I'm always excited to learn about new breakthroughs in the search for a cure. The latest research out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine is an important one, as they may have identified the biological mechanism that gives some cancer cells the ability to form tumors in dogs.

Scientists at the school were interested in why only some cells generate tumors. What they found was a connection between the increased expression of a particular gene in tumor cells and canine bone cancer.

The study looked at cell lines generated from dogs with osteosarcoma, a common bone cancer that also affects people. After removing tumors from the canine participants, the cells were grown in a lab and transplanted into mice. The researchers then looked to see which lines developed tumors and which did not, and the differences between them.

The scientists identified several hundred genes that expressed differently between the tumor-forming and nontumor-forming cell lines. One protein in particular, called frizzled-6, was present at levels eight times higher in cells that formed tumors. Proteins and RNA, like frizzled-6, are responsible for many vital cellular functions, like receiving information and activating pathways that regulate growth. When these pathways go awry, they may contribute to the development of tumors.

Though a preliminary association has been made, it's not clear what role frizzled-6 plays. It's possible that the frizzled-6 expression may be inhibiting a signaling pathway that contributes to the formation of tumor-initiating cells.

Next the researchers want to better understand the findings. Does frizzled-6 serve as a marker of a more aggressive disease? Will identifying the protein improve the accuracy of prognoses? The veterinary school plans to continue the study in order to answer these questions, in addition to expanding the research to human cancer patients. They'd like to confirm that frizzled-6 is truly what gives these cells the ability to form new tumors, or if it's possible that it's part of a combination of multiple genes that lead to tumor formation.

If they can prove that frizzled-6 is behind the tumor-forming cells, the protein may provide oncologists with another target for therapy which would improve outcomes for cancer patients, both canine and human.