JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Teen Advocates for Heartworm Disease Awareness
Conn. teen is raising money for shelters and awareness for a potentially fatal disease.
When teenager Annie Blumenfeld adopted her dog, Teddy, from a kill animal shelter in 2012, she was inspired to do more to help homeless pets.  Annie is a talented artist and has since raised almost $40,000 through her charity, Wags 4 Hope, by painting pictures of her donors' animals. Required donations vary from $30-45, depending on the number of pets in the piece, but 100 percent of the money goes to shelters. Annie pays for the canvases, brushes, and paint out of her own pocket.

But Annie also has a second part to her mission. When Teddy originally arrived at the shelter, he had heartworm disease. Fortunately he recovered, but not all dogs are so lucky. When Annie found out that the disease is easily preventable, she wanted to do everything she could to raise awareness. Currently Annie is fighting to pass HB-5422, a bill addressing heartworm disease awareness, which will also require Connecticut's dog license form to indicate whether or not the dog is receiving heartworm prevention medicine. Annie even testified on the bill's behalf back in March, so fingers crossed that it will be passed soon!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs Spreading Lawn Chemicals
Study finds that pets can track potentially harmful herbicides inside the house.

When I treat my lawn with herbicides, I usually keep my dogs off of the grass for a couple of days. But a new study has me rethinking my use of chemicals in the yard all together.

A study at Purdue University has found that dogs can pick up garden and lawn chemicals, contaminate themselves, and transfer the herbicides to people. Some of these chemicals have been associated with an increase in cancer , particularly bladder cancer, in dogs and humans. Researchers suggested that Scottish Terriers, West Highland White Terriers, Shetland Sheepdogs, Beagles, and Wire Hair Fox Terriers are at particular risk because those breeds have a high genetic propensity for bladder cancer.

In the study scientists sprayed herbicides on plots that were green, dry brown, wet, or recently mowed, then measured how much of the chemicals remained up to 72 hours post treatment. They found the highest levels on dead or dying plant material. Dry brown grass doesn't absorb the chemicals as readily, leaving the herbicides lingering on the surface longer. Applying excessive amounts of the chemical was another way surface levels remained high, since the plants already absorbed as much as they could.

In the second part of the study, researchers analyzed urine samples of dogs from households that used herbicides and those who didn't. The majority of pets from homes that used chemicals were found to have the same herbicides in their urine. But some of the dogs from untreated homes also had the chemicals in their urine. Wind can cause herbicides to travel up to 50 feet away from the application site, so the researchers theorized that the chemicals pose a risk even to those who don't use them on their own yards. There are industry guidelines for restricting lawn chemical application based on wind speed, but the average homeowner is probably not aware of those best practices.

For now the researchers recommend only using herbicides if absolutely necessary. And when you do, always follow manufacturer guidelines, allow gardens and lawns to dry before allowing pets out, and wash your dogs' feet each time they come inside the house. They also said ideally you should treat the front and back yard separately, a week apart, which would give your dogs a safe area to use while the other part gets sprayed.

Do you use herbicides on your lawn? What precautions do you take to protect your pups?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Enabling Dogs to Take Photos
Nikon designs a heart rate triggered camera for canines.
You Tube is filled with "dogs eye view" videos, where energetic canines run around with GoPros strapped to their bodies. But what would our pups capture if they could take still pictures? Nikon decided to find out by figuring out a way to let a Border Collie become a "pho-dog-rapher."

Nikon's Heartography experiment didn't start specifically with dogs in mind, they simply wanted to translate emotions and feelings into a photo. The outcome was a 3-D printed camera case that's connected to a heart rate monitor strap. Using Bluetooth technology, the camera takes a photo when the person's heart rate goes above a set baseline.

They then decided to take the experiment a step further by creating a custom case that could be strapped onto a dog. Just like the human version, when the pup's heart rate spikes, the camera takes a photo. The tester was a Border Collie named Grizzler, who took many amusing photos of food, objects he encountered on walks, and other animals he met. Nikon did say that Grizzler took many blurry shots, so they picked the best ones for their video.

Unfortunately Nikon has no plans to make the experiment into a commercial product, but it would certainly be fun to have photos documenting our dog's walks, from their point of view, giving us another viewpoint into what might be going through their brains.

What do you think your dog would take a photo of?

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.