Home
JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Humane
Pet Soup Kitchens
Serving food for dogs and comfort for owners.

As the economy struggles, animal shelters across the nation are facing a staggering increase in surrendered pets due to the economic downturn, and many shelters, and even food banks, have started offering pet food. According to the HSUS, 68 organizations nationwide currently offer pet food assistance to those in need, many supported by grants from the Humane Society’s Foreclosure Pets Fund established last year.

In California, the Santa Cruz SPCA distributes more than 7,000 pounds of food each month at Heather’s Pet Food Bank. Named after local songwriter and dedicated shelter advocate Heather Zir, the food bank has become one of the largest and longing running in the nation since opening 10 years ago.

This year, Heather’s Pet Food Bank has seen a 25 percent increase in demand. “People who used to donate are now coming to get food and supplies,” says Santa Cruz SPCA Executive Director Lisa Carter.

On the opposite coast, at Long Island, N.Y., Little Shelter’s Animal Soup Kitchen has also observed a striking demographic change in the past year.

“While once restricted to low income areas, people [looking for help] are now coming from all neighborhoods,” explains Little Shelter Communications and Events Manager Jodi Record. “Without assistance, many families would have no choice but to surrender their pets to the local animal shelter.”

Tom Wargo has made it his life’s mission to help Georgia families care for their pets during hard times. His volunteer-run organization, the SOS Club, has been distributing supplies for the past 11 years, and as the recession deepened, Wargo found that pet owners needed more formal assistance.

In September 2008, the SOS Club opened Daffy’s Pet Soup Kitchen in Lawrenceville, Ga., to keep up with increasing demand. During their first month, Daffy’s distributed 4,000 pounds of food in addition to pet supplies and discounted medical care. Now the soup kitchen averages 8,000 to 12,000 pounds each month and feeds 1,500 animals. With the growing need, plans are in the works to start five new locations in Georgia; the group is also working with others across the nation to open soup kitchens in other states.

“The goal is to keep families and pets together,” says Wargo, “We get calls every week from rescue groups with people who need to surrender their pets because they can’t afford food. It breaks their heart. Now shelters can refer owners to us for supplies and veterinarian care.”

Pets aren’t the only ones receiving support through the soup kitchen. Daffy’s encourages donation recipients to do a minimum of five volunteer hours each month at a local organization. It can be humbling to need the food pantry’s assistance, and the suggested service requirement fosters a sense of responsibility and importance. In tough times, Daffy’s has proven to be much more than just a food bank.

“At first some people are embarrassed to come,” explains Wargo, “but once they do, everyone sits in the office and swaps stories, ideas, and advice to help each other out. We have become a family for most and everyone acts like they’ve known each other for years.”

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
First Indoor Airport Pet Relief Area
San Diego International debuts a new canine bathroom

Most airlines treat animals as an afterthought, which makes flying with pets a real hassle. Airports are required to have relief areas for service dogs, but the facilities provided usually require passengers and pups to leave the terminal and go back through security when they're finished.

Now pets going through San Diego International Airport have a new, and much more convenient, option for taking a pre-flight bathroom break. In April, an indoor pet relief area opened next to the human bathrooms between Gates 46 and 47. The amenities include fake grass, a red fire hydrant, poop bags, and even sinks for the humans to wash their hands. Maintenance workers clean the canine restroom twice a day.

San Diego has four other doggie bathrooms, but like most other airports, they're located outside the terminals. Also, good news for pups not flying in and out of San Diego.  The design firm that worked on the relief area is now offering the plans to other airport clients, so hopefully we'll see more of these in the future!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Special Needs Soul Mates
Two pups with disabilities find each other at a Calif. rescue
Eve and Dillon were abandoned hundreds of miles apart from each other, but managed to find a forever home together in a heartwarming story. Eve, a deaf and half blind Catahoula mix, was found on Christmas Eve by a Bear Valley, Calif. mail carrier nearly frozen at just nine weeks old. Dillon, a Border Collie mix, was left behind at a Palmdale, Calif. boarding facility where his family dropped him off several months ago and never returned.     Both pups were fortunate to end up at Marley's Mutts Dog Rescue where they instantly bonded, literally becoming each other's guide dogs. Dillon soothed Eve's anxiousness and Eve became Dillon's eyes.  Rescue volunteers describe watching them play together as magical.    The rescue knew Eve and Dillon had to stay together, but finding a home for even one special needs dog is challenging. Marley's Mutts took to social media and quickly caught the attention of Shelley Scudder via Facebook. Shelley already had two dogs of her own, but was won over after seeing the special relationship between Eve and Dillon.   Looking at photos, you can definitely see the joy and trust the two pups have in each other. Hopefully this story will inspire others to give a special needs dog a second chance.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Animal Cruelty Ruling Overturned in Iowa
A man is cleared of an animal torture conviction based on a technicality

These days more and more states are passing or strengthening animal cruelty laws, but recently progress in this area took a giant step backwards. Last month an Iowa Court of Appeals ruling overturned the conviction of a man who beat a puppy to death with a baseball bat. According to Polk County attorney John Sarcone, this ruling will make it harder for future animal torture cases to make it to trial.

In 2012 Zachary Meerdink was convicted of killing Rocky, his 7-month old Boston Terrier, after the puppy had multiple accidents in the house and bit his girlfriend's children (although it seems there is no actual evidence of this happening on the day of the beating, but that is beside the point).

A three-judge panel voted two to one that prosecutors failed to show Zachary acted with a “depraved or sadistic intent to cause death,” as required by the state's animal torture law. They say that the evidence showed Zachary did not appear happy about the beating and had first tried other ways to change the puppy's behavior.

I don't see how being upset or having attempted to train the puppy makes it okay to kill an animal. Zachary could have easily brought the dog to the animal shelter if he thought the situation was no longer working out.

This case shows how important it is for us to put pressure on our local lawmakers to strengthen animal cruelty laws. Fortunately, there is still hope for getting justice for Rocky. State prosecutors filed an appeal with the Iowa Supreme Court, arguing that a person doesn't have to look “happy or eager” to kill to be convicted of animal torture. They are also asking the high court to clarify the state's animal torture law.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Is Your Dog Happy to See You?
Canine facial expressions reveal a range of emotions
When I get home, there's no question in my mind that my pups are excited to see me. And they each have their own way of expressing that joy. Scuttle runs in circles and wiggles her whole body uncontrollably, while Nemo barks and wags his tail. While these behaviors are often thought of as the sign of a happy dog, a new study shows that canine emotions may be more universally expressed through their eyebrows and ears.   Researchers at Japan's Azabu University used high-speed cameras to track dogs' facial movements in response to different stimuli. They found that dogs tended to move their eyebrows up, particularly on the left side, when seeing a human family member and moved their left ear back when meeting a new person. If the pups were shown an object they had a bad association with, like a pair of nail clippers, the dogs moved their right ear instead.   One of the scientists, Dr. Miho Nagasawa, hypothesizes that the ear movement in response to unfamiliar or negative things may stem from its use to convey emotional expression. Eyebrow movement may reflect the movement to look at someone that they have an established relationship with.   After reading about this study, I tried watching my dogs when I came home yesterday. As you can imagine, excited pups move way too quickly to see eyebrow movement! However, I am really curious about the range of facial expressions to different people. For instance, Scuttle loves people and when we meet a stranger, she can barely control her excitement. Would her facial expression be radically different with me versus with another person? I would really like to see more research done on the canine facial expressions associated with established human relationships.     What are your dog's happy signals?
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Training Scam on the East Coast
Pups stolen under the pretense of board and train
For me, finding the right trainer, dog walker, or veterinarian is complex process. I want to make sure we agree on training and health care philosophies, that they have enough experience and knowledge, that they genuinely care about their clients, and that others are happy with the service they've received. After all, you're putting a great deal of trust in these people to help you raise part of your family.   Several people on the East Coast had that trust broken when the man they paid to board and train their dogs disappeared with their pups, leaving them heartbroken. Investigators identified a man named James Randel Whitten as the one responsible, but he's still missing. The scam has been run in multiple states, including North and South Carolina and Delaware. James advertises his "business" on websites like Craigslist and convinces people to board their pets with him. He then takes the money and dogs and disappears.   James was last seen in Tarboro, N.Car. and has gone by multiple aliases. Not only is he kidnapping animals, but he's also neglecting them. Before James left Tarboro, he left a Pit Bull and French Mastiff without shelter, food, or water. Fortunately both pups are safe and back with their families, but there are countless dogs still missing.     For more information, the affected families started a Facebook page and web site to help get the word out. They're hoping to find the remaining dogs and prevent other families from being scammed.   This case does highlight the importance of choosing a reputable dog trainer, especially if it's a board and train situation (I much prefer situations where the trainer teaches people to train their dogs). A good starting point is to ask friends or local veterinarians for recommendations. Verify trainers by searching online for reviews and asking them for a few clients that you can contact for references. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers has more tips on their web site for choosing a trainer.     Hopefully James will be caught before he moves on to other states and the remaining pets will be reunited with their families.  

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
N. Car. Moves to Protect Dogs in Hot Cars
The House passes legislation allowing rescue workers to break into hot vehicles
Earlier this summer I wrote about a veterinarian's experiment to bring awareness to the dangers of leaving pets in hot vehicles. It's well known that cars can heat up to dangerous temperatures in a matter of minutes, yet these deaths continue to happen--even to those who should know better. In June, Worthy, a dog in training with a North Carolina service animal organization, died after one of the program's managers left him in a hot car. These deaths are extra tragic because they are so easily preventable.     North Carolina has since moved towards signing a law that could help dogs in Worthy's position. Last week the House passed legislation that would give rescue workers permission to break into cars to remove animals at risk because of heat, cold, inadequate ventilation, or other circumstances. Some local ordinances already let police officers break into locked cars to save animals, but this amendment would make that action legal statewide. It would also extend permission to animal control officers, firefighters, and other rescue workers.   If the law is passed, North Carolina would join 11 states in passing this type of legislation. Representative Pricey Harrison, who sponsored the amendment, was hoping for a stronger law but ended up drafting the current version when the initial legislation failed. 14 states have laws that specifically prohibit leaving an animal in a car that would endanger their safety. The penalties range from a $25 fine to a felony for repeat offenders (go New Hampshire!).    Although North Carolina's amendment will not specifically prohibit leaving dogs in hot vehicles, people who do so can still be changed under the existing animal cruelty statutes. The woman who left Worthy in the car was charged last week with misdemeanor animal cruelty.   While the car laws are certainly important, ultimately we have to spread the word on the dangers of hot cars so that dogs aren't put into these situations in the first place. Education is key to prevention.  
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Protecting Paws in the Heat
Sizzling pavement or sand can burn pads

At the moment New York is in the middle of a miserable heat wave. With humid temperatures soaring into the high 90's, I've been limiting the dogs' outside time to quick bathroom breaks in the backyard. However, when it came time to go to agility class on Wednesday, Scuttle took one step onto our driveway and jumped back onto the grass. Horrified, I touched the pavement and it was sizzling hot.  It's easy to forget about protecting paw pads since we wear shoes and aren't aware of the ground temperature.

Urban dogs are better prepared to deal with hot pavement, since their paw pads have been toughened by walking on the rough city streets. But during a heat wave, even the most hardened paws must be monitored. I was surprised to learn that swimming can soften a dog's pads and make them susceptible to burning on surfaces that they'd be normally okay on.     In general it's a good idea to avoid walking your pups on pavement, metal surfaces, or sand during extremely hot weather. But that's not always possible. Look out for signs of burned pads, which include limping, refusing to walk, blisters or redness, loose flaps of skin, changes in pad color, and licking or chewing at the feet.   If your dog's pads are sensitive, carry them over hot surfaces or have them wear booties to protect their feet. For minor burns, you can clean the pads and cover their paw with a loose bandage. For more serious burns, get your pup to the vet immediately.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs as Children
Study finds similar dynamics in our relationships with dogs and infants

Many people, myself included, consider our dogs to be children. We feed them the best food, take them to (obedience) school, and even bring them with us on vacation. I often get a lot of slack for treating my pups like kids, but a new study seems to back up the relationship that we have. Scientists at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna set out to explore the bond between dogs and their human "parents." Interestingly, and perhaps no surprise to us dog lovers, they found striking similarities to human parent-child relationships.

  There's a term called the "secure base effect" which is used to describe infants using their caregivers as a sort of "safety net" when interacting with the environment. The researchers wanted to see if this behavior was present between people and their pets.     The lead scientist, Lisa Horn, set up a situation where dogs could earn a food reward by playing with an interactive toy. She watched for their reaction under three different conditions: "absent owner," "silent owner," and "encouraging owner." Lisa's team found that the dogs were much less likely to work for the food when their person wasn't present. Staying silent or encouraging the pups had little influence on the animals' motivation level.   The really interesting part came in the follow-up experiment where researchers put the dogs in a room with a stranger. They found that the dogs' motivation to play with the toy did not change whether the stranger was in the room or not. Since the increased interaction only occurred when their "human parent" was present, the scientists concluded that this was key in getting the dogs to behave in a confident manner.   This study is the first to find the "secure base effect" in dog-caregiver relationships. To build on this research, Lisa's team plans to do direct comparative studies on dogs and children next--very cool!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Looks After Kids in Africa
Canine "foster parent" inspires people to help out a family in need

When seven-year old David Mbogo and six-year old Mary Wanjiku were abandoned by their drug-addicted mother in Dagoretti, Kenya, they were taken in by their grandmother. Unfortunately she is often busy tending to the five other grandchildren that live with them and trying to make money to support the family. 

Enter canine "foster parent" Oscar. Two years ago, the lovable mutt started caring for the two siblings and have now developed a regular routine. At 6 a.m. Oscar waits for the kids to get ready for school and escorts them to the compound. Then he waits for class to end and walks them back home. The lovable mutt has even rescued the kids on many occasions when they got lost.

David and Mary's grandmother has been dealing with a number of problems, including a leaking house and finding the money for warm clothes, food, and school fees. She has a very limited income selling cabbages. Her daily pay averages 200 Kenyan Shillings ($3) and school costs 2,400 Kenyan Shillings ($30) per term. Fortunately, since Oscar's story has gone viral, the pup has inspired many people to send donations for the kids.

Everyone knows that there are families struggling to make ends meet, but it's easy to forget. In this case it's interesting to see how a common love of dogs moved people all over the world to learn more about this family and to send support. It's also cool to see the how fundamental and universal the human-canine bond is. No matter where you are you can find people developing deep relationships with dogs. 

Pages