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JoAnna Lou

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

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.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Honoring their Final Minutes
Photographer takes pictures of shelter dogs before they're put to sleep
Photograph by Tou Yun-fei

A photographer in Taiwan is on a mission to get people to take a serious look at the way animals are treated in his country. Tou Yun-fei takes photos of dogs at the Taoyuan Animal Shelter in the moments before they are euthanized. In the last two years, he's captured the images of 400 dogs.

Activists say that 70 percent of dogs in Taiwanese shelters are killed after the 12-day waiting period.  Tou began his project because he didn't think the media was giving enough attention to the problem and felt that too many people considered these animals disposable.

After Tou photographs the dogs, vet techs take them for a last walk in a grassy courtyard, then lead them into a small room where they are euthanized.

Some of his friends refuse to look at the photos, and I can certainly see why. The pictures are haunting.  They look like the kind of portrait that a dog lover would commission of their beloved pet. But then you realize that these dogs were not saved in time and have already been put to sleep.

The project is heartbreaking, if a little morbid, but an important one. I've met photographers who take striking photos of homeless pets in the hopes of catching the eye of a potential adopter, but Tou's project hopes to be much bigger and change the way people view and treat these animals.

It's not easy to inspire cultural change, but Tou's photographs might just be the project to spark conversation and force people to rethink longstanding beliefs.

A selection of Tou's photos will be exhibited in his first full scale show in August at the Fine Arts Museum in  Kaohsiung, Taiwan. For those not in the area, you can view his work online.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sniffing Poop to Save Wildlife
Ex-shelter dogs are trained to become conversation canines
Conservation Dog

 

Families often misjudge how much exercise dogs need, which is how many pets end up at the animal shelter. Insatiable play drive is bad for the average home but great for working canines. The Center for Biology Conservation adopts many of these dogs and trains them to sniff out wildlife droppings. Yes you read that right!

Scientists can learn a lot from scat, including sex, species, and even stress level. They can put together a complete health profile without even ever meeting an animal in person.

The Center's current project is bringing two conservation canines to the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico to track salamanders found nowhere else in the world. These amphibians are threatened due to the changing climate. The information will be used to map salamanders and create a plan to help save the critters and conserve the forests they live in.

The two dogs scheduled for the job are a Labrador named Sampson and an Australian Cattle Dog named Alli. Both are rescue pups and have since gone through rigorous training (all through positive reinforcement!). Sampson and Alli are trained on a variety of animal droppings, including the Pacific Pocket Mouse whose scat is as small as a sesame seed! Other conservation canines can even sniff out killer whale waste.

The Center's Conservation Canines program launched in 1997 and now sends scat sniffing dogs all over the world. Their skills are unmatched as they can collect huge amounts of samples over a large area in a short period of time.

I knew that droppings can provide a wealth of information, but the work that can be done with that data is far bigger that I'd realized. In one notable project, the Center used data from African elephant scat to create a map that is being used to battle the illegal ivory trade. Now when ivory pieces are discovered, the laboratory can identify the exact area it came from, which increases the chances of finding the culprits.

All that thanks to the amazing canine nose!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
From Street Dog to Officer's Pet
Policeman finds a new friend on the job

Back in May, Officer Dan Waskiewicz of the Balimore City Police was on duty when he got a call about a vicious dog chasing kids. When he arrived at the scene, Instead of jumping to conclusions, Officer Waskiewicz got out of his patrol car and called the dog over to assess the situation. The Pit Bull mix came over panting, with his tail between his legs. Officer Waskiewicz  offered the tired pup some water and the two became fast friends. Although his partner wasn't a big dog fan, Officer Waskiewicz put the pup in the back of their patrol car and drove to the local shelter. 

As if saving an animal from the streets wasn't enough of a good deed, Officer Waskiewicz ended up adopting the Pit Bull mix himself and named him Bo. The lucky pup now lives with Waskiewicz's family, which includes two other dogs.

With so many recent reports of police shooting harmless pets, it's refreshing to see someone respond the right way. Officer Waskiewicz arrived on the scene with compassion and an open mind. As a result, a loving dog now has a wonderful home.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Cancer and Pesticides
Study finds a link between lymphoma and certain types of lawn care

I'm told that the pesticides used on my lawn are “organic,” but I still worry about the adverse effects that they might have on my pets. The dogs walk with their bare paws, roll around, and sometimes snack on the grass, so I usually keep them off of the lawn for a few days following treatment. Turns out that my fears may not be unfounded.

A recent study identified a link between canine malignant lymphoma (CML) and certain lawn care products. Researchers surveyed people whose dogs were treated at the Foster Hospital for Small Animals at Tufts University's Veterinary School, some with CML and some without.

The study found that the use of professionally applied pesticides was associated with a 70 percent higher risk of CML. There was also a higher use of self-applied insect growth regulators among the families with a CML dog. Interestingly (and thankfully!), researchers did not find a link between flea and tick control products and CML.

Researchers hoped to shed light on the causes of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma (NHL) in humans, a cancer that has doubled since the 1970's. It's easier to study the health effects of environmental risk factors in animals. CML was chosen because it has similar characteristics to NHL and responds similarly to treatment.

After reading this study, I'm already rethinking how I care for my lawn. It's great to see research that benefits both humans and canines!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Developing a Healthy Immune System
Study finds that babies in dog homes get sick less often

I have friends on both sides of the parenting spectrum. Some won't let me in the door without slathering my hands in antibacterial gel, while others are okay with their kids teething on my dogs' Kongs.

There isn't one right way to raise children (human or canine!), but it turns out that a little bit of dirt and fur may be a good thing.

A recent study at Kuopio University Hospital in Finland found that babies who live with a dog are healthier and less likely to need antibiotics than infants in pet-free homes. Kids from homes without animals were healthy for 65 percent of their first year, compared with 72 to 76 percent for babies in dog homes.

The kids in pet families were also 44 percent less likely to get inner ear infections and 29 percent less likely to need antibiotics. The study found a similar correlation between infants and families with cats, but to a lesser extent.

The researchers believe that dirt and allergens introduced by animals may cause a child's immune system to mature faster.

Our pets hold a special place in our family and now we know they may also play an important role in developing our kids' immune systems.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Social Media Finds an Adventurous Dog
Twitter reunites an Irish woman and her lost pup

Social media has revolutionized the way we find homes for pets and raise money for animal related charities. Last month, Facebook aided rescuers in locating a stray dog in distress and, most recently, Twitter helped an adventurous pup find his way back to his family.

Deirdre Anglin's dog, Patch, went missing last Tuesday in Kilcock, Ireland. She posted photos of the Jack Russell Terrier on Facebook, but didn't have much luck.

Patch wasn't discovered until he boarded an Irish Rail train to Dublin the next morning. At first rail workers thought he might be a passenger's dog, but when he remained unclaimed at the final stop, it was clear that the pup was lost.

Irish Rail took to Twitter with a “Lost dog!” photo, which was retweeted more than 500 times in a half an hour. Deirdre Anglin soon saw the message and tweeted back, “That's my dog!”

Patch and Deride were reunited and the terrier became an overnight celebrity. When Deirdre took Patch home on the train, fellow passengers kept asking if he was “the dog from Twitter.”

Twitter was able to reunite Deirdre and Patch quickly, but I have to say, I'm equally amazed how pet friendly the Irish Rail is. My local commuter train, Metro North, welcomes pets on leash, though I rarely see animals on board. However, if you need to travel longer distances, Amtrak does not allow pets.

On Irish Rail, small dogs are able to ride the train on a person's lap. Apparently canine passengers are so common that the rail workers didn't think it was that strange for Patch to be wandering about.

If only all trains were so pet friendly!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Reclassifying Military Canines
Bill seeks better treatment for war dogs

As we celebrate Independence Day, it's important to remember our veterans—both human and canine. The military has been slow in providing the care and respect that these working canines deserve. Retired war dogs were euthanized for decades before “Robby's Law” allowed these brave pups to be adopted. However, the military still has a long way to go in giving dogs proper treatment.

I was shocked to learn that the military classifies working canines as equipment. Because of this distinction, dogs that are retired overseas are considered excess equipment and are not transported home. They can be adopted, but the government doesn't provide any financial support.

U.S. Army Specialist Robert Mather Jr. couldn't afford to adopt the Belgian Malinois he worked with in Iraq and Germany. Fortunately Mather's community raised the money to bring Nouska back to N.J., but it's a disgrace that the military didn't pay for her safe return. Nouska served for 10 years and 4 tours of duty!

Representative Walter Jones and Senator Richard Blumenthal teamed up earlier this year to sponsor a bill that would make sure dogs like Nouska are safe. The Canine Members of the Armed Forces Act would allow the military to honor courageous canines, make sure that all dogs are flown back home, and set up a private fund for lifetime health care. The House of Representatives already passed the bill and the legislation is now in the Senate.

Seems like a no brainer for the furry pups who serve our country and protect our troops!

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