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JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Custody Over Abandoned Pup
Hiker wants dog back after leaving her behind to die

Earlier this month, Scott and Amanda Washburn were in Colorado hiking 13,500 feet above sea level when they found an injured German Shepherd. They tried to coax the poor pup out of the nook she was in, but her paws were completely raw and she was too weak to move. Unfortunately the injured dog weighed 100 pounds and was too heavy to carry down the mountain. So the Washburns used their first aid kit to patch up as many wounds as they could and left the dog with water until they could return.

Forest Rangers are only able to send out search parties for people, so the couple turned to the internet to find help. Two days later, Scott and eight volunteers returned to Mount Bierstadt and began a 9-hour rescue mission that included hiking through a full-blown snowstorm. Fortunately they got to the German Shepherd just in time. The bandaged wounds had reopened and there was blood all over nearby rocks.

Dubbed “the miracle dog of the century” by her veterinarian, the lucky pup is going to make a full recovery. Scott and Amanda were so enamored that they decided to adopt the brave German Shepherd.

But believe it or not, the Washburns are now involved in a custody battle with the man who abandoned the dog on the mountain.

Turns out the pup’s name is Missy and she was left behind by Anthony Ortolani when a storm hit the mountain. Three days later, Anthony assumed Missy died and made no attempt to rescue her.

This story makes me so upset on so many levels (besides the part about the amazing rescuers). First off, no one should bring their dog hiking on a 14,000+ foot mountain unless they’re sure that their pup is accustomed to the terrain. Second, anyone hiking long distances should monitor their pup carefully for signs of pad wear or other injuries. Missy’s paws should never have gotten that raw.

That being said, I understand these things can creep up to the best of us.  But not going back up the mountain? Unacceptable.

The Sherrif’s Office says that the custody decision could take months and, for now, Missy remains at the veterinarian. I hope that Missy doesn’t stay in limbo for too long and that her rescuers are able to give her a permanent loving home. 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Studying Canine and Human Genomes
New article sheds light on dogs in health research.

Earlier this month, genetics researcher Elaine Ostrander published an article in the New England Journal of Medicine to highlight the strides scientists are making in human disease research thanks to their work with canines. The best part is that dogs are also benefiting in the process.

Scientists have sequenced both the human and canine genomes, which makes it possible to compare genes between the two. Typically it's much easier to track down the genes associated with canine diseases than it is in humans.

Once researchers identify the gene responsible for a disorder in dogs, they can go back and see if the same holds true for humans. The following are some of the cases where canine research has benefited both dogs and people.

  • Scientists discovered that the gene folliculin is behind Birt-Hogg-Dube syndrome in humans and RCND, a syndrome that causes kidney cancer and skin growths in German Shepherds.
     
  • Researchers identified a different gene responsible for epilepsy in Wire-haired Dachshunds and Lagotto Romagnolo dogs. They're hoping further research into the differences in other breeds will also further understanding about how the disease presents in humans.
     
  • Scientists found that introducing a fundamental version of the RPE65 gene to dogs successfully treats progressive retinal atrophy. Now humans with the same disease are being treated with the same treatment.
     

Unfortunately I know many dogs and people affected by cancer and epilepsy. I'm hoping that Elaine Ostrander's article will inspire more collaborations between veterinary and human medical research. There are many studies that show the health benefits we get from our pets, so it seems only fitting that canine health research is now informing cures for humans.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Fulfilling a Canine Bucket List
Boy seeks treats for his dying service dog

When eleven-year old Cole Hein found out that his Jack Russell Terrier had only weeks to live, he created the “Lick It List,” a canine bucket list to honor his pup Bingo. For five years, Bingo has been taking care of Cole, who has a medical condition that can stop his breathing. The thirteen-year old dog is trained to alert adults if the boy needs CPR.

In the first six months the two were together, Bingo saved Cole's life three times, leading to her induction into the Purina Animal Hall of Fame in 2010. Now it's Cole's turn to help Bingo make the most of her time left as the pup battles Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome.

Here is Cole and Bingo's Lick It List:

1) Let Bingo "taste" the world by getting him dog treats from around the globe

2) Take Bingo for one last "public" outing to Ruckers (a favorite game-and-pizza place)

3) Walk around the block twice with Bingo

4) Do a photo shoot with just Bingo and Cole (which has already been arranged)

To help Cole achieve Bingo's Lick It List, he's asking people around the world to send treats. No monetary donations will be accepted (Bingo's medical care is taken care of). Any treats that Bingo can't consume will be donated to the local animal shelter. Likewise, if you're not able to send treats, Cole asks that you make a donation to your favorite animal rescue in Bingo's name.

Dog treats can be sent to:

Cole Hein/Bingo Hein
P.O. Box 413
Shilo, MB
Canada
R0K 2A0

If my dogs had a bucket list, treats would certainly be number one! What would be on your dog's Lick It List?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dangerous Snack Bags
Penn. pup suffocates from a potato chip bag

It’s well known that plastic bags pose a suffocation risk for both children and pets. Most packaging carries a warning as a reminder. However, I never considered that snack bags could also be dangerous. 

Last month a Pennsylvania family came home to a heartbreaking scene. The Elwoods knew something was wrong when their 4-year old Pit Bull didn’t greet them at the door. Amid trash scattered around the house, they found Lucy with her head stuck in a potato chip bag she stole from the garbage can.

CPR was attempted, but sadly the poor pup had already suffocated. The Elwood family has now made it their mission to prevent this tragedy from happening again. The fliers they created advise people to either cut out the bottom of bags or tear them open completely before throwing them away. The Elwoods also contacted the Frito Lay company about adding a warning label to snack bags.

My dog, Nemo, is a perennial garbage raider, so I’ve always had to be careful about his access to trash cans. Considering Nemo’s habit, I’ll definitely be cutting any bags that I throw out. It’s a good safety measure in addition to keeping garbage cans out of reach.

Please spread the word in Lucy’s memory.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Facebook Pup Learns to Herd
Mark Zuckerberg introduces his dog to sheep for the first time

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla, made headlines last year when their family grew by one 8-week Puli named Beast. Since then they’ve been spoiling the furry pup in their Palo Alto home. Beast has his own Facebook page and even escorted Priscilla down the aisle when the couple got married in May.

Going back to the Puli’s Hungarian Sheepdog roots, Zuckerberg recently took Beast on his first sheep herding lesson. Photos can be seen on the dog’s Facebook page in an album captioned, “Dad took me to herd sheep for the very first time!” Herding breeds are very active by nature, so it’s important to keep them stimulated by introducing them to activities like rounding up sheep.

It’s also pretty amazing to watch. I remember the first time that I brought my Border Collie, Remy, herding. He had never seen a sheep before in his life, but as soon as he saw the flock, he immediately ran over and started circling them. The natural instinct was incredible!

I hope that Beast’s herding adventure inspires others to find activities to share with their pets.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Bark Inspiration in the New York Times
Our article prompts a foray into truffle hunting

Last week I was reading an article about truffle dogs in the New York Times and spotted a Bark shout out! Elizabeth Kalik, a former search-and-rescue trainer in Oregon, read about canine truffle hunters in our magazine and decided it would be the perfect activity for her crew. She tracked down the man we interviewed and trained her Newfoundland and Beaucerons to hunt for the prized fungi.

Kalik loved the work so much that she co-founded NW Truffle Dogs in 2010 to train interested people and their pets. So far the school has had 46 students.   Truffles from Oregon fetch $400 a pound and truffles from Italy and France command up to $4,000 a pound. But so far all of the graduates are amateurs and mostly use their finds in their own cooking.  

Training is as much for the humans as it is for the canines. While the dogs must learn to find truffles (and not eat them!), the people have to learn to detect changes their pup’s behavior and body language as they find the treasure. Experienced handlers can distinguish if their dog has locked onto the scent of a squirrel or have located a truffle.

Since canines are already talented with their noses, Kalik says that scent training is easy. The individuals that excel are athletic, have an ability to think independently, can focus on a task for hours, and are able to tolerate variable weather conditions.

While working breeds, like Retrievers, are most common, any dog can be trained. NW Truffle Dogs’ graduates have included a Papillon and a Pit Bull.

If you think your dog would enjoy hunting truffles, but don’t live in an area with the fungi, you might try the sport of K-9 Nosework.

At Bark, we celebrate the rewarding relationship between people and dogs, and that includes introducing our readers to the variety of activities we can do with our beloved pets. It’s very cool that the magazine inspired Kalik to pursue a new hobby with her crew that is now benefiting many others through her school!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Phelps to Teach Dog How to Swim
In retirement, the Olympian plans to spend more time with his pups

After winning a record 22 medals, Michael Phelps is retiring as the most decorated Olympian of all time. Now with a little more time on his hands, one of Phelps’ first plans is to teach his dog, Stella, how to swim.

Phelps adopted the Catahoula mix in December after appearing on the Today show to talk about his Olympic training regimen. As part of the Bow to Wow segment, Phelps walked out the spotted pup that was looking for a home. The champion swimmer felt an instant connection and ended up adopting the dog.

I love to hike and its one of the first things I introduce to puppies when they join my crew, in addition to agility of course. There is something special about sharing favorite hobbies with our pets. It helps build the deep relationship we have with them.

I love that Phelps will be sharing his greatest passion with his new pup. Perhaps, in addition to swimming, Phelps will take up agility like Olympic diver, Greg Louganis.

What hobbies do you share with your dog?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs and Attachment Theory
A deep emotional connection with our pets brings many benefits

When I’m having a bad day, my dogs know just how to lighten the mood and bring a smile to my face. Pet lovers have long known that animals lower our stress levels, and that fact has been proven by scientific research over the years.

A new study published in the Journal of Research in Personality looks at the relationship we have with our pets from the perspective of attachment theory. Like parents or friends help people develop a sense of internal security and confidence, researchers believe that our pets help give us the confidence and support needed to live healthy lives.

Their study set out to prove the impact our animals have through two experiments.

Both studies had participants complete a “pet attachment questionnaire” that measured emotional connection. In the first experiment, they were asked to list their personal goals for the future and rate how likely they were to achieve them. In the second experiment, they had to perform an extremely difficult word test.

Some of the participants were asked to write a brief description of their pet before they completed the respective task. In the first study, researchers found that those who wrote about their pet generated more goals and expressed more confidence that they would achieve them as compared to the control group. In the second experiment, those who wrote about their pet had lower stress levels during the test than those who did not.

Interestingly this result was only found among those who had a high emotional connection to their pet. There was no benefit for people who had a distant relationship with their pups.

Non-dog lovers may never quite understand the special relationship we have with our pets, but I know that I owe my dogs so much thanks for the support and love they give me!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Obstacles for Psychiatric Service Dogs
More veterans are turning to canines to cope with PTSD

More and more returning veterans are turning to dogs to help cope with post traumatic stress disorder. Last week, the Senate passed a bill (HR 1627) that would require the Veterans Affairs Department is open their housing facilities to veterans with service dogs. The current version restricts assess to canines trained by certain accredited organizations.  While these animals are becoming more accepted, there are still many hurdles to face in getting full recognition.  

There are three types of dogs that provide care to people with mental health illnesses. The first are psychiatric service dogs, canines that are trained to assist through specific tasks, such as creating physical space during an anxiety attack or calming handlers having a bad nightmare. The second are emotional support dogs that more generally comfort people with disabilities. And the third are therapy dogs that visit hospitals and nursing homes. The Americans with Disabilities Act does not protect the last category and these animals can’t be taken into restaurants or stores that don’t normally allow pets.

However, the laws protecting service animals can be abused. Some people have psychiatrists sign letters for non-legitimate reasons or use fake certification web sites in order to being their pets along with them. Unfortunately this makes it harder for people with real service dogs to be taken seriously. This is partly why HR 1627 has a certification requirement.

Phony working canines aren’t the only complications. While airlines and other transportation services have to accommodate service animals, this can make it difficult for people with pet allergies to travel.

Another factor, which I had never thought about, is concern for the dogs’ well being. Some believe that service dogs could be emotionally harmed when paired with a depressed or anxious person. Any pet lover knows that animals pick up on our feelings, so I can see how this can be an issue. I would love to see research done in this area.

But for those who rely on psychiatric service dogs, these animals are indispensible, and they could not imagine a world without their trusted furry partners.  

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Caring for War Dogs
Paramedics receive training to treat canines in combat settings

There are plenty of stories that illustrate the important role war dogs play in assisting the military. Many soldiers consider these canines partners and credit them with saving lives.

The military employs doctors and veterinarians, but if anything happens in action, paramedics are the first ones to respond and often have to give treatment at the scene. These people receive elite training for humans, but have to wing it when it comes to the canines.

There are many similarities in treating humans and canines, for instance you can use the same stitches to sew wounds. However, there are also many differences. The standard procedure of applying a tourniquet to a human can do more harm on a dog.

With military canines playing important roles in Iraq and Afghanistan, the need for animal care skills has become critical . There are about 2,700 dogs serving in the armed forces.

Recently Lt. Col. Stephen Rush organized a training to teach Air National Guard rescuers to treat dogs in combat settings. The session was developed in partnership with Long Island Veterinary Specialists and K-9 Medic, a company that teaches emergency medical care for service dogs. Colonel Rush hopes that the two-day training could serve as a model for future courses.

War dogs are navigating the same dangerous situations as their human counterparts, so it's about time that paramedics receive training to ensure their safety. Kudos to Col. Stephen Rush for creating the course and I hope that other areas of the military will add it to their training protocol.

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