JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Why Were 24 Bomb Sniffing Dogs Killed?
Suspicion surrounds a company who euthanized highly trained working pups in Kuwait.
Earlier this month, 24 bomb-sniffing civilian working dogs (CWDs) were euthanized by Eastern Securities, an American-owned company that provides explosives detection services in Kuwait. No one knows exactly why these highly trained pups were killed. Some say they were sick, while others say it was done because of a cancelled contract, or even out of revenge.

A former employee believes it was a result of Kuwait National Petroleum Company terminating their contract with Eastern Securities, which was being paid about $9.900 per month for each dog to detect explosives at oil drilling sites. Allegedly the contract was cancelled because the dogs failed to pass explosives detection tests. Another former employee believes that the dog's abilities declined over time because they weren't cared for properly.

Eastern Securities claims this is all the result of a conspiracy against them, but at least one U.S. based bomb-sniffing dog company stopped doing business with Eastern States years ago because they were "so terrible."

Esmail Al Misri, a local lawyer and animal activist, has another theory. She believes that the dogs were killed to punish 29 handlers who filed complaints with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor because they hadn't received a paycheck from Eastern Securities since April. Esmail has asked local police to investigate the killings and press criminal charges. She's also concerned about the 90 bomb-sniffing dogs that are still at Eastern Securities.

Amy Swope, one of the former employees, has started a petition asking for the U.S. Embassy to step in and save these pups. She believes that signing the petition, getting media attention, and putting pressure on our government and the Kuwaiti government is the best way to get results.

No matter what the reason, dogs aren't tools you can just throw away when they're no longer useful. These animals gave their lives to serving people, and it is up to us to protect them.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Tennis Ball Bombs
Innocuous looking explosives increase around the Fourth of July.

My Border Collie, Scuttle, is obsessed with tennis balls. So when I found out that people turn these fuzzy yellow toys into homemade firecrackers, I was horrified. Even worse, abandoned ball bombs have been found undetonated, ready to explode.

In 2000, a man in Portland, Oregon found one while walking his pup. Thinking it was a ball, he threw it and the ball ended up exploding in the dog's mouth. The injuries sustained were so serious, the pup had to be euthanized on the spot. And just last year an Everett, Washington man found one during a hiking in Silver Lake Park, so these balls are not confined to urban areas.

Most of the official reports seem to be on the west coast, but it's relatively easy for anyone to make one, so they could turn up anywhere. Police all over the country are issuing warnings to watch out for these explosives, which become even more prevalent around the Fourth of July holiday.

It's important to be vigilant and avoid touching any stray tennis ball. If you see one, warning signs include detectable seams where the ball has been cut open, something sticking out of the ball that could be used as a fuse, or a small hole where the fuse used to be.

It's unfortunate and scary that we have to worry about these things. Stay safe this holiday weekend!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Hiking with the Help of a Pup
A guide dog helps his partner complete grueling thru-hikes.
Recently I was hiking on the Appalachian Trail and was reminded of an amazing human-canine team. Ten years ago, Trevor Thomas lost his eyesight and moved into a small room in his parent's basement. Being an avid mountain biker and snowboarder, Trevor had a hard time adjusting to his new life. He could no longer hold a job or even do simple tasks like tell time. Soon Trevor fell into a deep depression that he calls "being on death row in a self-imposed prison."

Then his life was turned around by long distance hiking and his seeing eye dog, Tennille. Trevor began in 2008 with a solo thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail. He figured, if he could walk from Georgia to Maine, he could do anything. Since then Trevor has walked more than 20,000 miles on some of the country's loneliest and toughest long-distance trails.

On the trail Trevor feels normal, calling nature the great equalizer since it treats everyone the same. Trevor has learned to listen to the sound of the wind to "see" the landscape. He can tell if there are rock walls, valleys, hills, and water. Trevor says every time he comes out on the trail, his sound vocabulary grows.

Trevor would hike with his group, Team FarSight, until he got his seeing eye dog, Tennille. Since then the pair trekked nearly 6,000 miles just the two of them. They've completed North Carolina's nearly 1,000 mile Mountains to Seat Trail, the only hikers to have completed the challenge that year. In 2014, they finished the Long Trail in New England and in 2015, they did a thru hike of the 500 mile Colorado Trail.

They're an amazing team. Tennille knows how tall Trevor is and can warn him about low-handing branches. She can also find trails, water, and even campsites. Trevor says he's the big picture guy and Tennille does the "detail stuff." They're perfect hiking partners together.

Now Trevor lives independently in Charlotte, N.C. and makes a living speaking to others about what you can you achieve when you push your limits. Trevor and Tennille are currently on the Appalachian Trail again and you can follow their progress on Facebook.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Ravens Player Sets an Adoption Example
Football star, Ronnie Stanley, requested a "not-so-adoptable" pup at the shelter.

Some lucky dogs, usually cute puppies, are adopted quickly from animal shelters, while others have to wait years to find a forever home. It's not fair, but sadly the pets that fall into this category are typically older, disabled, or just not as conventionally "cute" as the other pups. Also statistics show that dogs that look remotely like a Pit Bull, or are dark colored, have a harder time being adopted. Fortunately not everyone is willing to overlook these dogs.

Ronnie Stanley, a star player on the Baltimore Ravens football team, set a great example earlier this month when he and his girlfriend decided to add a dog to their family. Not only did they decide to adopt, when they arrived at BARCS animal shelter, Ronnie made a request that shelter workers don't hear that often. Ronnie said they were looking for a dog who had been at the shelter for a long time and was considered "not-so-adoptable." You can imagine the shelter workers were elated!

After meeting several potential pups, Ronnie and his girlfriend decided on Winter, a pup first discovered dehydrated and scared on a vacant property on a hot summer day. Winter has a low hanging belly, most likely from overbreeding, a condition that caused her to be overlooked by most shelter visitors. Ronnie was more interested in getting kisses from his new canine pal.

Ronnie wasn't the only Ravins player at the shelter that day. He also brought along his teammate, Alex Lewis, who ended up helping shelter workers carry heavy bags of pet food while Ronnie was taking his adoption class. Alex has two of his own rescue dogs at home.

I hope others will be inspired by Ronnie and Winter to take a second look at those "not-so-adoptable" pups at the shelter.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dangerous Water Hemlock
Watch out this summer for a common, but deadly plant.
Now that summer is here, and everyone is hanging out by the water, I wanted to share information about a common, but extremely lethal, plant called the water hemlock. It's scary because it's found all over North America and can kill so quickly.

I recently read about a three year old Border Collie who died within one hour of ingesting the toxic plant. The pup was playing at Horsetooth Reservoir in Colorado when she chewed on water hemlock. Shortly after she lost all motor function and succumbed on the way to the veterinarian.

Just a few leaves of the plant can kill a dog within hours, making it one of the most lethal plants on this continent. Some animals have even been poisoned from drinking water that has been contaminated with trampled water hemlock roots! The plant grows near bodies of water, like rivers and lakes, and also where water collects, like ditches.

Water hemlock is a a tall, branching plant that can grow three to six feet. It blooms white flowers in June and July with narrow, serrated leaves. Cow and water parsnip are often confused with water hemlock. All parts of the plant are poisonous, with the roots being the most toxic.

If water hemlock is consumed, symptoms begin within a matter of minutes and include drooling, muscle twitching, seizures, and dilated pupils. This quickly turns into respiratory paralysis and then death. If a non-lethal dose is consumed, there is a chance at recovery, but there may be temporary or permanent damage to the heart or skeletal muscle.

If you see your dog eating water hemlock, try to induce vomiting and get to a veterinarian immediately. However, since the toxin acts so quickly, prevention is really the key. Learn to identify water hemlock and don't let you dog dig and chew wild plants.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Protecting Dogs in Hot Cars
More states add protections to those aiming to rescue.

Now that summer is here, the dogs in hot cars problem is cropping up again. Just last week a Texas police officer was charged with cruelty to animals for leaving his Belgian Malinois to die in a hot vehicle. It's a story that is sadly becoming all too common. On the flip side, I've also seen a photo of a sign on a car window asking people not to break in to rescue their pup because the air conditioner and music was on. The good thing is, as awareness has grown, more people are looking out for distressed dogs, and more states are creating protections for these situations.
20 states have laws that permit rescuing pets from parked cars, but all but three limit the protection to specific types of people, such as law enforcement or animal control.

California is currently one of those states that authorizes peace officers, humane officers, and animal control officers to remove an animal in danger from a car. But a new proposed law will extend that protection to all people who rescue pets in this predicament.

The Right to Rescue Act has some stipulations before individuals can just break into anyone's windows without remorse. Rescuers will be required to check whether the car is locked first and have a "good faith belief" that the animal is in danger if they aren't removed immediately. Then they must contact police or animal control before entering the vehicle, and stay until the animal can be surrendered to law enforcement.

Temperatures don't even have to rise that high for cars to become dangerous. When outside temperatures are 70 degrees, the interior of a car can reach 89 degrees in 10 minutes and 99 degrees in 20 minutes.

In preparation for the warmer months, familiarize yourself with your state's laws and with the signs of heat stroke in dogs. It could come in handy when you come across a hot pup! For more information on individual state laws, check out Michigan State University Animal Legal & Historical Center's web site.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Last Minute Discovery Saves a Dogs Life
A visiting medical student helps diagnose a rare tick related disease.
Last month Joelle Meteney noticed her Sheltie, Ollie, was lethargic following a trip to the Umpqua River in Oregon. Their veterinarian ran a range of tests, but couldn't figure out what was wrong.

Joelle was puzzled because on one hand Ollie didn't seem sick. The ten year old pup still had a sparkle in his eye and was responsive. However, he couldn't really move. A week later, it got to the point where Ollie was almost completely paralyzed and unable to eat or go to the bathroom.

When veterinarians told the Meteneys that there was no sign of recovery, they decided to have Ollie euthanized at DoveLewis emergency animal hospital. That's when things took an interesting twist.

Visiting medical student, Neena Golden, was assigned to assist Dr. Adam Stone on the procedure. While comforting Ollie, Neena felt a strange lump behind Ollie's ear, which turned out to be a tick. Ollie wore a tick collar on his vacation, but this bug managed to attach itself anyway, and was hidden by Ollie's fur. The tick was very bloated and had been attached for some time.

Dr. Stone then diagnosed Ollie with tick paralysis, a very rare condition that he had learned about in vet school, but had never seen in practice. The saliva secreted by the tick slowly got into Ollie's system, affecting his neurological system and causing paralysis. Fortunately this scary malady is completely curable.

The hospital staff removed the tick and just ten hours later, Ollie was already walking again. It was a miracle, especially because of the last minute diagnosis.

I'm so glad this story had a happy ending. It highlights just how dangerous these little bugs can be and how important it is to protect your dogs from ticks. Check out our previous blog post for more information on these pesky creatures!

Dog's Life: Travel
Georgia's Canine Hiking Challenge
The newly created Tails on Trails club encourages people and their pups to get outside.
Now that summer is quickly approaching, I've seen more dogs enjoying the outdoors.

Georgia State Parks & Historic Sites is hoping to encourage more people to hit the trails with their pups by creating Tails on Trails. The dog-walking club, which launches this weekend, features a seven-trail hiking challenge. To participate, a membership card can be purchased for $15 through one of the seven participating parks' visitor centers, or online. As people complete the hikes, they can get the card punched by park rangers to track their progress. Once all seven hikes are finished, the card can bed redeemed for a t-shirt and dog bandanna.

Georgia State Parks also offer dog friendly cottages for those who want to make it an overnight trip.

The seven trails on the Tails On Trails challenge are:

  • Fort Mountain State Park – Lake Trail (1.1-mile loop)
  • F.D. Roosevelt State Park – Mountain Creek Trail (3.2-mile loop)
  • Don Carter State Park– Woodland Loop and Lakeview Loop Trails (1.5 miles)
  • Sweetwater Creek State Park – Red Trail (2-mile loop) and White Trail (5.2-mile loop)
  • High Falls State Park - Falls Trail (1.5-mile loop)
  • Fort McAllister State Park – Redbird Creek Trail (3.1-mile loop)
  • Red Top Mountain State Park – White Tail Trail (1-mile loop)
Will you be hiking with your dogs this summer? Check out our article on how to prepare for a future trek.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Training by Computer
Researchers explore the possibilities of canine-computer interactions.

Anyone who has trained a dog knows the importance of speed and consistency when it comes to rewarding desired behaviors. But we're humans, and we're not perfect. Can a computer make up for our shortcomings?

North Carolina State University researchers have developed a customized suite of technologies that allows a computer to train a dog by responding to their body language.

The team designed a custom harness with built-in sensors that monitor the dog's posture and sends the information wirelessly to a computer. Then an algorithm recognizes a predetermined data pattern (for instance, the dog going from a standing to sitting position) and reinforces correct behavior by releasing dog treats from a nearby dispenser

According to computer science professor David Roberts, the computer is accurate, but it didn't come easily.

One of the challenges the researchers had to work through was the trade off between delivering reinforcement quickly and giving the algorithm enough time to ensure the behavior had been done correctly with 100 percent certainty. If the reinforcement was given immediately, there was a high rate of rewarding the wrong behavior—a dilemma us dog trainers know all too well!

To address this, the researchers worked with 16 volunteers and their dogs to optimize the algorithm, finding the best possible combination of speed and accuracy. The outcome was highly accurate, rewarding the appropriate behavior 96 percent of the time. While expert dog trainers can achieve a near 100 percent accuracy, the computer has a significant edge in time of response. Even an expert human trainer has a lot of variation in this area. The algorithm is incredibly consistent.

The researchers see endless possibilities in the area of animal-computer interaction. The next step in their work is to see how they can combine this technology with human directed training, to make us more efficient, and also apply the algorithm to training service dogs. One day they also want to explore allowing dogs to “use” computers. Imagine if a diabetic alert dog could use a trained behavior to call for help!

A computer will never replace the special bond that develops between person and dog, but it could be a very interesting tool that could help us more effectively train our pups.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mandatory Airport Potty Areas for Dogs
Transportation hubs add pet relief areas ahead of the August deadline.

Thanks to a federal regulation, all airports in the United States that service over 10,000 passengers per year will have a pet relief area in every terminal by this August. Many transportation hubs have added potty spaces in the last few years, but the looming deadline means many shiny new relief areas are popping up all over the country in 2016.

A major upgrade was recently unveiled at my local New York City airport—in John F. Kennedy International Airport's Terminal 4. This building already had a pre-security potty area, but this can be a logistical nightmare for dogs needing to take a quick potty break before a flight takes off. Imagine worrying about whether your pup has time for a last bathroom trip or if you'll get stuck waiting on the security line to get back to the gate. Having an area after security provides huge peace of mind for traveling pet lovers.

The new space, located between the men's and women's bathrooms near Gate B31, is behind a door marked with a pawprint. The relief area features a patch of artificial turf and a little red hydrant, as well as poop bags and a hose to aid in clean up.

Many professionals were consulted in the design, including the Guide Dog Foundation.

With an increase in traveling pets, these post-security relief areas are much needed. I hope that this is a sign that airlines are recognizing the importance of catering to animal lovers and their companions!