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JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mistaken Identity
Labradoodle masquerading as a lion results in a 911 call

It was a case of mistaken identity. Earlier this week, a 911 call came in reporting a baby lion walking down Colley Avenue in Norfolk, Va. The police immediately called the Virginia Zoo, but all lions were accounted for. It turns out that the big cat in question was a 3-year old Labradoodle named Charles and the caller wasn't crazy. Charles really did look like a lion.

Daniel Painter has his dog regularly groomed to look like a lion, the mascot for Norfolk's Old Dominion University. Charles is popular among the school's sports fans and the Labradoodle even has his own Facebook page. Daniel says that when he takes Charles to a park near the zoo, people sometimes run to their cars thinking the pup is a big cat.

Charles does look a little crazy and kind of reminds me of the dogs dyed to look like wild animals in grooming contests. But while some people might think it's unfair to subject the poor dog to such humiliation, I doubt Charles realizes how silly he looks. I think that pet clothing and costumes are a lot more uncomfortable for animals.

For now Charles is bringing much joy to Old Dominion fans, but perhaps wearing a simple neck bandana with the school logo will assure people that he's not a lion!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Playing with Our Pups
Dog Cognition Lab is looking for play videos

A couple years ago, I brought my two Shelties to the Harvard Canine Cognition Lab to participate in a study on dogs’ understanding of human gestures.  Boston isn’t exactly close, but I was happy to drive the three hours to check out the research being done on the canine brain.

As pets become a bigger part of our lives, universities are getting more funding to understand what going on in our dogs’ heads.  Schools with canine cognition programs include Harvard, Barnard, Duke, University of Florida, Eckerd, and University of Kentucky.

Canine cognition labs are always looking for dogs to participate in their research, but for those not willing to travel, now you can participate in a study without leaving the comfort of home.

The Dog Cognition Lab at Barnard College in New York is currently looking at play between canines and humans.  To participate you need to complete a short survey and upload a 30-60 second video of you and your dog playing.  They’re interested in seeing how people typically play with their pets and are not looking for any specific style.

Past research at Barnard has included studying olfactory discrimination, anthropomorphisms (such as the concept of “fairness” and the “guilty look”), use of attention and play signals in social play, and communication between dogs.

I think the human-canine play study will be particularly interesting since the videos will allow people and dogs around the world to participate.  And it’s a cool way to bring animal lovers together in the name of scientific research… not to mention while having fun playing with our dogs!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Stolen Pup Reunited
NYC Good Samaritan saves a pet and identifies a dognapper

Last week the Bendrat family was shopping in Manhattan when they tied their Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Marley, outside of a grocery store while they picked up a couple of last minute supplies. When the family came back out, the dog was gone and surveillance videos showed a man stealing Marley. 

Later on the other side of the city, Tina Cohen saw a man selling a Cavalier Kind Charles Spaniel in Union Square Park. Tina was unaware of Marley’s predicament, but had a feeling that the pup was stolen. She proceeded to buy the dog for $220 and brought the spaniel to the veterinarian to look for identification. Fortunately they found a microchip, which helped reunite Marley with his family on Christmas Eve and provided the evidence the police needed to arrest the thief on a grand larceny charge.

New Yorkers love to walk around with their dogs.  Some stores and restaurants welcome pets, but many do not. Tying animals outside has many risks, including dognapping, escaping themselves, and ingesting a toxin. Marley was one lucky pup, but his situation could have been easily avoided if he was left safely at home while the family shopped.

As large and impersonal as New York City is, I do find that dog lovers come together to help each other out. Thank goodness for both a Good Samaritan and an up-to-date microchip!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs Join Protests in Chile
Demonstrators take on furry mascots at the front lines

For the past year and a half, students in Chile have been demanding education improvements, redistribution of wealth, and environmental protections. Their protests have meant almost daily confrontations with police, but there has also been another presence on the front lines.

Stray dogs learned to follow the sounds of sirens after realizing there were water cannons at the other end. The strong sprays meant to disrupt protesters provide a drink of water and a bit of fun for the pups.

The photos almost look like my pets jumping and mouthing at the water hose in the back yard, but it's a rare bit of happiness in the middle of a serious clash between police and protesters.

It's common to see dogs on the front lines, barking at guards in riot gear, staring down police canines, and chewing on tear gas canisters. Many of the dogs have been adopted by demonstrators as unofficial mascots and are often found napping next to students between protests. They've also become mini celebrities with Facebook fan pages and plenty of media coverage.

One mutt named Blacky wears a checkered kaffiyeh scarf which symbolizes the Palestinian resistance movement. Admirers upload pictures of Blacky on Facebook and there's even a song about the pup on You Tube, written and performed by a man in Colorado.

There are millions of stray dogs in Chile because it's rare to spay or neuter animals and it's common to leave pets outside to roam the streets. According to Pro Animal Chile, 73 percent of strays had a home at one point.

I'm hoping that the dogs' presence at the demonstrations will bring attention to the overpopulation problem in Chile. Animals have a way of bringing people together, so perhaps they can even create sympathy for the protesters' plight, creating a win-win situation for the dogs and students.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Eats Christmas Lights
Wires were the only clue to the intestinal blockage

Our pets eat a lot of strange objects, but this may be a first!  Charlie, a mixed breed pup in Southampton, England, recently got life-saving surgery to remove a string of Christmas lights that he ate.

Charlie’s family didn’t even notice that the lights were missing, but became concerned after finding wires in his poop.  An x-ray painted a clear picture of his stomach’s tangled contents and the vets performed emergency surgery to remove the lights.

My Sheltie, Nemo, went through a similar procedure this summer after he ate a whole leash.  Like Charlie, Nemo is prone to eating random objects.  I have to be really careful about what gets left out around the house even though it’s pretty much “dog proof.”

The holidays are a particularly hard time with the general chaos, presents under the tree (my tree is safely behind an exercise pen!), and boxes of decorations ready to be sniffed and investigated.

Be sure to keep interesting objects out of reach and monitor your dog for symptoms of an intestinal obstruction, which include loss of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea (or no stool at all if it’s a complete obstruction). The American Kennel Club also advises against decorating your tree with edible objects, like strings of popcorn.

Stay safe this holiday season! 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Diabetic Alert Dogs
Trained pups can outdo medical technology

When Dustin Hillman developed severe hypoglycemic unawareness, a complication of diabetes, it would often land him in the emergency room from low blood sugar.  At its worst, the condition left him unconscious more than six times in a two week period.  It also threatened Dustin's independence, almost forcing him to drop out of graduate school and move in with his parents.

That all changed when a hypoglycemic alert dog named Tippy came into his life.  In the first three months with the Labrador/Golden Retriever mix, Dustin lost consciousness only once and didn't require emergency services.  Dustin was also able to regain his life and complete a Masters degree in Chemistry from Purdue University.

Diabetic alert dogs are becoming increasingly popular, especially as diagnosis rates rise.  Ed Peebles, president of the National Institute for Diabetic Alert Dogs, gets up to 20 applications a day looking for a trained pup.

Amazingly dogs can help diabetes sufferers in ways that modern technology cannot.  While a glucose monitor can detect high sugar levels, the chemicals produced during low blood sugar incidents have not been identified, so machines can only record drops after they happen.

Dogs can learn to alert humans before the blood sugar drop occurs.  Researchers don't know how the pups do it, but are working to identify the chemical compound they smell.  Knowing this information would allow scientists to better train future dogs and to possibly make a mechanical detection device.  But for now the unique canine ability remains a mystery.

Andrea Calamoneri, whose 15-year-old son Dylan has Type 1 diabetes, was initially skeptical, but was convinced after seeing her son's dog at work.  Celeste can alert them to a drop in blood sugar well before it actually happens.  The smell of dropping sugar levels will even wake Celeste out of a nap.  "It gives you chills when you see it happen," says Andrea.

The power of the canine nose and their willingness to work with us in these extraordinary ways is incredible.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Bringing Comfort to Newtown, Conn.
Therapy dogs help a grieving community

No words can describe the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School last Friday. As we try to make sense of the second deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, most of us can only begin to imagine what the Newtown, Conn. community is going through right now. People around the world have offered to help in any way they can, including a team of therapy dogs from Illinois.

Nine Golden Retrievers and their handlers from K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry traveled hundreds of miles to help grieving Newtown residents with the special support that only dogs can provide.

The canine team--Abbi, Barnabas, Chewie, Hannah, Luther, Prince, Maggie, Shami, and Ruthie--have been visiting funerals, candlelight vigils, and other gatherings. Some people pet the dogs while they talk or pray, while others prefer to spend quiet time knowing a furry friend is by their side.

The handlers say that the dogs have helped people open up and talk, an important step in healing. But not everyone is ready to do so yet. For kids, the tragedy can be especially scary and complex, so the teams have also been stopping by other Newton schools to talk to the children.

"You could tell which [kids] were really struggling with their grief because they were quiet," says Tim Hetzner, the president of Lutheran Church Charities, the group behind the comfort dogs. "They would pet the dog and just be quiet."

But the teams are ready to provide whatever support is needed, whether it's someone to chat with or just a hug from a big, furry Golden Retriever.

Recognizing that healing takes time, each dog carries a business card with their name, Facebook page, Twitter account, and e-mail address so that the people they meet can stay in touch. It's a really cool way for the teams to extend their reach even after they have to leave.

The K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry was started in response to another school shooting in 2008, when a gunman killed five students at Northern Illinois University. Now 60 dogs in six states participate in a wide range of therapy activities from visiting patients at local hospitals to comforting victims of national disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy.

The comfort pups receive more formal training than the average therapy dog. They're screened at 5.5 weeks old and then work with a trainer for 8-12 months.

The K-9 Comfort Dogs also make me think of Catherine Hubbard, one of the 6-year old victims, a huge animal lover who dreamed of opening a shelter when she grew up. She would've loved meeting the Golden Retriever teams. Catherine's family requested that people make donations to The Animal Center in Newtown in lieu of flowers.

The pain in Newtown will never fully go away, but the work of these dogs and the support of others around the world helps the community know that they're not alone in getting through this tragedy.

If you're interested in donating to the K-9 Comfort Dog Ministry, visit the Lutheran Church Charities web site.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Puppies for Rent
College student makes dogs available to fill a void

I missed my pets so much when I was in college, especially when I was stressed out during exam time.  After graduation, I volunteered with Nemo and other therapy dogs to visit students at a local university during finals.  It always made me wish I had visiting pups to cheer me up during those stressful nights.

After seeing how many students at Bringham Young University were craving a pet fix, Jenna Miller started Puppies for Rent to fill the void.  She rescues puppies and rents them out until she finds a permanent home for them.  Jenna believes that the dogs are better off being rented out to pet lovers (and potential adopters) instead of being stuck in an animal shelter.

So far Jenna has adopted out 11 puppies that have been rental dogs.  Most of her clients are college students who can’t have a pet with their dorm lifestyle or families who don’t want to commit to the responsibility.

I certainly see the benefit of getting homeless pups out there and fulfilling people’s pet fix, but the idea of renting dogs is troublesome.  Jenna didn’t specify if renters are screened to make sure they’re responsible, but shelters take great care to make sure adopters, foster homes, and volunteers are ready to take on the responsibility of a dog, even if only for a few hours a week.  Renters should be subject to the same criteria.

Secondly dogs, especially developing puppies, crave consistency.  There can be a lot of confusion and conflicting rules if puppies are frequently rented to different people each day.

Finally, it feels like a contradiction that shelter pets, the poster children of getting people to realize that animals are a long-term commitment, are being rented for profit.

If people want to get their pet fix, there are lots of opportunities to socialize or foster dogs through your local rescue group.  When I was in college, I started an animal shelter volunteer club where we took dogs out to the park and taught them new tricks.  Not only did I get my puppy time, but I met many other animal lovers who were eager to play with homeless pets too.

What do you think about renting puppies?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pet Photos with Santa
Many dogs are uncomfortable with the holiday picture frenzy

I don't have children, but I consider my dogs to be my furry kids in everything from choosing the best daycare to researching safe toys. When the holidays come around, they each have a stocking hanging over the fireplace and Christmas themed collars. And for years, I took my canine crew to the pet store to get their photo taken with Santa. The holiday ritual has become so popular that I noticed my local mall's Santa's workshop now has a weekly pet night!

Santa photos are great additions to family holiday cards, but for many dogs, getting their picture taken is not fun. Getting plopped into a stranger's lap can be stressful, especially when they're wearing a funky costume. Then mix in attempting to get the animals to stay still, trying to get them to look at the camera, flashing a bright light in their eyes, and dealing with the distraction of the other pets waiting their turn.  

It's important to know what your dog is comfortable with before bringing them to a Santa photo shoot. Ask yourself if your pup is okay with:

  • New environments
  • Strange people and dogs
  • People in costumes or other strange outfits
  • Flashing lights
  • Being handled and restrained by a stranger
And remember to manage your expectations. Asking your dog to maintain a stay or to turn their attention to the camera can be difficult, particularly in a hectic environment. Observe your pup's body language and leave if they're not comfortable. If you think your dog may not enjoy a visit to Santa's workshop, consider a photo session at a private studio instead of visiting a busy pet store or mall. In my case, I started taking my own holiday pictures at home.   Remember that Santa photos are supposed to be fun for both of you!

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Teaching Dogs to Drive
New Zealand SPCA takes on the ultimate training challenge

Animal trainer, Mark Vette, set out to train the impossible, all in the name of creating positive buzz for the SPCA in South Auckland. Mark decided to showcase how intelligent shelter pets are by teaching dogs to drive a car.

The pups were chosen from a short list of candidates at the shelter. After seeing how each dog responded to targeting objects through clicker training, Mark chose Monty, a 10-month old Giant Schnauzer deemed uncontrollable, Ginny, a 1-year old Whippet Mix rescued from abuse, and Porter a 10-month old Beardie Mix found roaming the streets.

The three dogs then moved to a farm to begin intensive training. Mark and his team began teaching 10 individual behaviors, from pressing a starter button to shifting gears, that chain together to become driving a car. The vehicle used was custom made by engineers for animal drivers.

Within one week the superstar pups were putting their paws on targets shaped like parts of the car. The next week they learned to hop into the drivers seat and put their paws on the steering wheel. By week five the canine crew began to accelerate and brake on cue.

In just two months, the dogs were driving the modified car with enthusiasm (made possible with clicker training!).

It’s incredible to see all the steps leading up to training such a complex behavior. It also shows how amazing shelter pets are and that there’s no limit to what you can train a dog to do!

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