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JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Uncovers Diabetes in a Volunteer
Tex. child finds out he has diabetes while socializing alert dogs
Lakenyen Carter has been socializing puppies for Drey's Alert Dogs, an organization that trains diabetes and autism service pups, since school let out in June. Last week he was volunteering as usual when one of the older dogs, Marshall, started pawing at Lakenyen. The Yellow Labrador was not begging for attention, but was giving Lakenyen an important message. Marshall is trained to paw at a person to let them know that their blood sugar is reaching a dangerous level. The pup in training was essentially telling Lakenyen that he had diabetes.    

Lakenyen's parents never suspected that anything was wrong, but they immediately brought him to a doctor and the diabetes diagnosis was confirmed. Without Marshall, they might have not found out about Lakenyen's condition until he had an episode. Now they can be proactive in his treatment and care. The Carters are still waiting to find out what type of diabetes Lakenyen has (diabetic alert dogs work best with people with Type One diabetes), but perhaps Lakenyen will one day have an alert dog of his very own!

  Through his volunteering, I'm sure Lakenyen is already a dog lover. But after Marshall's "diagnosis," I'm sure that Lakenyen will always feel a special connection with the animal who made such a significant impact on his life.  
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Vet Sits in Hot Car for Thirty Minutes
Dr. Ernie Ward shows how car temperatures can quickly rise to fatal levels
Now that we're in the thick of the summer, it's almost unbearable to be outside for an extended period of time--especially here in New York with the humidity! Yet people continue to think it's okay to leave pets in cars without adequate precautions. Just last week, animal control officers rescued a three-month old puppy from a car in a Riverside, Calif. shopping mall parking lot. The temperature outside was in the 90's and inside the car it was well over 100 degrees.  Fortunately the puppy was saved in time, but his internal temperature was dangerously high.   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. I was surprised to learn that on a 60-70 degree day, temperatures inside the car can reach well into the 90's and beyond.   North Carolina veterinarian, Dr. Ernie Ward, is on a mission to bring more awareness to this problem. Armed with a clock, a thermometer, and a video camera, Dr. Ward sat in his car for thirty minutes on a 95 degree day to feel what it would be like for a dog trapped in a hot car.   You can see as the minutes pass that Dr. Ward is not only drenched in sweat (something dogs can not do as efficiently as we can), but is increasingly distressed as the temperature climbs to 117 degrees. Although there is a visible breeze outside, none of it comes into the car, despite the cracked windows. You can only imagine what the experience would be like for a dog who has no control over the situation.     If Dr. Ward's video convinces even one person to leave their dog at home while running errands, his suffering will have been worth it!
 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
China's One Dog Policy
Beijing and Shanghai are confiscating pets amid confusing rules
China has an infamous one child policy, but I was surprised to learn that certain Chinese cities, like Beijing and Shanghai, have a one dog policy. And it's not just the number of pets you live with.  Believe it or not, these cities have banned all dogs taller than 13.7 inches. That means I couldn't live with my pups in either of these areas!   For years pet lovers in Beijing and Shanghai have gotten away with their larger breeds, but over the last month the government has been cracking down. The Beijing Municipal Public Safety Security Bureau says that the increase in human deaths attributed to rabies is responsible for the sudden enforcement. They also believe that big dogs are incompatible with city living (they've obviously never lived with a Jack Russell Terrier!).      Over the past few weeks, the police have been carrying out frightening raids on homes, confiscating even legally registered pups. Animal rights advocates say that many of the seized pets are likely to end up in the hands of dog meat traders.   Inconsistent rules have made the issue confusing and even more controversial. Despite the ban, the government had been licensing large breed dogs across the city and collecting the $160 registration fee for years.   To protect their dogs, pet lovers are walking their pups in the wee hours of the morning or limiting potty breaks to hidden apartment balconies. Those who can afford it have been boarding their dogs outside the city limits, but not everyone can afford to do that and it's certainly not a long term solution. Most people are hoping that the campaign will blow over.   China's rules may seem excessively random, but think about the breed bans against Pit Bulls that we have in the United States. The laws in Beijing and Shanghai come from the same problem--trying to solve a problem without treating the root cause.   Eliminating large breeds doesn't eliminate vicious dogs. And limiting people to one dog doesn't solve the rabies problem.  Responsible dog ownership--administering rabies vaccines, keeping dogs on leash, and encouraging people to train their pups--is where the real issue lies.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Ex-Marine Reunited with His Pup
Brad O'Keefe finds the dog that saved his life in Afghanistan
Last week, ex-Marine Brad O'Keefe was reunited with Earl, the Black Labrador that saved his life in Afghanistan. Brad and Earl had worked together for two years, detecting IED bombs, but hadn't seen each other since they were both injured in 2010. The pair was crossing a bridge with a U.S. army unit when Earl detected an explosive device. A resurgent ended up detonating the device before they could completely escape, but the warning ultimately saved Brad's life and the lives of the 13 other men.   Earl ran the five miles back to base and waited next to Brad's gear. Brad never returned, requiring seven surgeries to recover.  He was later awarded the Purple Heart, but Brad always wondered what happened to Earl.   In May, Brad's sister, Rachel, decided to make it her mission to track down the courageous pup through a Facebook page called Bring MMD Earl Home. Within days Rachel found out that Earl had been transferred to the Rhode Island State Police after the military downsized its K-9 corps.  Earl had been training with his new handler, State Trooper Damien Maddox, and even worked the Boston marathon bombing.     The decision to relinquish Earl was left up to Trooper Maddox who agreed without hesitation.  However I'm sure it was not easy for him. In the video clip of Trooper Maddox and Earl working together, and the subsequent reunion with Brad, you can see that they developed a strong bond even in their short time together.   Brad is currently working as a machinist in Rochester, N.Y., coping with his injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. There is no doubt that Earl will provide the type of healing only a dog can give—especially one who truly understands the trauma that happened that day in Afghanistan. Now that both Brad and Earl are retired from the Marines, they can play fetch, take walks, and really enjoy the time they have together.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
N.Y. State Senate Passes Animal Abuser Registry
One step closer to increasing the penalties for animal cruelty

Earlier this week, the New York State Senate passed a bill requiring animal abusers who have violated Buster's Law (the state's anti-cruelty legislation) to register their name and address with the criminal justice services.  The bill also requires all convicted animal abusers to undergo psychiatric evaluation and bans the person from ever owning a pet again.

  Buster's Law was named after an 18-month old cat who was doused in Kerosene and lit on fire by a teenager in 1997.  The culprit is now a three-time felon and was later convicted of sexually abusing a 12-year old mentally disabled girl.   Buster's Law was a landmark bill for pets in New York, but there is still a lot of work to be done.  Besides the registry, there are several bills that have been introduced by local politicians to strengthen and enhance Buster's Law.  They include expanding the law to cover abuse to all animals, not just pets, and increasing penalties for animal fighting.   The registry would not only serve as an invaluable resource for keeping our pets safe, but it also sends a strong message that animal cruelty is a serious issue.  It's a well known fact that many animal abusers go on to harm people, like in the case of Buster.     The registry bill now lies with the state assembly where it is sponsored by Assemblyman Jim Tedisco.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
National Pet Preparedness Month
Important reminder to create an evacuation plan for the whole family
Sometimes all of the unofficial national "holidays" and awareness months that keep cropping up seem excessive.  Do we really need a National Hug Your Cat Day?!  But I think the new movement to make June National Pet Preparedness Month is a really good one, and a nice complement to September's National Preparedness Month for people.   Earlier this year, I wrote an article in the magazine about disaster preparedness in light of lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy.  It's important to revisit this topic periodically and it's timely now that storm season has started.   A little preparation goes a long way in an emergency and having a "go bag" will help you keep calm and evacuate quickly.  This is especially important if you have the added responsibility of pets.   If you already have a "go bag" or evacuation pack, use this month as an annual reminder to replace old food and medication and to update photos and emergency contact information.  If you haven't created a bag, use this list to help get you started.
  • 7 days worth of food (rotate regularly and if you use canned food, buy cans with a pop-top)
  • 7 days of bottled water (rotate regularly)
  • Medication (rotate regularly)
  • Food/water bowls
  • Extra collar, harness, and leash
  • Clean up supplies (pet cleaning solution and paper towels)
  • Plastic bags (to serve double duty as garbage and poop bags)
  • Flashlight
  • Blanket
  • Toys and chews
  • Carrier
  • Copies of medical records
  • Contact information for local veterinarians, pet friendly hotels and shelters, and out-of-town family members willing to take in your pets
  • Recent photo for making lost posters
  • First aid kit with pet-specific supplies
For more information on preparing your canine family for natural disasters, visit the ASPCA web site.     It's easy to think that you'll never have to deal with a natural disaster, but I saw countless people caught totally off guard during Hurricane Sandy.  Creating an evacuation plan and a "go bag" doesn't take much effort and you (and your pets!) will be thankful for your advance preparation in the event of an emergency!
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
High Tech Dog Gadgets
Smart collar tracks our pets' behavior for improved health
There are all sorts of high tech pet gadgets out these days, many which seem a little unnecessary.  Do we really need a QR code or USB stick identification tag?  Beyond the novelty factor, they're a little impractical in an actual emergency, unless used in conjunction with a more traditional method.   At first I thought the same about the new "smart collars" on the market, but the more I read about them, the more I can see how the technology could provide valuable information on our pets' health.     Whistle just launched a dog collar that wirelessly tracks data about your dog's activity throughout the day.  It uses an accelerometer to determine if your dog is being active (walking or playing), resting, or sleeping.  The information can then be viewed with a smartphone or web app to see the length of time your pup spends engaged in each of these behaviors.  The app also features charts that let you look at behavior change over time and allow you to compare your dog's statistics to their breed average.  The data can be used for everything from identifying deviations to monitoring effects of a new food or medication.  I think that the collar is particularly handy for identifying changes in behavior during peiods of time when you're not home or in the middle of the night.   Whistle was inspired by founder Ben Jacobs' childhood German Shepherd.  When Ben was eight years old, the dog unexpectedly died from an intestinal problem that the family didn't know about.  Since then, Ben has been focused on getting better care for pets.       Being familiar with your dog's normal behavior, and when they deviate from that baseline, is indispensable for early detection of health problems.  Animals are very good at hiding illnesses, so it's up to us to notice small changes in behavior.  Veterinarians rely  on us to describe the symptoms we're observing on a day-to-day basis to help make an accurate diagnosis.   Last year my dog, Nemo, started refusing certain foods and was slightly more lethargic than normal.  I brought him to the emergency room because I knew he wasn't acting like his usual self.  The emergency room vet said it was probably an upset stomach and sent us home with some medicine.  I knew it couldn't just be an upset stomach--Nemo would enthusiastically eat dirt if you offered it to him--so I brought him to another vet who ended up finding pieces of a leash stuck in his intestine.  If I hadn't known what was normal behavior for Nemo, I might not have gotten a second opinion and might have even waited until it developed into a much more serious condition.   So if the Whistle collar encourages more people to pay closer attention to their dog's behavior, it's definitely a good thing.  Even if people don't end up buying the collar, just reading about the functionality may inspire someone to be more observant.   The collar is certainly very cool, but for now I think I'm going to spend my $100 on more treats and tug toys to play with my pups!   Are you using any high tech gadgets for your crew?  

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Returns to a Hero's Welcome
Kabang is celebrated for saving the lives of two girls in the Philippines
Last week one brave dog returned home to a hero's welcome in Zamboanga, a city in the southern Philippines, after a whirlwind year in America.     About a year and a half ago, Kabang jumped in front of a motorcycle to save the lives of two young girls.  Dina Bunggal, who lives with the mixed breed pup, and her cousin, Princess Diansing, were playing with the dog when a motorcycle headed their way showed no signs of stopping.  Kabang threw herself in front of the moving vehicle, protecting the girls and loosing half of her face in the process.     Local authorities advised Dina's father, Rudy, to euthanize Kabang, but he refused.  However, the severe injuries were not treatable in the Philippines.      After word got out about Kabang's story, a nurse from Buffalo, N.Y. spearheaded a fundraising campaign to bring the pup to the United States for treatment.  Care for Kabang raised over $20,000 from 22 countries to cover the cost of surgeries, visas, and airfare.   Veterinarian Anton Lim accompanied Kabang to California where she spent seven months in the the University of California Davis veterinary hospital.  They were unable to reconstruct her snout and jaw, but the hospital was able to successfully care for her extensive wounds.  Kabang's treatment was complicated by heartworm, which had to be treated before the wound on her face was closed, and a cancerous tumor, which is now in remission after six weeks of chemotherapy.    

Kabang finally returned home to her family last week, riding in a motorcade through streets filled with local fans.  The final destination was Municipal Hall, where Mayor Celso Lobregat bestowed the title "Pride of Zamboanga" on the pup.  

  The medical side of Kabang's journey alone is pretty amazing.  Her veterinarians say that she remained upbeat throughout all of the endless treatments.  But the best part of Kabang's story is the loyalty--how a little mutt saved the lives of two girls and how the world came together to get Kabang the treatment she needed.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs Help Recovering Teen Addicts
Research looks at the effects of pets on former drug abusers

Dog lovers know that our pets can cheer us up on a bad day, but new research shows that they may have a significant effect on our brain chemistry.

Lindsay Ellsworth, a doctoral candidate at the Washington State University, is using shelter dogs as part of a mood-boosting therapy program for teenagers recovering from drug and alcohol abuse at Excelsior Youth Center in Spokane, Wash.

To study the program's effects, Lindsay separates participants into two groups once a week for one hour. One group plays games, such as billiards or basketball and the second group interacts with shelter dogs.

Before and after the activity, participants identify 60 mood descriptors as part of a emotion scale called PANAS-X. Those who spent time with the dogs showed an increase in joviality, positive affect (a psychology term for the experience of feeling or emotion), attentiveness, and serenity. They also showed a decrease in overall sadness. This is important because many of the teens are also being treated for ADHD, depression, or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Even Lindsay was surprised at how calm the teens were around the dogs and at the overall decrease in outbursts and hyperactivity. She hypothesizes that the feel good chemical dopamine (the same chemical released when we clicker train our pups!) is released in the teens' brains as they anticipate the canine interaction and that social companionship with the pups may also stimulate opiod release, a chemical linked to calming and anti-depression.

Lindsay is hopeful that dogs could naturally help restore the normal function of these critical chemical messengers after the brain's chemistry has been altered through drug use.

Starting this summer, Lindsay will be expanding her research to look at how dogs can influence the teens' engagement in group therapy and cooperation in structured activities.

The prospect of a natural, low-cost behavior intervention is pretty exciting and even cooler that it gives shelter pups a job. I'm looking forward to hearing more about Lindsay's upcoming research!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Tick Population Explosion
Pesky bugs are now a year round problem
Ticks drive me crazy, especially since I spend so much time hiking in wooded areas.  And these pesky creatures are persistent even outside of prime conditions.  I try to avoid using chemical-laden tick preventatives year round, figuring the pups are safe in the winter, but this year one of my friends spotted a tick on her dog in January!   Unfortunately this problem is only getting worse because tick populations have exploded in the past ten years--meaning more ticks and more affected areas (did you know that ticks can even be found in Antarctica?!).  Scientists attribute this increase to mild winters, suburbanization (bringing people and wildlife in closer proximity), an increase in white-tailed deer, migratory birds that carry ticks to new areas, a movement towards preserving open space and trees, and the use of fewer insecticides.     These factors have also made my habit of skipping winter tick preventatives a bit misguided.  Dr. Michael Dryden, a veterinary parasitology professor at Kansas State University, says that it has to be at least ten degrees Fahrenheit for some time to kill a tick.  If the temperature drops overnight then warms back up, that doesn't do the trick.  Ticks can also survive under a blanket of snow, which actually provides shelter (go figure!).  Additionally there are some species, like the Black-Legged Tick, found on the East Coast of the United States, that actually thrives in the winter months from October to February.     In addition to being vigilant year round, a recent study out of Vienna's Institute of Parasitology discovered a significant different in the effectiveness of acaricide anti-tick treatments (a category that includes Frontline and K9 Advantix) in practice versus in the laboratory.  They suspect this is due to people not applying the product consistently or according to the directions.   Veterinarians often see new tick species and diseases before medical doctors, since dogs spend so much time outdoors, making our pups important to both human and canine health initiatives.   After reading these studies, I'll certainly be checking for ticks and applying Frontline Plus no matter how cold it is outside!

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