JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Service Dog Missing in N.Y.
An autistic boy has been without his pup for over a week
Update: Echo was returned home safely on Friday, 11/15, read more here.
A very special dog is missing in my neck of the woods. Echo, a Black Labrador, has been gone from her Rye, N.Y. home since last Wednesday, leaving 5-year old Mark Fontana without his service dog.  

Two years ago Mark was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and as a result, does not speak. He is prone to running away from home or darting into the street or pools, although he can't swim.  

Echo was donated to the Fontana family by Guiding Eyes for the Blind and has been invaluable for keeping Mark safe. The 5-year old Lab is trained to automatically brace Mark when he tries to run.

Echo is between 50 and 55 pounds and is wearing a red collar with tags. There was a possible sighting yesterday in New Rochelle, N.Y. Officials ask that anyone who finds Echo bring her to a vet or animal shelter where they can read her microchip and get in contact with the Fontanta family.

Follow the search for Echo on the Guiding Eyes for the Blind web site. They also have fliers that you can print and post if you live in Westchester County. Hopefully Echo and Mark will be reunited soon!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week
How to help without adopting

In celebration of National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week, I just found out that the Karen Pryor Clicker Training store is offering free shipping to any domestic shelter with the code SHELTERTHANKS. What a cool and easy way to send much needed supplies to animals in need!

The Clicker Training store's promotion got me thinking about other ways to help homeless animals this week.

  • Share a picture of a homeless pet.  Whether you post a photo to your Facebook newsfeed or email a Petfinder link to your friends, getting the word out can help connect a dog to a much needed forever home.
  • Make a donation.  Every little bit counts. Make a monetary contribution online (usually tax deductible!) or pick up a few extra toys or bags of food on your next pet store visit. Most shelters have a wish list on their web site and would love help checking off items.
  • Volunteer.  Take this opportunity to find out how you can donate time to a good cause. From walking dogs to stuffing envelopes, your local shelter would love your help.
  • Get creative.  I've blogged before about making braided tug toys from old t-shirts, but I recently stumbled upon the ingenious idea of making ADOPT ME vests to donate. There are free directions online for both sewing and non-sewing versions.
  • Of course it would be great to provide a home for a shelter animal this week, but for most of us it's not possible. Hopefully this has given you some ideas on how to celebrate National Animal Shelter Appreciation Week in your own way.
    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    School Safety Dogs
    Training pups to protect children

    Imagine going to school, a place that's supposed to be safe, only to be welcomed by a metal detector and security guards. That's unfortunately the reality at many schools these days, including the elementary school that I attended as a kid.

    I strongly believe that violence breeds more violence, so I've always thought there must be a better way to prevent gun tragedies in schools. Dogs are great at assisting police as well as creating goodwill in the community, so why not use them in schools?

    Two new companies, American Success Dog Training and K9s4KIDs, are setting out to explore the possibility of using specially trained dogs as an alternative way to protect schools. Their pups can be trained to detect weapons and can even learn to disengage a person with a gun, just like police dogs. They can also be used in lessons to teach compassion.

    After the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Mark Gomer decided to start American Success Dog Training and use his experience training dogs to help protect school children.

    Mark's first full-time safety dog, a one year-old Dutch Shepherd named Atticus, reported to duty this September at Oak Hills High School in Green Township, Ohio, at a cost of $10,000. Atticus trained during the summer, learning to perform his duties among distractions like marching bands, school bells, and locker door slamming. Atticus spends the day with two security guards and goes home with Principal John Stoddard at night. The kids love him and many parents have expressed comfort in knowing Atticus is at their school.

    For districts who can't afford such a hefty price tag, Kristi Schiller began her non-profit, K9s4KIDs, after law enforcement agencies applying for trained dogs through her K9s4COPs program suggested she expand to academia. If a school applies for and is chosen to receive a dog, K9s4KIDS provides the training, but it's up to school officials to decide who will be the handler, who the dog will live with, and what specific tasks will be taught.

    There's a lot of potential for school safety dogs to prevent tragedy by helping with security and providing education and comfort. I'm looking forward to seeing more schools take advantage of these talented pups.

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Pit Bull Rescued from an Ariz. Mountain
    A family gives a dying dog a second chance

    Last month Andi Davis was hiking in Arizona when she discovered a Pit Bull, shot and left for dead on the trail. All alone, Andi knew she couldn’t leave the poor pup behind and proceeded to carry him a half-mile down the steep mountain. Her husband and 10-year old daughter, Jessi, met her at the bottom and brought the nearly motionless pup to the Arizona Humane Society. The shelter’s vets found a bullet in the middle of his neck and fragments in his shoulder. The proximity of the pieces to his spinal cord prevented the vets from operating, but the dog was able to recover on antibiotics and pain medication.

    The ordeal reminded me of Missy, the German Shepherd rescued last year from a mountain in Colorado. This particular story makes me even sadder because this Pit Bull was intentionally hurt and abandoned.

    Fortunately there is also has a happy ending. When the Davis’ came to visit the animal shelter, the recovering dog greeted Jessi as if they had been best friends. The family instantly realized that they needed to open up their home to this special dog and gave him the name Elijah.

    Andi has since earned PETA’s Compassionate Action Award for her heroic rescue!

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Halloween Costumes in NYC
    Humans and dogs go all out at the Tompkins Square Park Halloween Parade

    Saturday I had the honor of judging the 23rd annual Tompkins Square Park Halloween Dog Parade in New York's East Village. It was quite the challenge, as many of the 250+ entries had costumes created by some very clever and creative humans.

    The costumes ranged from the cute--a dog with a paper mache snail shell on its back--to the elaborate--a couple dressed as Cinderella and Price Charming with their dog in a horse outfit pulling their other pup in a princess carriage. There were also many people wearing complementary outfits to their pups. One amusing costume featured a woman dressed as Dennis Rodman and her dog as Kim Jong-un.

    My other favorites were a dog perched inside a handmade life sized Zoltar fortune telling machine (rolled onto the stage with a hand truck), a canine hot dog cart with tiny condiments and rolling wheels in the back, and a giant cardboard Empire State building with a human gorilla clutching a dog dressed up as the blonde heroine, Ann, from King Kong. More photos here.

    The contest really showcased how much fun people were having with their pups. The proceeds from the event benefited the park's dog run, started in the mid 1980's as the first official off-leash space in New York City. The two fenced areas (one for all dogs and one for small dogs) have been managed and funded by the community since the very beginning.  

    The parade was also a reminder to be thoughtful about how we celebrate Halloween with our pups. Some dogs seemed happy to don a costume and bask in the attention, while others seemed annoyed. As we get into the Halloween spirit with our pups, it's important to remember to pick costumes that don't restrict your dog's movement and to slowly introduce them to any outfits with positive reinforcement.

    Enjoy the holiday!

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Canine Character in Call of Duty
    A military dog is featured in the latest installment of the popular video game
    Call of Duty: Ghosts, the tenth iteration of the popular warfare video game, features a unique character that defends himself without a gun and runs around on four legs. Riley the military dog has managed to become the breakout star of the game, even though "Ghosts" doesn't come out until next month. The working pup represents one of the biggest, and most popular, technological leaps forward in the next generation of Call of Duty.

    After footage released earlier this year revealed that "Ghosts" would feature a four-legged soldier, Riley quickly inspired fan art, doggy cosplay, and an unofficial Twitter account, @CollarDuty, which has over 28,000 followers.

    Canine characters are not new to video games, but Riley uses cutting edge technology to create an experience where he actually feels like a real partner. "Ghosts" developers wanted to create a canine hero that would not only assist players, but could be directed to carry out missions at certain points throughout the game.

    Early video clips show Riley taking a helicopter down by lunging at the vehicle and biting the pilot. The courageous pup can also create distractions to thwart enemies and is able to give players a unique view of the battlefield through a camera mounted on his back.

    The "Ghosts" developers took great care to make Riley as realistic as possible. First they met with a retired Navy SEAL and his former military dog to learn about how the two worked together in action. They then cast two Schutzhund champions, Ruger the German Shepherd and Rico the Belgian Malinois, to have their movements digitally captured for the game.  

    Ruger and Rico were outfitted with custom motion-capture gear made from form-fitting suits intended for animals with skin conditions. The team later nixed booties because the dogs didn't move naturally in the footwear.

    I'm not a fan of violent video games, but knowing all the work that went into making Riley come to life makes me want to pick up a controller!

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Domestic Violence Awareness Month
    Resources for pet lovers leaving abusive situations are slowly growing
    A recent study by the University of Illinois found that 34 percent of women have delayed leaving an abusive situation out of concern for their pets. And I've seen that number as high as 48 percent in past research. It's a problem that keeps people and animals in dangerous situations.

    As part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the Urban Resource Institute (URI) and Nestlé Purina are teaming up in support of URIPALS, New York City's first initiative to allow victims of domestic violence to enter shelters with their pets. Purina is donating welcome kits with food, cat litter, toys, and other supplies, as well as educational materials for families entering URI's largest domestic violence shelter.

    The collaboration aims to make people feel welcome with their pets since families leaving abusive situations often move out quickly, without time to plan or pack supplies. They also hope to raise awareness on the impact of abuse on the whole family, including animals.

    URIPALS is in a six-month pilot phase and is currently accepting families with cats and smaller animals. They hope to expand the program to include dogs this December.  

    Unfortunately few shelters are as progressive or have the necessary resources as URI does to accept animals. So the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine is tackling the lack of pet friendly domestic violence shelters by providing their own safe haven for cats and dogs until women in local shelters can find housing.  

    “It would be ideal if the pet was able to stay with the woman at the shelter, but you’d need a reasonably well socialized and non-aggressive animal for that, and it would require a major shift in facilities and training for shelter personnel,” said Marcella Ridgway, a professor at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.

    The University of Illinois also had advice for how domestic violence shelter staff and veterinarians can help people leaving abusive situations.  

    For domestic violence shelter staff:

    • Inform women seeking shelter about safe haven programs and other emergency resources for pets, preferably before they arrive at the shelter
    • Provide opportunities for women to discuss their pets
    • Incorporate pets into active safety planning efforts
    • Educate and train staff about sensitive approaches that acknowledge that women have different bonds to their pets
    • Collaborate with community partners to develop safe haven programs or other safe options for pets
    For veterinary professionals:
    • Help spread the word about safe haven programs and emergency resources for pets
    • Become educated and promote awareness about the links between domestic violence and pet abuse
    • Be knowledgeable and nonjudgmental with clients who disclose domestic violence
    • Address pet health care issues in an honest and thorough but nonjudgmental manner, using a triaged approach to avoid overwhelming clients
    • Assist clients in consideration of rational choices for long-term planning for pets
    • Collaborate with community partners to develop safe haven programs or other safe options for pets
    • Contribute to broader professional discussions about effective veterinary approaches to domestic violence, including routine screening
    Hopefully URIPALS and the University of Illinois' program will inspire other similar initiatives around the country.


    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Studying Bloat
    AKC grant goes towards gastric dilation-volvulus research

    For almost everyone with a deep-chested or large breed dog, gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV), commonly known as bloat, is always lurking in the back of their mind. Bloat causes the stomach to fill with air or fluid, which can progress to GDV, a twisting of the stomach. GDV is one of the leading causes of death in dogs, second only to cancer for some breeds. The scariest thing is how fast GDV can become fatal. The condition can progress to a critical level in a matter of minutes or hours.

    Despite its prevalence, the cause of bloat remains unknown but is generally thought to be influenced by both genetic and environmental factors.

    Laura Nelson, assistant professor at the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, has been awarded a two year grant to fund research on the causes of GDV in dogs. The money was awarded by the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation earlier this month.

    Not every dog, even those with a high predisposition, will get bloat and Laura wants to know why. Her team will be looking at the relationship of motility--contractions responsible for the digestion of food--with increased GDV risk, and hopes to define the biochemical and genetic alterations that may be associated with hypomotility--abnormally weak contractions. The researchers also will evaluate the expression of the hormones motilin and ghrelin--regulators of GI motility--as a predictor of predisposition to GDV.

    The research team hopes to use their findings to help veterinarians make informed decisions about how to treat dogs at risk for bloat, increasing survival rates. Given how common bloat is, it would be amazing to have a better understanding on how the condition develops and how to treat it.

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Fall Adventures with Your Pup
    Autumn is the perfect time to spend outdoors with your dogs

    People often think of summer as the prime time to be outdoors with your dogs. The weather is warm and there's countless activities to do together, such as playing at the beach and walking around the many outdoor festivals that happen during that time of year. For those reasons I've been sad to say goodbye to summer, but the crisp cool air and colorful leaves remind me that autumn in the North East has it's own benefits.

    Last weekend I went on a beautiful waterfall hike to enjoy the fall foliage with my Border Collie, Scuttle. Afterwards we stopped at a dog friendly Oktoberfest event on the way home to enjoy bratwurst and beer (only bratwurst for Scuttle, although I saw a Miniature Poodle sneak a sip of an open beer!). The weekend activities made me think that autumn is one of the best times to spend time with outdoors with your pets. It's not too hot and not too cold, many beaches open up after Labor Day for off leash play, and hiking trails are less crowded.

    I'm hoping that our next adventure will be apple and pumpkin picking at one of the many local orchards that welcome dogs. One of them even lets the pups on the hay rides! Not all farms allow pets, so if you're looking to do some apple picking, call ahead to verify that you can bring your dog.

    Do you have any fall adventures planned with your canine crew?

    Dog's Life: Lifestyle
    Study on Canine "Seat Belts"
    CPS finds only one car restraint system that passes their tests

    Keeping dogs safe in the car has long been a concern of mine. Previously I wrote about the crumple zone in the back of the car, which made me consider moving my pups to the safer back seat area using harnesses since I can't fit my crate in the passenger area. However, I was not impressed testing or lack of standards on car restraints, so I stuck with my crate (To be fair, crates don't have much testing either. There is only brand one on the market, Variocages, that is crash tested and designed with the crumple zone in mind, but they come with a hefty $1,000+ price tag!). 

    The results of a new study on canine car restraints doesn't exactly boost my confidence in these "doggy seat belts." A study by the Center for Pet Safety (CPS) and Subaru found that only one of the eleven systems they tested provided adequate protection to the dog and passengers of the vehicle. 

    CPS designed their crash test on the standard that is currently used to certify child safety seats. The testing occurred in two phases. First, each harness was subjected to a preliminary strength test. Only seven passed and continued to the crash test portion. The systems were tested using specially designed crash test dummy dogs in three sizes: a 25 pound Terrier mix, a 45 pound Border Collie, and a 75 pound Golden Retriever.  

    Only one system passed all of the tests, the Sleepypod Clickit Utility, meaning the dog remained restrained during every test and offered protection to the passengers.

    Klein Metal AllSafe, Cover Craft RuffRider Roadie, RC Pet Canine Friendly Crash Tested, Bergan Dog Auto Harness, Kurgo Tru-Fit Enhanced Strength, and IMMI PetBuckle did not have optimal performance.  Some allowed dogs to launch off of the seat or did not control the pet's rotation (something I wouldn't have even though about). The worst products, IMMI Pet Buckle, Kurgo, and Bergan, allowed the dog to become a full projectile or to be released from the restraint.

    CPS plans to use the data from their study to help develop standards for performance and test protocols of restraint systems since there are currently no industry guidelines.

    Founded in 2011, CPS is a registrered non-profit research and advocacy organization dedicated to companion animal safety. They are not affiliated with the pet product industry and do not endorse products. I can't wait to see what they have in store next!