JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New Years Resolutions with Your Dog
Including pets in your 2015 goals.
According to a study conducted by the University of Scranton, less than half of people who make a New Years resolution still practice it six months later. And only eight percent actually achieve their goal. There are many best practices for increasing the chances you'll stick with your plan, such as making the resolution specific (saying that you'll go to the gym three times a week instead of vaguely saying you'll work out more), being realistic about what you can achieve, and holding yourself accountable (telling someone or posting updates to a social media site). Involving a friend is also helpful, and that doesn't just include human buddies.

For the past few months, I've been training for a half marathon in January, but after the race is over I know my motivation to keep exercising regularly will quickly wane. So this year my goal is to do something active twice a week--with my Border Collie, Scuttle. It's a specific resolution with some built-in flexibility (the activity could be agility, hiking, running, or even kayaking). I didn't pick it for this reason, but the resolution should actually get easier around the six month mark, as the weather gets warmer and there are more activity options for us to do together (convenient!).

Here are some other ideas as you think about including your dog in this year's goal:

  • Make television time more productive by adding some dog training (shape a new behavior during commercial breaks)
  • Try four new things this year that include your pup
  • Meet new friends (join a dog-related Meetup group or pet dating site)
  • Cook or bake more (make a recipe that both you and your pup can enjoy!)
Will you incorporate your dog into this year's resolution? 
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Holiday Treats for Forgotten Pups
A shelter volunteer makes sure homeless dogs are spoiled for Christmas.
Holiday pet treats and toys have become a big business in recent years as we spoil our furry kids. But what about the dogs left behind at shelters? For most homeless pups, Christmas is just another day in a lonely kennel. But many shelters are trying to change that, making the holidays special for forgotten pets.

Many of my local shelters hold special fundraisers and food drives this time of year, and one even hangs stockings for each animal. Other rescue organizations arrange for temporary foster homes, giving dogs a respite from kennel life for the holidays. But I was touched to read about dedicated shelter volunteer Claire Nash, who has been cooking Christmas dinner each year for the pups at Cardiff Dogs Home in the U.K.

Claire believes that everyone deserves to be spoiled during the holidays, even dogs, and uses her own money to prepare the meals. The menu includes chicken off the bone and fresh vegetables. According to shelter manager Maria Baille, the dogs earn their feast with a good, long walk. Sounds like a lovely holiday treat for these rescue pups!

Does your local shelter do anything special for the animals around the holidays?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
From Shelter Pup to Movie Star
Annie's canine lead showcases the potential of rescue dogs.
Last week the modern adaptation of the classic film, Annie, opened starring a cute and talented Golden Retriever/Chow mix named Marti as Sandy. One thing that I love about canine actors is that many of them are adopted from animal shelters, showcasing the potential of these often forgotten pups.

Animal trainer Bill Berloni has trained many Sandys over the years, all from local shelters. The original Broadway Sandy was cast from the Connecticut Humane Society, hours before the pup was slated to be euthanized. For the new film, director Will Gluck wanted the the canine lead to look different from past iterations. The original Sandys were intentionally a bit sad looking, but Will wanted the modern character to come off as smart and heroic.

When people think of Sandy, they think of a shaggy dog. But Marti, named in honor of Martin Charnin, the lyricist and director of the original Broadway production, is closer in appearance to the bright orange pup with pointy ears from the Chicago Tribune comic strip that inspired the play.

Marti came to the Adopt-a-Dog shelter in Armonk, N.Y. last year with four other rescue dogs from Georgia. She was there for five months before Bill came in to look at prospects for the Annie movie. He visited Marti several times to evaluate her potential before deciding that the six year old pup was the one for the job.

Bill says that shelter dogs blossom when given love and a purpose, and that their rough past makes them especially motivated and appreciative to work with his team. He uses positive reinforcement to train all of the acting skills and never forces the dogs to do anything.

Marti and her human counterpart, Annie star Quvenzhané Wallis, instantly bonded as soon as they met. Quvenzhané is a huge dog lover and has said she'd like to be a veterinarian one day, so she couldn't wait to work with Marti. Now that filming is over, the two of them still meet up in New York City when Quvenzhané is in town.

I wonder if Marti's former family will recognize her on the big screen!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
3D Printed Prosthetics Allow Dog to Run
Collaboration opens a new world for a South Carolina pup.
Earlier this year I wrote about TurboRoo, an adorable Chihuahua who received a 3D printed dog cart to help him get around. Dog carts have been the norm for lucky disabled pups, but it makes it hard to really run and play with other dogs. Canine prosthetic legs are more expensive and can take a long time to get the right fit.

But that all could change starting with a special pup named Derby, the first animal to be successfully fitted with 3D printed prosthetics. A few months ago, Tara Anderson, an employee at South Carolina based 3D printing company 3DS, started fostering the Husky mix born with two deformed front legs. She initially fitted Derby with a dog cart, but after it limited his mobility she enlisted a few of her colleagues to help make Derby prosthetic legs with their 3D technology. They were all on board, but none of them knew anything about designing prosthetics.

So Tara reached out to Derrick Campana, founder of Animal Ortho Care in Virginia, one of the first companies to make orthotics and prosthetics specifically for animals. Derrick had been wanting to incorporate 3D printing into his business because not all of the materials and tools that work for making human prosthetics are 100 percent compatible with animals. For example, the technology used to scan a person's leg is not so accurate when scanning a furry leg.

So while Derrick still had to mold a custom fiberglass cast, 3D printing brought speed and flexibility to the project. "The beauty of 3D printing is that if the design needs to be adjusted, we don't have to wait for time-consuming and expensive traditional manufacturing processes, we can simply print out a new set," said 3DS vice president Buddy Byrum. The new technology allowed them to create complete prosthetics printed in a single, custom-fit build.

Derby did have to learn how to use the prosthetics, with the help of his veterinarian and physical therapist, but now the energetic pup runs two to three miles a day with his adoptive parents.

Derrick plans to continue collaborating with 3DS to further advance the field of animal prosthetics and hopes to one day be able to directly scan canine legs to make the process even more efficient.

It takes a lot of work to successfully fit a dog with prosthetics, but seeing Derby's happy face certainly makes it all worth it.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Banning Canine Tattoos and Piercings
NYS law protects pets against unnecessary aesthetic procedures.
Earlier this year, Brooklyn tattoo artist Mistah Metro ruffled feathers in the animal community when he posted a photo of his tattooed dog on Instagram. Mistah inked the pup while she was under anesthesia for a spleen removal. At the time it wasn't illegal, just ethically questionable. After all, the dog was subjected to an unnecessary and permanent procedure.

While Mista's pup couldn't be spared the skin decoration, other pets in New York will be protected against similar aesthetic procedures in the future. Earlier this week Governor Cuomo signed legislation outlawing the tattooing or piercing of pets in the state of New York, calling it "common-sense legislation." The bill was introduced by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal in 2011, after she read about a Pennsylvania woman selling "Gothic kittens" with piercings on their necks, ears, and spines. Mistah's canine tattoo gave Linda's legislation the momentum it needed to finally become a law.

Linda has been a longtime advocate for animals in the state legislature, believing pets need protection from careless owners. She's drafted other legislation giving judges the power to issue orders of protection to pets, limiting the testing of cosmetics on animals, and giving cities the ability to shut down puppy mills.

The tattoo and piercing law will go into effect in four months. Violators will face up to $250 in fines and up to 15 days in jail. Ear tags on rabbits and tattoos for identification purposes will be excluded from the law, as well as piercings that provide a medical benefit and are performed under the supervision of a veterinarian.

It certainly sounds like a bizarre law, but apparently a much needed one. 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dream Dog Park Honors Firefighters
Winning city features a pet friendly space with a nod to the Granite Mountain Hot Shots.
On Wednesday, the renovated Willow Creek Dog Park in Prescott, Arizona reopened as more than just a place for canines. Not only does the space offer a wonderland for pets, but it was designed to honor the 19 Granite Mountain Hot Shot firefighters that died battling the Yarnell Hill wildfire last year.

A few months after the tragedy, Prescott resident Linda Nichols noticed an advertisement for Beneful's Dream Dog Park contest. The winner's park would receive a $500,000 makeover. She decided to send a photo of her pup, Callie, along with the idea to create a firefighter themed space as a memorial for the Granite Mountain Hot Shots. Touched by her vision, Beneful chose Prescott's Willow Creek Dog Park.

Celebrity contractor Jason Cameron (host of several shows on the DIY Network), managed the renovation, along with pet writer and consultant Arden Moore who oversaw the project from a canine point of view.

The revamp installed a half-acre of low maintenance turf, stainless steel dog friendly water fountains, and a ramada for shade. Beautifully themed, the park features a replica firetruck (with built in tunnels for the dogs to run through), a row of colorful truck tires, and fire hydrant and hose shaped water misters (for the notoriously hot Arizona weather). As a finishing touch, the brick and metal entrance was designed to commemorate the history of the Prescott Fire Department.

The new park was unveiled on Wednesday with appearances by everyone involved, a photo booth, a caricature artist, and lots of human and canine treats. But best of all, there were plenty of very happy pups in attendance.

If you're in the area, visit the new space at 3181 Willow Creek Rd., Prescott, Arizona.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Publicizing a Lost Dog
Creative ways to help a missing pet get home.

It's easy to lose hope when a beloved pet goes missing, but animals do find their way home, months, even years after being lost. However, when flyers start to fade and searches come up empty, it can be hard to keep lost pets in the public eye and to motivate people to keep looking.

Local (to me in New York) agility and therapy dog, Cooper, has been missing since September 26th when he wandered away from his family on a New Jersey beach in Long Beach Island. It was unusual because the 16 year old Australian Shepherd had been coming to that beach every year for his whole life and had always stayed close. His family is especially concerned because Cooper has been nearly deaf the last three years due to his old age. Long Beach Island is also an area that most people vacate after the summer is over, although it's suspected that Cooper may not be on the island anymore.

Cooper's family and friends have spent the last two months checking off all of the usual lost dog techniques, posting flyers, calling local shelters, and writing to local media. But they've also employed a number of unique tactics to get the word out that I wanted to share.

It's easy for people to zone out flyers, especially when they've been hanging for weeks. Cooper's team changed their flyers as the holidays drew closer, using a photo of Cooper in a Santa hat to attract attention and earn major cuteness points. Keeping posters fresh helps remind people that a pet is still lost.

Cooper's team also came up with creative ways to spread the word. One person made a homemade, triangular shaped sign to attach to the top of their car's roof rack, while others handed out candy canes with information cards. Two volunteers even marched in a Christmas parade last weekend with a "Have You Seen This Dog?" banner.

Cooper's family has also been using technology to help mobilize volunteers, creating a Google document to track people contacting area veterinarians and using Facebook to centralize updates and coordinate search parties.

Hopefully Cooper will find his way home in time to celebrate his 17th birthday later this month. In the meantime, if you have any information or sightings to report, please call 201-777-0189.

Do you have any creative lost pet techniques that have worked well?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
How Dogs Process Speech
Study uncovers similarity between the human and canine brain.

I like to think that my dogs can understand what I'm saying. Of course they don't know English, but they've learned to make associations with certain words and cue off of the inflection in my voice. Even if they can't understand everything that comes out of my mouth, my pets can tell the difference between when I'm angry, excited, or sad. In some ways this is similar to communicating with a person who speaks a different language. That comparison may not be that far off as we learn more about how the canine brain translates human speech.

A study published last week found that dogs process words with meaning in a different part of the brain than where they deal with meaningless verbal sounds in which they must look for emotional cues.

Victoria Ratcliffe at the University of Sussex set up an experiment among 250 dogs to explore how they understand and process the different components of our speech. Scientists know that animals show hemispheric bias (which side of the brain is doing the work) in how they translate sounds of their own species, but Victoria wanted to explore if domesticated animals would show hemispheric bias for human sounds.

In the study, speakers were put on either side of the dogs' heads that played the same sound. First Victoria played a voice saying a word that held meaning to the dog (like "come"), then she played around with the speech by removing inflections or replacing the words with meaningless verbal noise. Each time Victoria played a sound, she recorded which way the dogs turned their head.

Although both speakers played the same recording, the dogs consistently turned their heads towards the left or right speaker, depending on the noise. When the pups heard a meaningful word, about 80 percent turned their head to the right (engaging the left hemisphere of their brain). When they heard a meaningless sound (and had to pick up on emotional cues), most dogs turned their head to the left (engaging the right hemisphere of the brain).

Victoria believes that dogs break up speech into two parts: emotional cues and meaning. It then processes these two components on opposite sides of the brain, emotional cues in the right hemisphere and meaning in the left hemisphere--similar to humans!

Neurobiologist, Attila Andics at the MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group in Budapest, believes that this information could even be used to more efficiently communicate with your dog, targeting emotional noises to the left ear and cues you want the dog to understand clearly to the right ear. This doesn't seem that practical, especially since most words out of your mouth will have both emotion and meaning to the dog, but I would love to see more research in this area so we can uncover information that can help us better communicate with our pets.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Trekking to a New Beginning
Stray pup's feat of endurance earns him a spot on a Swedish adventure racing team.
Team Peak Performance, made up of four Swedish athletes, were on a break last week before the final two stages of the 430-mile Adventure Racing World Championship in Ecuador. Mikael Lindnord, the group's captain, was eating his lunch when a scruffy stray dog started begging for a snack. Mikael couldn't resist throwing the sad looking pup a meatball, but little did he know that the tiny morsel would represent the beginning of an unlikely friendship.

The Adventure Racing World Championship is no ordinary race, making this story even more incredible. It's an extreme sport that combines non-stop hiking, trekking, mountain biking, kayaking, and navigation for up to 10 days.


The next stage of Team Peak Performance's journey was to complete a steep and muddy 20-mile trek through the Amazon rainforest. To their surprise, the dog followed them through treacherous terrain. So the team named the persistent pup Arthur (after the legendary King) and began sharing their meals (a significant sacrifice since competitors carefully plan the food they carry during the calorie intensive race). They could tell the dog was exhausted, but Arthur was determined to stay with his new friends.

After they completed the hike, the race was down to the final leg--a 36-mile kayak trip. Organizers warned the team that taking Arthur in a kayak posed a safety risk, to both the dog and people, so the plan was to leave him behind. But when Team Peak Performance launched their kayaks, Arthur swam out to follow them, desperately trying to keep up. Mikael knew there was only one thing to do. He pulled Arthur into his kayak, prompting cheers from spectators.

  Mikael told Public Radio International, "You can't reject a dog that put in so much energy into you. It felt like he was one of the team members, and we didn't want to let him down."

However, it wasn't always easy to kayak with Arthur. The pup kept jumping into the river to chase fish, requiring Mikael to repeatedly stop to pull Arthur back on board.  But they managed to finish the race together.

This story really shows the strength of the human-canine bond, even between those who just met. Arthur wasn't the ideal teammate, he slowed the guys down and took their valuable resources. But the group was committed to matching Arthur's amazing friendship and loyalty. When they were all shivering on the river, Mikael took off his own Gore-Tex jacket to keep Arthur warm. When the guys opened cans of food, they took one bite and gave the rest to the exhausted pup. And while the relationship initially started over a bite of food, Arthur surely stayed with the group for more than just meals.

  After Team Peak Performance finished the race, Mikael took Arthur to the vet to help him recover from the ordeal. Then the tough little pup began the next leg of his adventure--Mikael adopted Arthur and brought him back to Sweden. Once Arthur clears quarantine, he'll get to travel to his new home with Mikael.

Team Peak Performance may not have won the Championship, but they're certainly winners in our eyes!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mayor for a Day
Frida the Chihuahua mix takes over San Francisco's City Hall.
San Francisco, a city where fur kids outnumber the human kids, had a very special honorary mayor last Tuesday. Frida, a Chihuahua mix, took office for the day, having attained her position through a winning $5,000 donation bid made by her human, Dean Clark, at the Animal Care and Control Department's gala fundraiser in September.

On Tuesday, Frida toured City Hall and other city landmarks before attending a Board of Supervisors meeting in the afternoon, where her human counterpart, Mayor Ed Lee, paid respects to her in his opening remarks and Supervisor Scott Wiener read her a commendation for service. The day concluded with a press conference on the steps of City Hall where Frida was asked about her ties to Governor Jerry Brown's Corgi, Sutter, and her plans for the future. Dean graciously answered on her behalf. Then the event ended with a "retirement package" full of toys, a bed, and other goodies.

Frida is no stranger to the limelight. She rides each year in the city's St. Patrick's Day Parade to promote rescue pups and is an active member of the San Francisco Chihuahua Meetup Group at Stern Grove Dog Park.

Dean, the head of a pet advocacy organization called For the Love of Dog USA, adopted Frida several years ago and calls her the "best I've ever had." He describes Frida as laid back and very smart. The Chihuahua mix was found nursing two puppies under a log in Nevada and was rescued by the ASPCA.

Mirian Saez, acting director of Animal Care and Control, said that it was fun to see Frida at City Hall, but it was also a great way to bring attention to the great work that the organization does. According to Mirian, the department cares for about 10,000 animals per year and has a live release rate of upwards of 85 percent (adoptions, outgoing transfers, and return to guardian), a number that is particularly impressive given they're San Francisco's only open door animal shelter.

It was certainly cool to see Frida show how awesome rescue pups can be, and I hope that future politicians are inspired to be as pro-dog as she is!