Home
JoAnna Lou

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

Good Dog: Studies & Research
Tibetan Mastiffs Thrive at High Altitude
Study finds that dogs and humans adapted to mountain living in a similar way.

Sherpas from Nepal and Tibet are known for their unique ability to thrive in high-altitudes, most famously Mount Everest. Scientists believe that this adaptation was acquired over time by interbreeding with the now extinct humans known as Denisovans. A new study from the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences believes that Tibetan Mastiffs may have followed a similar path.

Like their human counterparts, Tibetan Mastiffs can also live in regions most others can’t—in the thin mountain air above 4,000 meters. The lead researcher and geneticist, Zhen Wang, believes that similar to people, this ability was acquired by interbreeding with gray wolves that already lived at high altitudes more than 20,000 years ago.

This breeding allowed the mastiffs to produce less hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in red blood cells. This helps the dogs avoid clots and stokes that can arise when the body produces additional red blood cells in an effort to acquire more oxygen at high altitude. Scientists believe the gene responsible for the adaptation is called EPAS1, which regulates the production of hemoglobin, but weren’t sure how the mastiffs acquired it.

Zhen and his team suspected that the source was gray wolves since they had the EPAS1 gene and had lived on the Tibetan Plateau for some time. So they analyzed segments of DNA containing the gene from 29 canines, including Chinese highland and lowland gray wolves, Tibetan Mastiffs, Chinese lowland village dogs, and a golden jackal. As it turns out, Tibetan Mastiffs are much more closely related to other Chinese dogs than than gray wolves, but they found two genetic areas in the mastiffs that had signs of interbreeding with the Tibetan gray wolf. While the mastiffs got a useful adaptation out of the deal, there’s no genetic evidence that the wolves got anything beneficial in return.

Either way, it’s very cool to see dogs and humans adapt in a similar way!

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Four Legged Employee Goes Viral
A Texas Lowes gains attention for hiring a service dog and her human.

Recently a Lowes in Abilene, Texas has gotten a lot of attention for hiring an employee who looks a little different than the average worker with her fur and four legs. A couple shopping at the home improvement store spotted the Golden Retriever named Charlotte and found out she was a service dog that was hired along with Clay Luthy, a disabled Air Force veteran. They were so impressed that they posted a photo on Facebook, which went viral.

Clay’s multiple Air Force deployments resulted in countless surgeries. He credits Charlotte with allowing him to avoid medications and live independently. Still it wasn’t wasn’t easy to find a job. But when he and Charlotte showed up to the interview at Lowes, they assured him that it wouldn’t be a problem to bring Charlotte to work every day. In fact Lowes already allows well behaved pets in their stores.

A few weeks later Lowes extended a job offer and Clay made Charlotte her own employee vest out of an old Lowe’s apron.

At ten years old, Charlotte will have to retire soon. Clay has been training a seven-month old puppy named Lola to take her place, but Charlotte has left a lasting impression.

Not only has Charlotte helped Clay maintain a job, but she has become an ambassador at the store, entertaining kids while their parents shop and putting smiles on people’s faces.

Finding and holding a job is just one of the challenges that people with disabilities have to deal with every day. After seeing stories like Lisa McComb’s difficulty flying home with her service dog, it’s refreshing to see a company with a more accommodating view. Hopefully more will follow suit!

Dog's Life: Events
A Wedding Becomes a True Family Affair
Maid of honor makes sure her sister's dog makes it down the aisle.
Our pets are our family, so it's only natural to want to include them in all of our important life events. When veterinarians Kelly O'Connell and James Garvin were planning their wedding in Denver, Colorado, they knew all of their dogs had to be a part of the ceremony, including their sick Labrador Retriever Charlie Bear.

At 15 years old, Charlie had been battling a brain tumor since April. On the wedding day earlier this fall, Charlie was weak but started walking down the aisle with Kelly's sister and maid of honor, Katie Lloyd. But even the aisle proved to be too far for Charlie. So without hesitation, Katie picked up the 80-pound pup and carried him to the alter to be with Kelly. It was an emotional day for the couple and all of the guests.

“Both of us just dropped to our knees and started crying,” said Kelly. “To see him be carried a few feet, it kind of solidified for me that it’s not the Charlie he liked to be. He was aging, and it hit me knowing that he lost a lot.”

Kelly's friend and photographer, Jen Dziuvenis, was there taking photographs. She was in tears but knew it was important to capture Charlie at Kelly and James' special day.

“When your beloved dog who is at the end of his life can’t make it back up the aisle and your sister scoops him up and carries him... THAT is love,” Jen wrote on Facebook. “There isn’t enough mascara in the world for these moments. Dog people are the best people.”

The wedding turned out to be one of Charlie's last days. Later that week, he passed away.

I'm sure that Kelly and James couldn't imagine their wedding without Charlie, so I'm glad that they were able to create one last memory together. 

Dog's Life: Humane
Cyber Monday Deal to Help Shelter Pups
Virgin America launches their Tiny Dogs Tiny Fares promotion.
For better or worse it's become an American ritual to race to the stores on Black Friday and hunt for online deals on Cyber Monday. To try and counteract the spending frenzy, a new movement started a few years ago, naming the Tuesday after Thanksgiving 'Giving Tuesday,' reminding people to give back to their favorite charity. But this year you didn't have to wait until Tuesday to get a good deal and help out homeless pets.

This past weekend, Virgin America launched one of their biggest sales of the year, coupled with a #TinyDogsTinyFares Cyber Monday promotion of up to 30 percent off flights plus a $10 donation from every booking to its animal shelter partners: The San Francisco Animal Care and Control (SF ACC), The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), and Animal Haven.

In conjunction with the deal, Virgin America also organized its seventh 'Operation Chihuahua' airlift this week, flying Chihuahuas from San Francisco to New York where they are more adoptable. California's Chihuahua overpopulation problem forces West Coast animal shelters to look to the East Coast where the demand for smaller dogs exceeds the supply. Virgin America has relocated 100 Chihuahuas since the collaboration with the SF ACC began in 2010. These homeless Chihuahuas get the VIP treatment, receiving a red carpet send-off and a flight with plenty of treats and toys.

“This is always a fun day for our Teammates, who volunteer to fly over a 24-hour period as traveling companions in order to get these pups to their forever homes on the East Coast," said Virgin America Brand Marketing and Communications Vice President Abby Lunardini. "Many of our Teammates, including myself, as well as our flyers, are passionate animal lovers, and it is heartwarming to see so many come together to support the important and under-funded work the SF ACC is doing. We’re proud to be a small part of that.”

It's nice to see companies giving back and bringing attention to a great cause, especially on a weekend where it's easy to get caught up in the shopping craze.

 

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Canine Races on the Rise
Doggy triathlons are becoming more popular as people seek activities to do with their pets.
Six years ago, when my Sheltie, Nemo, and I ran the Iams Doggy Dash, held in conjunction with the New York City Triathlon, there weren't that many races made for dogs. It was definitely much more fun training for a race with Nemo by my side. As race organizers realized that people wanted more activities to do with their pets, more dog oriented races have popped up--even at the highest levels of competition.

An Austrian company started the annual Iron Dog competition seven years ago and was a trailblazer for tailoring endurance events for pets. Now similar races have been created in Germany, the Czech Republic, and the United Kingdom, which is hosting its first dog triathlon, the Tridog, next year.

The courses are often shortened from the equivalent human-only races to prevent dogs from overheating, which was something I was concerned about when I ran with Nemo. I took a lot of precautions to ensure that he was happy and healthy the entire time. Our dogs will follow us anywhere and it's important we look out for their best interests. Not all pups are meant to run triathlons and it's our job to know what is over our pet's limits.

Unlike their human counterparts, many of these races have organized training meetups to help ensure participants are properly conditioning their dogs. While running is something that canines do naturally, endurance running, distance swimming, and trotting alongside a bike are skills that need to be gradually introduced and built up over time.

Human races have exploded in popularity over the last few years, and the increased numbers have been accompanied by a surge in injuries. Many of these are thought to be attributed to a lack of training and conditioning. I hope that's not something we see with the rise in canine races. These events have the potential to inspire people to be more active with their dogs, as long as they do it safely and thoughtfully.

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
From Maine's Wilderness to Hollywood's Red Carpet
An east coast search and rescue dog is honored in Los Angeles.

One of the qualities I admire most about working dogs is how they approach each day with such enthusiasm. Whether it's the service dog who helps their handler live more independently or the explosives detection dog that saves the lives of everyone in harm's way, these pups give us their all, often without any thanks.

The American Humane Hero Dog Awards wanted to change that by recognizing the heroes on both ends of the leash. Each year they solicit nominations for pups in eight categories--Law Enforcement, Service, Therapy, Military, Guide/Hearing, Search and Rescue, Arson, and Emerging Hero. A combination between online voting and a panel of judges determines the winner in each category. Those eight finalists are flown to Hollywood for an awards gala that honors each dog and announces the grand prize winner.

To help cultivate the next generation of hero dogs, the American Humane Association donates $2,500 to each of the eight finalists' charity partners and an additional $5,000 for the grand prize winner's charity partner.

This year the grand prize winner was a search and rescue dog named Kobuk. The 7-year old German Shepherd and his handler, Elizabeth Fossett, have been volunteering with Maine Search and Rescue Dogs (MESARD) for the last four years. While they may make it look easy, search and rescue requires a lot of work. It took two years to find Kobuk since not all dogs are cut out for this kind of job. The searches often require for them to work eight hours at a time for multiple days. And when not deployed, Elizabeth spends 30 hours a month training and keeping Kobuk's skills fresh. But seeing the difference they've made makes it totally worth it. Elizabeth remembers early in their search and rescue career, Kobuk located 77-year old Ruth Brennan who had diabetes and dementia. Ruth had been missing for three days until Kobuk tracked 2/10 of a mile to find her.

"Kobuk came up over the hill and gave me his trained bark alert that he had found her and located her," remembers Elizabeth. It was a thrilling and life changing moment. Nonetheless, Elizabeth never thought she and Kobuk would be flying to Los Angeles to be honored for their work.

"Pinch me," said Elizabeth. "Because how did we go from running around the woods of Maine to walking around the red carpet of Hollywood?" The award couldn't have gone to a more humble and deserving team. I love that the American Humane Association highlights these amazing teams who work behind the scenes.

To learn more about Kobuk and Elizabeth, head over to the American Humane Hero Dog Awards web site to see their tribute video. If you were inspired, consider making a donation to Maine Search and Rescue Dogs to support their all-volunteer team.

Dog's Life: Humane
Disturbing Numbers for Police and Dogs
Records uncover the Detroit police killed at least 21 dogs so far this year.
News stories about police officers killing dogs seem to have become more common in recent years. News web site, Reason, decided to investigate this trend and examined records from the Detroit Police Department. The results were pretty grim. Detroit police officers killed 25 dogs in 2015 and at least 21 so far this year, with certain individuals coming in as worst offenders. Two officers in particular were responsible for killing more than 100 dogs between the two of them over the course of their careers. And in January, two pups were killed in a narcotics search by an officer who had shot 39 dogs prior to that day. This has been an ongoing issue in Detroit as the police department has been at the center of numerous lawsuits involving canines, two which were settled outside of court.   As if the numbers aren't bad enough, Reason believes that the police department may be hiding just how bad the problem is. The web site's staff found at least seven incidents documented in lawsuits and media reports that were not found in the released records. The Detroit Law Department, which handles public record requests for the city, said it never received those reports, which means the police department either failed to find them or intentionally hid them. The actual number of dogs shot by Detroit police is unknown and potentially much higher than records indicate.

This isn't limited to Detroit. Recently, body cam footage of a Colorado police officer shooting a dog has brought even more attention to this issue. In that case, the officer in question was responding to a call about two aggressive dogs. His body camera footage shows one of the dogs barking towards a police car, the boom of a shotgun, and the yelp of a dog. You can see the American Bulldog, Angelo, scramble away after being shot. The camera also captured an officer saying some derogatory words about Angelo and then later dragging the pup around by his neck.

Just like the majority of Pit Bulls are well behaved, the majority of police officers are not killing dogs. However, it's clear that there is a growing problem throughout the country. Body cameras can help keep police accountable, but it doesn't get at the root cause. For starters, I think police departments need protocol and training on how to handle dogs they may encounter on the job. Most officers don't receive any guidance in this area. I also hope that this spotlight on Detroit will put pressure on other police departments to be more diligent in capturing data on canine deaths and to identify a solution.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Hundreds Join a Pup on His Last Walk
The canine community comes together to support a man and his dog in their final days together.
Last week Mark Woods faced a hard day ahead when he planned to bring his pup, Walnut, on one last walk before having to put him to sleep. Mark knew it would be an emotional day, so he posted his plans on Facebook, hoping a few friends and family would join him. Instead, over 19,000 people reacted to Mark's Facebook post and hundreds joined the pair on Saturday at one of Walnut's favorite places--Porth Beach in Cornwall, England. And many more joined in spirit from around the world, taking their dogs on a walk at the same time.
    Mark's post read:

“Walk with Walnut. Sadly I am having to have Walnut euthanised on Saturday 12th November and so we will be having a last walk together on his beloved Porth Beach at 9.30am. I would love it if dog lovers/owners and friends would join us for a celebration of Walnut on his favourite Porth Beach. He has had an incredible life and having reached the grand age of 18 is ready for his final sleep. Hope to see you on Saturday.”

  But his plight united dog-lovers the world over – and he was inundated with thousands of messages of support. ‘It’s been overwhelming,’ he said. ‘I’ve had no children and Walnut has been my child over all these years. The walk was part of my effort to make Walnut’s last day as normal as possible.’
Mark was humbled by the outpouring of support received from all over the world and was reminded “just how lucky we are to be alive and to share in the wonderful world that our pets give us.” He has since been interviewed by radio stations from around the world as the story spread, said: ‘This really celebrates the special relationship I have had with Walnut. In human years he’s well over 100.

‘He helped me survive a very serious illness – though I think he’s also cost me relationships. I’m on my second marriage and I’ve been engaged three times. I think it was often a problem with my girlfriends that I always put Walnut first.’

It's always inspiring when the canine community comes together to support each other. Not only do we enjoy a special bond with our pups, but our pets also form the basis for a special relationship we share with our fellow dog lovers!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mood Harness for Dogs
Japanese biologist develops an algorithm to decode your pup's feelings.
Remember mood rings from when you were a kid? Now dogs have their own version--a mood harness.

As a pet lover I always want to better understand what my pups are thinking. Alhough these mood harnesses seem fun, I'm not sure they'll actually help you decode your pup.

The harness, called Inupathy ("inu" means dog in Japanese), was invented by biologist Joji Yamaguchi. It measures the dog's heart rate and uses an algorithm to indicate different moods through a colored LED light. Red means excited or anxious, blue for relaxed, white for focused, and rainbow for happy.

Joji also developed an app to help you interact with your pup based on the colors. For instance, if you want to try and turn your dog's harness rainbow colored, you can launch a "Let's Play" app on your smartphone, which will suggest games to play with your dog. It can also track "average happiness" and provide a daily, weekly, and monthly analysis of your dog's emotional state over time. They also plan on making their software development kit available so developers can make their own fun apps to interact with the data.

While I see how the harness can tell if your dog is excited or calm, based on heart rate, measuring happiness seems more subjective. Inupathy certainly sounds entertaining, but I think there are much better ways to understand your dog. Observing your pets' body language and habits will give you much more insight into your pup's moods.

Inupathy is expected to be available in December. What do you think about a mood harness?

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Dog Agility Championships Livestream
The Cynosport World Games will be accessible for free online.
One of the most competitive dog agility events in the country is happening this week at WestWorld in Scottsdale, Arizona. But if you can't make it to the Cynosport World Games, the United Stated Dog Agility Association (USDAA) is providing a free livestream of the event on their web site.

Wednesday through Friday, handlers and their dogs will be competing in the quarter- and semi-finals in Grand Prix, a class that features technical courses, and Steeplechase, a class that features courses focused on speed and accuracy, vying for a spot in the finals on Friday through Sunday.

They'll also be competing in a teams of two or three in an event that accumulates points from five different courses. The mix features a Standard and Jumpers course, two games (Snooker and Gamblers), and culminates in a team relay--complete with a baton handoff! Visit this USDAA page to learn more about what these class names mean.

The regular competition rounds will be shown on the livestream from 9am-5pm MST and the finals will be shown at 6:30pm MST. Performance Grand Prix Finals are on Friday. Team Relay, the Junior Handler Showcase, and Steeplechase Finals are on Saturday. And Grand Prix Finals are on Sunday. The nighttime finals will feature the fastest and most coordinated agility teams. It's inspiring to see these people and their pups communicating so seamlessly at high speed.

Although agility is the main focus, there will be other events going on such as dock jumping, lure coursing, herding instinct tests, and rally. Some of the proceeds raised from those activities will go to Aussie and Friends rescue, the National Canine Cancer Foundation, and the United States Association of Cynological Sports.

Cynosport will be a fun filled week for dog lovers, even if you're stuck at home behind the computer!

Pages