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JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Xylitol Becoming More Common
The toxic ingredient is showing up in more household products.

It's widely known that xylitol, an ingredient in sugar-free gum, is toxic to dogs. Even small amounts can cause life-threatening hypoglycemia and liver failure. This has led me to be really careful about leaving packs of gum in handbags I leave around the house. I also keep gum packs (and chocolate) in a secure plastic bin in my pantry, just to be sure no hungry dogs get into the dangerous treats.

But I recently discovered that many more household products contain xylitol. In addition to other edible goods, like cookies, cough drops, and medications, the ingredient has been popping up in toothpaste, cosmetics, and mouthwash. The Pet Poison Hotline even found a line of clothing with xylitol embedded in it!

Clearly it's important to check the ingredients of the products you have lying around the house and keep them away from your pets. Xylitol is typically listed in the “Other ingredients” or “Inactive ingredients” section, but it's also been seen in the “Supplement Facts” box, so make sure you read the package closely. Sometimes the ingredients won't be listed as xylitol, but may be included as “sugar alcohols,” which encompasses many different sugar alcohols, like xylitol.

If your pet has ingested a product with xylitol in it, immediately call a veterinarian. The ingredient is so toxic that symptoms can show up within 10 minutes of ingestion. This includes weakness, lethargy, loss of coordination, seizures, vomiting, and rapid breathing. Fortunately dogs can recover if treated promptly.

This just shows how important it is to know what's in the products in your home.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Refining the Office Dog Policy
SparkFun Electronics' journey to a canine culture.

I think it's every dog lovers dream to bring their pup to work. But as much as it'd be fun to have Nemo or Scuttle at the office, I realize that welcoming dogs at work comes with a lot of challenges.

So it was interesting to read the evolution of SparkFun Electronic's dog policy, which they recently shared on their blog. Employees started bringing dogs to the Boulder, Colorado office about six years ago when the company was much smaller, with no official policy. As SparkFun grew, bringing dogs became a documented perk and they had up to 30 dogs coming in each day. Managing the four legged members of the office became difficult.

At first SparkFun wanted to keep the policy casual, letting each department set and enforce their own guidelines, but fights broke out between pups, dogs bit delivery people, and poop was left unscooped. People became resentful because problems escalated and no one was held accountable in a consistent manner.

The dog policy became a hot topic of debate at the monthly directors meetings, but SparkFun  stayed remarkably committed to keeping their perk. They eventually came up with the “Dog Tribunal,” otherwise known as the idea that saved our dog privileges or the SparkFun equivalent of jury duty.

Employees are chosen at random to serve on the Dog Tribunal, which meets monthly to review dog complaints, issue warnings and punishments, and amend the Dog Policy on the company wiki as needed.

The Dog Tribunal isn't just about punishing offenders, but finding ways to make the canine culture work. For instance, they determined that the root of the poop problem was that people would forget bags needed to clean up. So poop bag dispensers were installed around the grounds, along with playful propaganda style signs. SparkFun also has a mass cleanup day every six months or so. These small changes  solved an issue once thought impossible to crack.

Now the dog problems have largely dissipated and dogs are firmly ingrained in the SparkFun culture. Dogs even factored into how their new office building was designed. The pups were mentioned as a joke in engineering meetings, but it turned out to be critical that they be added to the calculations because dogs can generate more heat than humans. Perhaps not important when you have one or two dogs, but at SparkFun, the 45 pups make up about a third of the workforce.

SparkFun has found a way to make their dog culture work by making their policy open and fair. Now their Dog Policy is posted online so that other companies can learn from what they figured out about office pups. It's open source so anyone can adapt it for their own use. They've even made their quirky poop bag dispenser sign available for download.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
30 Day Pet Food Challenge
You Tube videos chronicle awareness around pet food ingredients

When I got my first dog, I spent countless hours pouring over the ingredient of different pet foods. I finally settled on grain free kibble made from human grade ingredients, but even so I don't think I would eat a day's worth of dog food.

Enter Dorothy Hunter, animal lover and owner of Paws Natural Pet Emporium in Kennewick, Washington. Dorothy is so passionate about quality pet food that she just completed a vow to eat only dog, cat, and bird food from her store's shelves for one month. She embarked on this journey to create awareness around pet nutrition, chronicled in a series of You Tube videos.

“You would be surprised how tasty dog and cat food can be when it's made right,” says Dorothy. She believes that, in many cases, our pets are eating better than us.

Many people asked Dorothy about her digestion, but she says she felt great on the diet. Her selection couldn't be further from the “supermarket kibble” people picture when they think of pet food. Dorothy's menu consisted of oven baked blueberry treats, freeze dried vegetables, kibble with salmon flakes, and canned food with pieces of succulent chicken.

Dorothy's You Tube videos are a great way to get people thinking about their pets' food while reaching a new audience. There's nothing like eating dog treats and kibble to make you hyper aware of the ingredients inside!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sniffing Out Thumb Drives
Trained pups in New England uncover hidden child porn.
Is there any limit to what the canine nose can uncover? Police dogs in New England are now being trained to sniff out child pornography by finding the hard drives and other tech devices that could contain the hidden files. In recent years, child pornography trafficking has become a growing problem in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Authorities estimate that it's now a $20 billion industry.

The Connecticut State Police Training Academy is teaching dogs, using reinforcement based methods, how to find all sorts of digital devices that could contain child pornography. People hide devices with illegal data in the most unlikely places, like behind ceiling tiles or inside radios. Over 60 dogs have graduated from the 22-week program.

A Labrador Retriever named Thoreau was recently placed at a Rhode Island police department, making the Ocean State the second in the nation to have a digital device sniffing pup. Last month Thoreau assisted in his first search warrant, pinpointing a thumb drive containing child pornography in a box hidden deep inside a metal cabinet.

Thoreau practices every day to earn his dinner, tracking down hard and flash drives inside desks and cabinets. Frequent training is required to maintain fresh skills and to keep up with the ever-changing technology.

I can't wait to see what amazing task our dogs are trained to sniff out next!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
PTSD Dog Saves Veteran in Many Ways
Axel helped Jason Haag reclaim his life and family

When Purple Heart recipient Captain Jason Haag came home after three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, he faced a much tougher battle at home--post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Jason suffered from nightmares, panic attacks, and thoughts of suicide. He spent a year and a half locked up in his basement with the windows blacked out, turning to a heavy use of alcohol and two dozen types of medication. The worse part was the way the 34 year old pushed away his family, screaming at his kids and even once choking his wife.

After Jason's wife threatened to leave, he was desperate for a solution that would help him regain his life. Jason then discovered K9s for Warriors, a Florida group that trains shelter pups to serve veterans with PTSD. Jason traveled to their headquarters to meet his new canine partner, Axel, and participate in a three-week training program. Afterwards, Jason was able to reconcile with his family and reclaim some sense of normalcy. 

"There's no doubt in my mind that if it wasn't for Axel, I'd be six feet underground now," said Jason, "I'd have become a PTSD statistic."

PTSD affects an estimated 30 percent of America's war veterans, with one committing suicide almost every hour, a startling number.

Shari Duval started K9s for Warriors after her son, Brett Simon, a bomb-dog handler, returned from Iraq with PTSD. The dogs are trained to carry out specific tasks to lessen symptoms. For instance, the dogs can perform “block and center” moves to provide a sense of protection the veterans in public. The pups can also recognize panic and anxiety attacks. Donors fund all expenses related to the program except travel costs to and from Florida, and the ongoing care for the dogs once they go home.

To date K9s for Warriors has graduated 127 teams with a 95 percent success rate. The program's dogs have helped veterans reconnect with their families and with society, facilitated returning to the workforce, and reduced the reliance on medication by as much as 80 percent.

Jason's life was so transformed by Axel that he now serves on the board of K9s for Warriors to help spread the word about PTSD and the benefit of service dogs.

"I think I'll be in recovery for the rest of my life," said Jason. "But my goal now is just to save as many veterans' lives by spreading the word about service dogs and providing hope that there's a chance of recovery."

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Stricter Reporting for Shipping Animals
More airlines will be required to track injuries, losses, and deaths.
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) recently passed a new rule that will require more airlines to report incidents involving animals. Although all airlines must report when a pet is hurt, gets lost, or dies on a U.S. flight, the law only applies to animals kept in a family household.

Currently only 14 airlines are required to report incidents involving any animal, but as of January 1, 2015, that number will increase to 27. The new legislation also covers animals in commercial shipments, which means the DOT will collect data on dogs shipped by breeders.

Last year, the DOT reported a total of 42 incidents involving animals, down from 58 in 2012. However, because airlines seem to underreport pet incidents, it's hard to have confidence in those numbers.

While the system is far from perfect, reporting more of this information can only be beneficial to traveling animals. I always assumed the law tracking pets included all animals and was shocked to learn that an injury, loss, or death could go unreported. I hope that the stricter requirements will encourage airlines to develop safer ways to transport animals.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New Potential Cancer Treatment for Dogs
Vienna Scientists are applying immunotherapy to canines
The last time my Sheltie, Nemo, needed a complicated surgery, I was in awe of the advancements in veterinary technology. Our pets benefit from many life saving procedures brought over from human medicine, but cancer immunotherapy has never been one of them. This treatment has been used successfully in people for about 20 years and uses antibodies to inhibit tumor growth and even trigger the destruction of cancer cells. Now the technology is finally being applied to dogs.

For the first time, scientists at the Messerli Research Institute of the Vetmeduni Vienna and the University of Vienna have developed antibodies to treat cancer in dogs. The lead researchers, Josef Singer and Judith Fazekas, discovered that a receptor frequently found on human tumor cells (epidermal growth factor receptor or EGFR) is nearly 100 percent identical with the EGF receptor in dogs.

Still, the human antibody had to be trimmed to "dog" in the laboratory to ensure the best possible binding of the antibody to canine cancer cells. The process is called "humanization," named when the original mouse antibody was adjusted for human use. The initial experiments showed that the customization was successful and the next step will be to conduct clinical studies to treat affected dogs. The antibody used in this study is primarily used for human bowel cancer and will be used for mammary ridge cancer in dogs.

Immunotherapy also has the ability to aid in diagnosis, making this technology even more valuable. Antibodies can be coupled with signal molecules to make tumors and metastases visible to doctors. The doctors also hope that exploring canine therapy will lead to improvements in human medicine too.

It's great to see successful collaborations between human and canine doctors. Hopefully these joint efforts will one day lead to a treatment for all cancers.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Coughs Up Ring Six Years Later
A Wisconsin woman's dog carried a lost ring for years
When Lois Matykowski lost her wedding ring six years ago, she was devastated. Lois and her husband were married for 20 years and just upgraded the ring, without insurance.

She checked all over the house and, because she had a Rottweiler mix prone to eating things, she even monitored Tucker's poop for weeks. After many unsuccessful searches, Lois figured the ring was gone for good. Little did she know the ring would turn up years later in the most unexpected way!

Tucker, adopted from the Wisconsin Humane Society, is known as the "food burglar" of the house. Last month the 10-year old pup continued his notorious behavior by stealing an ice popsicle, swallowing the stick and all. After calling her vet, Lois induced vomiting and recovered the popsicle stick.

Two days later Tucker was sick again and threw up on the lawn. Lois went to go clean up the vomit and saw something sparkly. On the floor she spotted her diamond ring--six years later! After scrubbing the ring with a toothbrush and toothpaste, it looked good as new.

Tucker's veterinarian believes that the popsicle stick may have dislodged the ring from inside. They followed up with an X-ray just to be sure that there weren't any more surprises.

Lois' friends have been saying that they too want a "dog that throws up diamonds," but Lois is just happy to have her ring back and a healthy dog!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Andy Murray Saves Dog En Route to Wimbledon
The Scottish tennis player stops traffic to rescue a runaway pup.
Andy Murray and one of his Border Terriers.
On Sunday morning, Olympic Gold Medal tennis player, Andy Murray, was supposed to be focusing on defending his Wimbledon title, but instead he was busy with something more important--saving a dog.

Andy was on his way to the All England Club for pre-Wimbledon practice when he spotted a Labradoodle running down the road towards oncoming traffic. Andy put all competition thoughts aside and pulled over to rescue the wayward pup. He walked onto the road to stop traffic and loaded the dog into his car. After calling a number on the identification tag, Andy even gave the pup a ride home to Oxshott, Surrey.

Mary-Elizabeth, the dog's owner, was overjoyed to be reunited with her pup Bode and surprised to see who came to deliver the runaway dog. She calls Andy "a hero."

Potentially missing practice was a no brainer for the canine loving tennis champion. One of Andy's Border Terriers, Maggie May, even has her own Twitter account with over 27,000 followers.

After his heroic actions, Andy made it to practice and went on to win his match against Belgian tennis player David Goffin in the first round at Wimbledon. Maybe thanks to the karma points Andy earned in the morning!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Police Officer Adopts Abused Dog
Cleveland pup is adopted by his rescuer.
  Last week Cleveland police officers responded to a call for a man beating a dog in the middle of the street. Upon arrival they found the Pit Bull mix with a witness who saw the abuse and convinced the man to stop. The injured pup was then brought to a nearby vet hospital to be treated for injuries on his face, legs, and paws, but not before one police officer made a special connection wtih the chocolate and white dog.

Patrol Officer Brandon Melbar ended up fostering the pup and has since decided to adopt the dog he named Harvard. Photos released on the Cleveland Police Department's Facebook page show that Harvard looks very happy in his new home. After reading so many negative news reports involving police officers and dogs, it's nice to come across a story like this one.

Through Harvard's ordeal, I also learned about Badges for Bullies, an Ohio based organization that fosters the relationships between police, the animal rescue community, and the general public. They paid for the costs of Harvard's treatment and follow-up care.

Badges for Bullies was created after a dog fighting raid where 27 scared and neglected dogs were rescued. Volunteers came together from all parts of the community to help the abused pups. The Cleveland Police held a fundraiser to pay for the dogs' treatments and that's where Badges for Bullies was born.

If the day comes where we finally overcome dog fighting, overpopulation, and other persistent animal welfare challenges, it will be through an initiative like Badges for Bullies that brings the community together to fight a common cause. I hope that the Badges for Bullies movement spreads to other cities and towns across the country!

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