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JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Puppies for Breast Cancer Awareness
Cosmo uses cute dogs to remind women about monthly health checks

Everyday my Facebook News Feed is filled with viral photos of adorable baby animals. The U.K. edition of Cosmopolitan magazine and CoppaFeel! are capitalizing on this trend to promote a good cause.

This month they launched a new breast cancer awareness campaign called Check Your Puppies!, which features photos of cute dogs behind lacy bras. Every month Cosmopolitan will post a new picture on Facebook and Twitter to remind women to do their monthly breast check. The campaign is encouraging people to help spread the message by sharing the cute photos with their friends.

According to CoppaFeel!, over a third of women never check their breasts and a disproportionate amount of these women are between the ages of 18 and 35, Cosmopolitan’s main fan base. With a one in eight chance of getting breast cancer, making self-checks a ritual is a must since early detection saves lives. The Check Your Puppies! campaign is aimed at reaching the young demographic.

Not everyone is happy with the new initiative, saying that referring to breasts as puppies is yet another way to objectify the female body by using silly language. I can see how some people might be offended by this campaign or find that it trivializes the disease, but if it helps even one person detect cancer in time for successful treatment, it’s definitely worth it.

Breast cancer has touched too many of my friends and family members. I think we have to be innovative in how we reach women and get the word out on prevention. Plus who can complain about getting to see a new pair of cute puppies every month?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Apartments Appeal to Dog Lovers
Real estate jumps on the pet industry bandwagon

With Americans spending more than $50 billion a year on their pets, the companion animal industry has been a lucrative one to capitalize on in recent years. The real estate business is no exception. Particularly with the economic downturn, I’ve seen a lot of apartments in New York add special perks to woo dog lovers. We’re an attractive bunch since the pet industry was less affected by the recession.

Metro areas are where the most swanky amenities are showing up. Washington D.C.’s Senate Square apartments offer a rooftop dog park and side-by-side water fountains for humans and canines. And they’re not alone.  A nearby complex that recently broke ground will have a pet spa with an outside dog walk area. Perks at other buildings include dog washing stations (very convenient for a small apartment!) and dog swim hours at the pool.

For apartments that can't build amenities (New York City is pretty tight space wise!), The Spot Experience has been partnering with residential buildings in Manhattan to offer a canine concierge of services that include daycare, dog walking, grooming, and training services with special shuttle service.

These amenities are really cool, but given that non-pet friendly housing is one of the top reasons people abandon animals at shelters, it's interesting to read that more apartments are catering to pet lovers. I’ve found that it's not hard to find high-end apartments that roll out the red carpet for pets, but it can be difficult to find dog friendly housing that’s also affordable. In my searches, I've always had to pay a little bit more than market value to rent in a pet friendly building, particularly one without breed or weight restrictions.

What has been your experience finding dog friendly housing?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Overpopulation by the Numbers
The sobering statistics of puppy mills and shelters

The pet overpopulation problem can feel really overwhelming at times and it can be hard to see if rescue efforts are making a real difference. I recently read an article that looked at the juxtaposition of compassion and cruelty--the side of the pet world that pampers our animals like children versus the side that kills millions of them each year. The statistics are sobering, but also provides a little hope (we've greatly reduced euthanasia numbers over the last few decades). I found that looking at the statistics helped me better understand the problem and some of the possible root causes, so I wanted to share a few of the most haunting numbers.

  • At any given time approximately six to eight million pets are in a shelter
  • Only about half of shelter animals will find a forever home
  • Three to four million pets are euthanized each year at shelters across the country
  • Of the pets received by shelters, 30 to 50 percent are "owner surrenders" (the most common reasons: the new landlord didn't allow pets, they had too many animals, and they couldn't afford the cost of food and veterinary care)
  • Puppy mills produce approximately two million animals a year
  • The Animal Welfare Act, the sole federal law regulating puppy mills, only requires that an animal be kept in a cage six inches longer than its body in any direction
  • A study on pet shops and puppy mills in California found that 44 percent of those visited had sick or neglected animals

The article also talked about the rise of puppy mills after World War II. According to dog rescue organizations, the U.S. Department of Agriculture encouraged farmers devastated by the Great Depression to breed puppies as a new "cash crop" for the growing pet store market. That combined with a general view of animals as disposable, overcrowded shelters by 1970 and led to the euthanasia of over 20 million animals.

The good news is that the euthanasia number has decreased significantly to three million. While still huge, we've certainly made a lot of progress since 1970. I think this is due in part to a changing view of pets as part of the family and the internet as an educational resource. This has also spurred spay/neuter efforts, an increase in rescue and advocacy organizations, and an increase in legal action for animal cruelty.

So while the numbers can feel insurmountable, it’s important to see the progress we’ve made and how we can use the statistics to fuel future efforts.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mysterious Death of a Show Dog
Champion Samoyed dies four days after Westminster

Earlier this month Cruz, a Champion Samoyed, was at the top of his game, trotting around the breed ring at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Just four days later the three-year old was at the emergency vet, dying of symptoms consistent with ingesting rat poison. No necropsy was performed, so it's unclear what killed Cruz. But if the suspicions are true, Cruz would have had to have eaten the poison while in New York for the show. Ingesting this type of toxin takes approximately three to five days for physical symptoms to surface.

The mysterious tragedy stirred up long held tensions between show breeders and animal activists who believe that purebred competitions are inhumane. Cruz's veterinarian felt that it was unlikely the Samoyed had been deliberately poisoned, but Robert Chaffin, Cruz's handler, believes that the activists may be to blame.

Robert has been retracing every step--a flight from New York back home (Cruz didn't even have to ride in the cargo hold), a pre-competition steak dinner, and conversations and remarks from show attendees--but is at a loss for what happened. Show dogs are watched carefully and Robert doesn't think that Cruz could've ingested anything bad under his watch.

Over the years I've heard rumors circulate about PETA supporters targeting show dogs by adding antifreeze to water bowls or throwing unidentified liquids at crates. The fear isn't exactly unfounded and goes back as far as the late 1800's when eight dogs were poisoned at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. The scandal made the front page of the New York Times and the motive was believed to be jealousy. But in the case of the extreme animal activists, I rarely see concrete proof to back up the rumors.

Nonetheless, it's a horrific thought that an animal lover would deliberately harm a dog. The accusation continues to divide a community that should be working towards the same ideals--promoting the best interests of the animals we love. Is there no way that we can find common ground?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pet Food Stamps
Nonprofit seeks to keep families together by giving out kibble

The downturn in the economy has meant difficult decisions for many people, including pet lovers. Animal shelters have been inundated with relinquished dogs and cats, while families worry about how they will put food on the table.

In recent years, food banks have realized this struggle and many have added pet food to their shelves. There’s even been a rise in dedicated pet food pantries. But unfortunately many people don’t live near any of these resources.

That problem inspired Marc Okon to create Pet Food Stamps earlier this month, so that people wouldn’t have to give up their pets or choose between feeding their families or their beloved animals.

There’s clearly a real need for the new organization. In the first two weeks, the nonprofit got more than 12,000 requests for pet food. To qualify, families must prove they’re receiving assistance from the state. If approved, they’ll get a monthly allotment to spend at Pet Food Direct. 

Pet Food Stamps will be looking for federal funds and grants, but in the meantime they’re in need of monetary donations to carry out their mission. Marc's organization is a great way to reach people across the country, no matter where they live, and will hopefully help keep families together in these tough economic times.

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.

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