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JoAnna Lou

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

Wellness: Healthy Living
Preparing for Natural Disasters
Lessons learned in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy
Pet Evacuation / Preparing for Natural Disasters

Hurricane sandy claimed hundreds of lives and caused billions of dollars in damage across the Caribbean and along the east coast of the United States. My family was fortunate to have weathered the storm safely, but I learned a lot of things that will help me better prepare my pets for the next storm.

Hunkering Down at Home
Keeping boredom at bay. Dealing with cabin fever was the least of my concerns, but it was practically a full-time job keeping Scuttle, my six-monthold Border Collie, entertained. We did everything from playing tug to figuring out a new Nina Ottosson puzzle toy. Scuttle even learned how to walk backwards. Being stuck in the house was a great excuse to teach new tricks, and mental exercise is just as important, if not more tiring, than physical exercise.

Dealing with anxiety. I was fortunate that none of my pets were afraid during the hurricane, but if you know that your dogs are prone to anxiety, it’s good to have a few tools on hand to help them cope, such as a Thundershirt, Dog Appeasing Pheromone (DAP) spray or Rescue Remedy. Just remember to introduce these things before the scary storm so they don’t become part of a bad association.

Potty time. Falling trees killed many people during Hurricane Sandy, including two in New York City who were out walking their dog (the dog was injured but survived). The howling wind was so terrifying that a couple of times, I immediately ran back inside withouteven giving my pups a chance to do their business. I immediately wished I’d prepared an indoor potty area in my garage with a litter box or a tarp filled with dirt and grass. You can also put down housebreaking pads if your dogs will use them.

If you don’t want to bother with a potty area, you should at least determine the safest spots outside. During the storm, I tried to stay as far away as possible from trees and power lines, while watching out for downed wires and other debris.

Surviving blackouts. Power outages were widespread during the hurricane, forcing people to go for days without heat, and some, without running water. Most people I know bundled up and hoped for the best, while others relied on generators (which became tricky because of the gas shortage), or stayed with friends who had heat. The length of the blackouts highlighted the importance of having a backup plan, particularly if you have pets who are sensitive to extreme temperatures. I was lucky to have many friends who offered generators and places to stay, but these are the types of arrangements you want to line up before you need them.

Finding Lost Pets
Unfortunately, during every natural disaster, there are always too many stories of pets who got spooked and ran off. It goes without saying that identification tags and microchip registrations need to be up-to-date, but sitting in my house, I kept thinking that if I were to lose one of my dogs, I had no way of making posters without electricity. It would be invaluable to print out fliers with your pet’s photo ahead of time, along with a list of phone numbers for local shelters and veterinarians. When an animal is missing, every minute counts.

Preparing to Evacuate
After the hurricane ran its course, there was nothing more haunting than images of houses completely destroyed by the storm. Thanks to the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act of 2006, local and state government agencies are required to come up with an emergency plan that includes animals. Still, many people, who assumed they couldn’t bring their pets, left them behind. It’s critical to know ahead of time where your dogs will be welcomed: at an evacuation center, a hotel or a friend’s house.

Two things will also make evacuating a lot easier: creating a go bag (see the Pet Evacuation Bag Checklist) and crate-training your dogs. Evacuation centers require pets to be in kennels, and you don’t want an emergency to be the first time your dog sees a crate.

My friends and I endured several days of blackouts, road closures and gas shortages—and we were the lucky ones. Sandy was the second hurricane to hit our area in 14 months and I’m determined to be as prepared as possible for the next one. I know my pets are depending on me.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Controversy Over Vaccines
Veterinarians divided when it comes to immunity

For years people suspected that pet vaccines didn't need to be administered annually and that immunity was more similar to human shots. Fortunately in the last ten years, veterinary colleges and organizations, such as the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA), revisited their guidelines and now recommend administering core vaccines every three years. It's even becoming more common to find veterinarians who measure antibody levels through blood titers instead of defaulting to regular booster shots (this is one of my requirements when choosing a vet).

But even with the AVMA and AAHA constantly revisiting their guidelines, pet vaccines remain a tricky topic. It's further complicated by the fact that many studies are sponsored by vaccine manufacturers, which creates a potential bias. Dr. Richard Ford, a 2003 AAHA Canine Vaccination Guidelines Task Force member, has said that the decision to recommend a three year re-vaccination schedule was an arbitrary compromise that was not based on science.

And frequency isn't the only controversy. Earlier this month, a Connecticut veterinarian had his practice taken away from him after Banfield found out that he had been administering half-dose vaccinations. Dr. John Robb believes that it's not safe to use the same dose for all dogs and cats, particularly for the smaller breeds.  

Dr. Robb bought his Stamford, Conn. Banfield franchise in 2008, a year after the veterinary hospital chain was acquired by Mars and PetSmart. He believes that the corporations are not only unfairly targeting him because they want to ultimately cease franchise ownership for their hospitals, but are jeopardizing the health of his clients' pets.

There are definitely arguments for both sides of the issue, but I can see where profits and insurance risk could create a conflict for a medical organization owned by two big corporations.

AAHA President Dr. Mark Russak believes that Robb is putting pets at risk and creating a potential public health concern with incorrectly administered rabies shots. He says that vaccines are manufactured through scientific trials to determine the correct amount of antigens needed to stimulate the immune system.

But while many veterinarians disagree with Dr. Robb's vaccine protocol, Jean Dodds, a leading expert in this area, says that dosages can be adjusted safely. She has been vaccinating toy breeds with half doses for years and is currently spearheading a campaign to increase the rabies vaccination interval from three to five years with the hope of eventually changing it to seven.  

A 2002 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association showed that there are potential problems with using a universal dosage. The research documented a higher incidence of vaccine-associated adverse events in dogs less than 22 pounds (27 percent versus 12 percent for dogs over 22 pounds with each subsequent shot).  

The fact that there is so much division among veterinarians on this topic just goes to show that more work must be done in this area to develop guidelines we can trust.  

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Effects of Neutering
New study looks at the health implications of spay/neuter

I affectionately call Nemo my "monster Sheltie" since he measures 19.5 inches at the shoulder, three and a half inches over the breed standard. Due to his big size, he often gets mistaken for a small Collie. On the recommendation of my veterinarian, I had Nemo neutered at 16 weeks old, which I later suspected may have contributed to his extra large stature. Canine sports medicine specialist Dr. Chris Zink DVM has compiled a lot of research showing that neutering a dog before their growth plates close may cause extra growth and, more importantly, possible health implications.

Researchers at the University of California Davis recently published a study that highlights the need for more work in this area. The team looked at the health records of 759 Golden Retrievers, examining the relationship between neutering and two joint disorders and three cancers (hip dysplasia, cranial cruciate ligament tear, lymphosarcoma, hemangiosarcoma and mast cell tumor). The dogs were classified as intact (not neutered), neutered early (before 12 months age), or neutered late (at or after 12 months age).

Joint disorders and cancer are of particular interest because neutering interrupts the production of certain hormones that influence the closure of bone growth plates and regulation of the estrous cycle in female dogs.

The University of California study found that the rates for all five diseases analyzed were significantly higher in neutered males and females (whether they were neutered early or late) as compared to intact dogs.

Specifically, early neutering was associated with an increase in the occurrence of hip dysplasia (a 100 percent increase!), cranial cruciate ligament tear and lymphosarcoma in males and of cranial cruciate ligament tear in females. Late neutering was associated with the occurrence of mast cell tumors and hemangiosarcoma in females.

The lead investigator, Benjamin Hart, says that it's important to remember that the effects of early and late neutering may vary from breed to breed, since vulnerabilities to various diseases differ.  

Knowing this information, it makes a compelling case to get a vasectomy for male dogs (eliminates sperm without effecting testosterone levels) instead of a standard neuter. Unfortunately female dogs don't have an easy alternative.  

No matter what, considering how many dogs are neutered early in this country, it's important that more research is done in this area. However, I hope that this study doesn't discourage people from neutering dogs all together. I think we've come a long way in promoting spay/neuter to help control the overpopulation problem (and still have a long way to go). But more research in this area would help us come up with a birth control solution that limits adverse effects on health.

For another view on this study, from a shelter worker, see Shirley Zindler's post.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mandatory Microchips
All British dogs must be microchipped by 2016

I’m a huge fan of microchipping. Identification tags fall off, collars get snagged, and unfortunately bad people steal pets. A microchip, typically implanted between a dog’s shoulder blades, can help dogs find their way back home. I’m a proponent of microchip education and low cost clinics, but I wasn’t initially sure how I felt about a microchip law.

Earlier this month, Britain announced that all dogs in England must be microchipped by 2016. The Environment Department is hoping that the requirement will be a simple solution for reuniting more lost or stolen pets with their families, promoting animal welfare, and taking the pressure off animal shelters. In the past, Britain has also proposed mandatory microchips to help in prosecuting dog bite cases.

According to the Environment Department, 60 percent of Britain’s 8 million dogs are already microchipped. Closing the gap would put England in good company with countries like Portugal, Italy, and Switzerland who already require microchips. Interestingly horses have had to be microchipped in England since 2009. After 2016, dogs without a microchip would face a hefty fine of up to 500 pounds (about $800).

I think this law is generally a good idea because it will increase awareness about microchiping. But given that the process involves injecting a foreign body into our pups, it seems better to keep the process optional.

What do you think about mandatory microchipping?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog to the Rescue
Washington pup delivers a life saving note.

Every now and then you hear about a dog who is able to draw attention to a house on fire or to lead rescuers to a person in trouble. This story played out a little differently for a pup in Washington who delivered a life saving note.

When a homeless man found himself in the middle of the woods with a medical emergency, he had no way to call for help. His only hope was to attach a letter to his trusty dog, Buddy, that read: “Help. Send help. No joke, cannot walk. Medicine not working. Need doctor.”

A woman walking her own pup discovered the Australian Shepherd mix and immediately called 911. The police didn’t know where to look, but eventually got a tip about a man who lived in the woods with his dog. Soon after they located the man and brought him to the hospital. The man was treated and has since been reunited with his loyal pup.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Promoting Happiness
Animal Farm Foundation creates innovative fliers to encourage adoption

I hate to admit it, but sometimes I find myself ignoring the “dog for adoption” photos that my friends post on Facebook or the fliers that get posted at the pet store. There are just so many of them and sometimes it feels overwhelming how endless the overpopulation problem is. Obviously this kind of promotion works. I found my puppy, Scuttle, when a friend posted her photo online and I'm so thankful for that!

But I recently saw this really cool idea that aims to encourage a happy feeling when talking about shelter pets. The Animal Farm Foundation started creating fliers that promote two key messages to their community: choose adoption and when you do, choose our organization. Instead of spending energy creating individual dog fliers, they chose to show how much fun people have when they adopt a dog from AFF and become a part of their family. AFF considers their adopters their best marketing resource.

I love AFF's fliers because it really gives you a happy feeling to see all the photos of dogs in their new homes. I think it also challenges shelters and rescue groups to think of innovative ways to promote the positive side of adoption.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Bully Stick Danger
Study finds bacteria and a hefty calorie count in the popular treat

There are a lot of pet treats out on the market and it seems like every week a new brand is getting recalled. I don’t even touch any chicken jerky manufactured in China due to the widespread contamination problems.

More recently I’ve been choosing deer antlers and bully sticks, thinking that they’re safer since they’re all natural. But according to a study published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal, there are two potential problems with bully sticks (also called pizzle sticks).

The first concern is an excessive amount of calories. The scientists calculated nine to 22 calories per inch, meaning that a 6-inch bully stick could represent nine percent of the daily recommended calorie count for a 50-pound dog or a whopping 30 percent of the requirements for a smaller 10-pound dog. This I’m less worried about as I usually adjust my pets’ dinner if they get a large treat during the day.

The second finding is much more serious. In testing 26 bully sticks, the researchers found one contaminated with Clostridium difficile, one with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), and seven with E. coli. The scientists admitted that the sample size was small, but recommended that people should at least wash their hands after touching bully sticks.

I hope that they repeat the study on a larger scale, differentiating by finishing process. Some bully stick companies sun-bake their product, while others irradiate or bake the sticks indoors. I’m sure that these differences can affect bacteria levels.

It would also be good if they gave recommendations on how to get rid of the bacteria. I know that some people bake bully sticks in the oven before giving them to their pets, but it’s not a proven method.

I think that this study goes to show how careful we have to be in researching our pets’ food. I already know a lot about picking a good kibble, but this study has inspired me to do a better job at finding out the origin and manufacturing process for the treats I feed my crew. And it underscores the many benefits of making your own treats at home!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
High Tech Treat Machine
Feeding cookies remotely via e-mail.

When John created the NYC CNC Machining and Prototype Shop back in 2007, he started a video blog documenting the successes and failures he learned while mastering the art of machining. His latest project is a fun combination of many aspects of his work—CAD, machining, fabrication, powder coating, Raspberry Pi, electrical engineering, and programming—and his love of dogs. John used all of those skills to create an interactive automatic treat dispenser!

E-mailing juddwouldlikeatreat@gmail.com activates a treat dispenser which gives John's 2-year old Vizsla, Judd, a cookie. The program also takes a photo of Judd and sends a thank you e-mail in return. John's project became so popular that Google temporarily disabled Judd's original e-mail address due to high volume. Fortunately John runs with Judd anywhere from five to 30 miles a week, which should help to offset the frequent treats. The machine is also turned off at night and at other times of the day when John and Judd are busy.

If you'd like to create your own high tech treat dispenser, John made his venture an open sourced project, meaning that the Python code and CAD model are available for free on his web site. Very cool!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Revisiting Fake Service Dogs
A growing problem which has no easy solution.

A few years ago I wrote about people passing off their pets as service dogs so they could ride in the cabin together (thus avoiding the hazards of cargo and extra fees).  Although the practice is  unethical, and makes travel harder for people with legitimate service dogs, the problem seems to only be growing.

Heated discussions crop up every time there's a national dog competition.  The latest discussion around the American Kennel Club’s Invitational event led some to call for organizations, such as the AKC and the United States Dog Agility Association, to get involved.  There's also a lot of false information floating around (like that it's a felony to pass off a pet as a service dog or that a limited number of service dogs are allowed on any given plane--both untrue).  Bottom line, it's a sensitive subject and the more I research the topic, the more I realize how complicated it is to regulate such behavior.

The biggest challenge is maintaining the privacy of those with legitimate service dogs.  The law is intentionally open ended to allow for a large and growing number of disabilities.  Most people with service dogs oppose any sort of registry because it's hard to figure out a fair and equitable way to determine criteria for eligibility.  

Tightening laws and giving businesses more leeway for questioning people causes unfair scrutiny for those with legitimate service dogs.

I think it has to come down to people having a little more respect for true service dogs and compassion for those who have no choice but to rely on these animals.

I'm also very disappointed by dog show/sport people who falsely pass of their pups as service animals.  It looks really bad when planes headed towards a big show are filled with an unusual number of “service dogs.”  I always think of dog show/sport people as being exemplars of responsible pet care and this kind of behavior casts a negative light on all exhibitors.

I understand that many people do it because it's safer for the dog to travel in the cabin, but it’s important to remember that getting to a national competition is not a necessity.  

And finally, the root cause is a lack of safe and affordable air travel options for medium to large dog breeds.  But until airlines cater to that need (which I doubt will be any time soon, if ever!), people have to consider the impact their actions have on others.

What do you think the ideal solution is to the faux service dog problem?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Update on Missy
Happy ending for dog left on a mountain

Last summer I wrote about Missy, a German Shepherd who got caught up in a custody battle between Anthony Ortolani, the man who left her to die 13,500 feet up on a mountain, and her rescuers.

In the end Anthony entered a guilty plea for cruelty to animals and was recently sentenced to a year of probation and 30 hours of community service. In addition, John Steed, one of the rescuers, was allowed to adopt Missy as part of the plea deal.

Missy now goes by Lucky and has two canine siblings at home with John. The German Shepherd even received a lifetime membership to 14ers.com, the climbing group that organized her rescue.

The men who saved Lucky were so inspired by the experience that they created The Brothers of Lucky Search and Rescue (BOLSAR) dedicated to high alpine search and rescue in the Colorado Rocky Mountain region. It took two days for them to organize Lucky's rescue effort. BOLSAR will allow for faster coordination of volunteers, which means quicker rescues. Since park forest rangers aren't allowed to send search parties for animals, BOLSAR is necessary for the safety of dogs who love to hike.

In addition to the rescue work, BOLSAR plans to conduct community outreach programs to raise awareness on how to safely hike with pets.

What a happy ending to Missy's story!

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