JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Childhood Relationships with Pets
Study finds that some kids confide in their dogs more than their human siblings.

Anyone who grew up with animals knows that you develop a special relationship with your pets. For me, my cat was a willing (although sometimes not so willing!) playmate in all my games of make believe. But the child-animal bond may be even more significant than we realized. A new study out of the University of Cambridge found that, not only do these relationships have an impact on positive interpersonal behaviors, but for some kids, they are stronger than the bond they have with their siblings.

These findings are a result of PhD student Matt Cassels' analysis of data from the Toddlers Up Project, a ten year longitudinal study of children's social and emotional development, led by Professor Claire Hughes. The original research included a section on children's relationships with their pets, as well as a broad range of other data from the children, their parents, teachers, and siblings. 

This made the data set unique because, while there are many studies on our relationship with pets, few used the same tool to compare children's relationships with pets with other human relationships, let alone over such a long period of time.

Matt hypothesized that strong pet relationships would make for happier children, but he found that animals create more than just smiles. The kids with solid animal bonds had a higher level of prosocial behavior, such as helping and sharing, than their peers. A subsection of the group, particularly girls and those whose pet was a dog, were even often more likely to confide in their pet than in their sibling.

Matt also found that children who had suffered adversity in their lives, such as bereavement, divorce, illness, or were from disadvantaged backgrounds, were more likely to have a stronger relationships with their pets than their peers, though they did less well academically and suffered more mental health problems.

Thanks to Professor Hughes' decision to include data points on pets in her study, there's a lot of interesting areas of research that can be done from the Toddlers Up Project. One area that Matt is interested in looking at next is the impact of pet deaths on children. I hope to see a lot more insights into the childhood side of the human-canine bond come out of this research!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Hero Pit Bull Helps Lift Ban
A dog's actions inspires a change of heart in Michigan.

Back in March, Jamie Kraczkowski was being attacked by her drunk ex-boyfriend when her Pit Bull, Isis, took a bite and scared him away. The man was charged with domestic violence, and ordered to stay away from Jamie, but Isis didn't get any thanks for her actions. See Jamie and Isis live in the town of Hazel Park, Michigan, which instated a Pit Bull breed ban two years ago. When word of Isis' heroic actions reached local officials, they ordered Jamie to move out with her pup.

Michigan's Political Action Committee for Animals worked on convincing city official to repeal the Pit Bull ban, but in the meantime Jamie ended up raising money to move out of Hazel Park. Protecting Isis was her top priority, so she didn't want to take any chances.  

However, Isis' story eventually did inspire local officials to have a change of heart. Hazel Park has now decided to lift the Pit Bull ban. City Manager Edward Klobucher explained that the 2013 ban originally went into effect because they couldn't "ban stupid owners." But now residents in the city will be able to keep their Pit Bulls as long as they keep them licensed, up-to-date with shots, inside of fenced yards, and maintain homeowner's or renter's insurance.

Thanks to Isis, a Michigan town has realized that they can't punish an entire breed based on irresponsible dog owners or stereotypes. Hopefully this will inspire more cities to think carefully about their breed bans as well!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Eating Out with Dogs
N.Y. state is one step closer to legalizing outdoor dining with pets.
One thing that I love about summer is being able to dine with my pups at restaurants with outdoor seating. There's something fun about enjoying the good weather, sharing food, and people watching with your canine crew. In Manhattan, almost every restaurant with sidewalk dining has as least one or two dogs sitting underneath the tables during the warmer months. While it's not technically legal in New York, that may soon change.

On Wednesday, the New York State Senate approved a bill 60-0 that will let food service establishments welcome dogs in outdoor eating areas. Of course there are a few restrictions. Pets would have to be on leash and kept away from food preparation areas. The outdoor seating area would also have to be accessible without needing to enter the restaurant building. One of the more unusual specifications is that there can't be any communal water bowls. Single-use disposable containers must be used.

The law doesn't mean that dogs will be automatically welcome at any business with outdoor seating as individual restaurants will still be able to set their own policy. The legislation will serve to protect pet friendly restaurants that follow health standards and local ordinances.

The bill will now go to the State Assembly, where the bill's sponsor, Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, is hopeful that it will pass. If the legislation does become a law, New York will join California, which passed a similar state law last year.

Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal made an interesting comment when talking about her bill. She said that pet lovers are some of her most vocal constituencies, frequently writing and calling to express their opinion. I think that's because dog people have a greater sense of community than the average person. We're constantly walking the neighborhood, talking to people, and watching what's going on. With this bill passing in the Senate 60-0, it's clear that we can have a significant impact! 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Consequences for Saving a Dog
Ga. man is arrested for breaking into a hot car to rescue a Yorkie mix.
Last weekend a group of people at an Athens, Georgia shopping center noticed a Yorkie mix panting in a hot car. The police were called, but Army veteran Michael Hammons couldn't wait while the small pup was in distress. He grabbed his wife's wheelchair leg and smashed the car's window, giving the trapped dog some fresh air.

When the dog's owner returned to her vehicle, she was furious. Although the police didn't want to press charges, the woman insisted. She claimed that she only left for a few minutes, but witnesses said it was much longer.

The woman was given a citation for leaving a dog in a hot car, which could result in a $250 fine and community service hours, while Michael was arrested and charged with criminal trespassing. He could face up to a year in prison and a $1,000 fine if convicted.

However Michael has no regrets. He knew there could be consequences and didn't want the dog to be hurt if he could prevent it.

16 states have statues that prohibit leaving animals in cars when their safety is compromised, but Georgia is not one of them. And most of those states only allow law enforcement or humane officers to perform the rescue. In general, a member of the public, like Michael, would not be protected if they entered a car.

The high temperature in Athens on Saturday was 86 degrees. On a day like that, a car can heat up to over 120 degrees in just a few minutes. It's a shame that the woman didn't realize what she did was dangerous and that someone who potentially saved her dog is now being punished. At a minimum, I hope that this story will create more awareness around the dangers of hot cars and pets.

It's common for people to think that they're just going to run a quick errand or that cracking a window will be sufficient, but temperatures can quickly become fatal. Even on a 60-70 degree day, temperatures inside the car can reach well into the 90's and beyond.

What would you do in this situation?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Female v. Male Dogs
Study finds that girl pups are more likely to interact with people.
Many people believe that male dogs are mamma's boys and that female pups are more independent. This is of course a big generalization, but I have found that to be somewhat true of the pups I've had over the years, even if it was just a conincidence! So I was surprised to hear the results of a study coming out of Sweden's Linkoping University that suggested the opposite.

In the experiment, researchers gave 400 Beagles a puzzle that could not be completely solved. Three boxes with clear lids had biscuits inside, but one had its lid stuck shut, making it impossible to eat the treat. Researchers looked to see how the dogs reacted to the frustrating task. What they found was that the females scored significantly higher on social interactions and physical contact. The girls were more likely to look to the human assistant for help, making eye contact or putting their paw up on the person.

The scientists don't know why the females were more social towards humans, but made a hypothesis that it could be a side-effect of their nurturing instincts, making them better at cooperation. Lead researcher, Professor Per Jensen, acknowledges that we should avoid making any assumptions based on the results, particularly since the experiment was done on a group of closely related dogs of the same breed. The study will have to be repeated with a mix of breeds.

Professor Per Jensen is also interested in taking the work in a completely different direction. He would like to explore whether dogs could be important models for understanding the genetic basis of autism in humans, since reduced eye contact and communication have been important aspects of the disorder. That would be a really interesting way to apply this research!

What do you think about the social tendancies of your canine crew?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Capturing the Last Moments
Portland photographer creates lasting memories for grieving animal lovers.
Letting go of a beloved pet is one of the hardest things to do. For those of us who have time to say goodbye, we'll never get enough of those last moments together. Portland, Oregon photographer, Kristin Zabawa, wanted to be able to help grieving pet lovers hold on to those memories and created Soul Sessions, which provides free photo shoots for people with pets in their final stages of life.

It's not easy work, nor is it an easy decision for people to contact Kristin. When they do, it's usually because they have accepted that the end is near.

The goals of her work is to capture the essence of a pet and honor the life the pet had together with their family. Every session is unique, which Kristin approaches with no judgement or expectations.

But Soul Sessions is so much more than just a photo shoot, it becomes part of the grieving process. The pet's family always shares stories and memories with Kristin, filling the time with both laughter and tears. It's therapeutic to talk about their pet, how they met, funny things that happened, and how they helped them through hard times. Being able to capture that relationship is the greatest reward for Kristin.

Next Kristin would like to turn Soul Sessions into a nonprofit so that more pet families can benefit from her work. Currently she has a Indiegogo fundraiser open to help achieve that goal.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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.  

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
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.