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JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Dies on United Flight
A Golden Retriever succumbs to heatstroke en route to S.F.

Maggie Rizer, best known for gracing the covers of Elle, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar, has made it her mission to get the word out on the dangers of flying pets.

Two weeks ago, Maggie was traveling from New York to San Francisco with her two dogs. Tragically, Bea, her two-year old Golden Retriever, did not make it through the flight, despite Maggie taking every possible precaution. She chose United Airlines for their Pet Safe program, got the necessary pre-flight health clearances, bought special kennels, and even drove six hours from their vacation home to New York City so the dogs wouldn’t have to make a connecting flight.

According to Maggie, the United employees showed little compassion for Bea’s death and even lied to her about the whereabouts of Bea’s body while they figured out how to handle the liability. United’s internal investigation claims that they did nothing wrong since none of the other pets on board died. Maggie’s veterinarian claims otherwise. He performed an autopsy and concluded that Bea died of heatstroke—a horrible and preventable death.

Flying with pets makes me very nervous and hearing about Bea is heartbreaking. This story also comes at a time when many of my friends are flying with their dogs to agility nationals in Colorado. Some people are able to drive, but many live too far and can’t take the days off from work to be able to do so.

Maggie took every precaution that I would have taken to ensure her pets’ safety. I’ve heard good things about the Pet Safe program, which was adopted by United Airlines when they merged with Continental. This tragic story just shows that no matter how good an airline’s pet program is, flying animals in cargo will never be 100 percent safe. It’s a shame that there isn’t a safer alternative to travel with pets on major airlines (specialized companies like Pet Airways don’t cover all areas of the country). I know that there are challenges for accommodating pets on planes, but I hope one day that airlines will figure out a way where pets can fly safely.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Developing Superior Noses
UPenn to find out what makes up a superstar sniffer dog

Working canines use their amazing noses to help us do everything from finding explosives to detecting cancer. Raising and training these dogs takes a lot of time and money, so people are always looking for ways to increase the likelihood of successful dogs.

In Korea, the Customs Service started cloning star drug detection dogs due to their costly breeding program. Only 10-15 percent of puppies pass the behavior test just to quality for training, and only 30 percent of those dogs graduate from the program.

In the United States, the University of Pennsylvania’s Vet Working Dog Center is now setting out to study genetics and behavior in a program designed to develop superior scent dogs.

Seven puppies were donated by breeders-- two Chocolate Labradors, Thunder and Papa Bear; three Yellow Labradors, Socks, Sirius and Morgan; a Golden Retriever, Bretagne, and a female Dutch Shepherd, Kaiserin. They’re all named after brave 9/11 search dogs and will live with foster families when they’re not at the Center.

For the next two years, researchers will collect and analyze genetic, behavioral, and physical data to understand what makes a successful scent dog. The information will be used to build a breeding program to produce superstars--better search and rescue canines, better drug sniffing pups, and even better cancer detection dogs!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pets Poisoned in New York
Four dogs died in a two-day span after walking in the park

My Sheltie, Nemo, is always on the hunt for a snack, so I’m always worried that he’ll eat something bad. I take all sorts of precautions, like checking hotel room floors for abandoned medication and watching Nemo like a hawk when we’re on walks. But it’s impossible to see everything that goes into his mouth.

When I lived in Manhattan, I was always worried about rat poison left to control the rodent population. So I was horrified to learn that four dogs died in my old Upper West Side neighborhood from a toxin, possibly left to intentionally harm them. A dog lover’s worst nightmare.

During a two-day span in July, a Chihuahua, terrier mix, French Bulldog mix, and Shih Tzu starting seizing, vomiting, and frothing at the mouth after walking in Riverside Park. One of the dogs died on the way to the animal hospital and the other three at the veterinarian.

After ruling out a number of possibilities, all of the vets came to the same conclusion—all four dogs ingested a toxic substance. Then, an anonymous call came in from a man claiming that the poison was left intentionally. The caller said that a local building superintendent admitted to placing poison in the park because he was tired of people not picking up after their dogs.

Devastated, Kim Heismann, whose dog Charlie passed away, started posting warning signs in the area and reported the pattern of poisonings to the ASPCA. The neighborhood began rallying for action and the ASPCA is now investigating the case. PETA is also offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone found to be responsible.

Many of the Upper West Side residents have been walking in Riverside Park with their dogs and children for years. This tragedy has made everyone question the safety of the neighborhood. I hope that they find out who did this soon and that no other dogs are hurt.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New Regulations for Pet Stores
N.Y. signs a law protecting doggies in the window

The journey began almost ten years ago in Long Island, N.Y. with a story that’s sadly all too common. When Lorianne LaMarca-Pegano visited a pet store in 2003, she fell in love with a Brussels Griffon that she brought home and named Charlemagne. Within six months, the poor pup was diagnosed with parasites, a corneal ulcer, and eventually kidney disease, high blood pressure, and a heart murmur. By the age of three, Lorianne was forced to euthanize Charlemagne.

The fluffy Brussels Griffon came to the pet store from a puppy mill in Kansas. So in Charlemagne's honor, Lorianne made it her mission to put a stop to the cruel breeding operations. After years of lobbying, some progress has finally been made in Lorianne’s home state. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Charlemagne’s Law this year, which goes into effect on January 14, 2013. 

Under the legislation, any licensed pet dealer must follow new requirements, such as hiring a veterinarian, giving mandatory vaccinations, increasing regular exercise, and creating a quarantine area to separate sick animals. Stores must also create a program to respond to diseases and designate an employee to monitor health. Businesses in violation of the new law could lose their license.

The horrors of puppy mills have gotten a lot of media attention in recent years, but people continue to buy dogs from pet stores. It frustrates me to no end.  No responsible breeder would ever sell one of their puppies to a pet store.

I’m happy to see that New York is taking action to improve the conditions in pet stores. But it’s not going to solve the root of the problem. The animals in pet stores are bred in horrific conditions with no regard for genetic health. Even if the dogs in the window look healthy at the store, these puppies are prone to developing problems later on since their parents were not tested for genetic diseases at the puppy mill.

I hope that one day New York will replace this law with a complete ban on selling pets in stores, like West Hollywood and South Lake Tahoe have put in place. But for now Charlemagne’s Law is a step in the right direction.   

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
N.Y. Hero Named K-9 of the Year
SAR dog ignores his handler in order to save a missing man

A New York police dog was named K-9 of the Year on Saturday by the Suffolk County SPCA. Last week, Chase, a 4-year old German Shepherd, located a missing Long Island man after unfruitful efforts by human rescuers.

Jerome Nadler, a 76-year old doctor and Vietnam War veteran, disappeared on Labor Day after going fly-fishing. Rescuers used divers, off-road vehicles, and a helicopter in an unsuccessful three-day search before asking Suffolk County’s K-9 Search and Rescue team to join the effort.

It wasn’t long before Chase found Jerome in a thick wooded area that rescuers were already veering away from. The man was dehydrated and covered in bug bites, but thanks to Chase's skill and perseverence, Jerome is now recovering in the hospital.

Chase, who is trained to stay with a found person, waited by Jerome’s side even when he was being called back by his handler, Sam Barreto. Chase didn’t move until Sam and the other officers caught up.

I’d love to know what was going through Chase’s brain. We know he’s is an extremely obedient dog, but he was also smart enough to distinguish between a more important behavior, staying with Jerome, and what his handler was asking, to return to the group.

We’ll probably never know what Chase was thinking, but it’s very impressive that the heroic pup is able to negotiate priorities. The possibilities of the human-canine bond certainly seem limitless!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Parking at Ikea
The trendy home store creates a hangout area for pets

Since I spend so much time at work during the week, I like to take my dogs shopping on the weekends, when it makes sense. They love meeting new people, so it’s fun for them to come along. Stores also make great places to socialize friendly puppies after they’re housebroken. Now that most American families have a pet, companies are starting to realize the importance of being pet friendly. I’ve definitely noticed more stores rolling out the welcome mat to dogs.

I see small dogs in the trendy home store, Ikea, from time to time, although they’re not technically allowed. Ikea stores in Germany are now catering to pet lovers who don’t want to leave their furry family members at home.  The company recently unveiled “Dog Parking,” a covered outdoor area with individual patches of astro-turf, with tie outs and water bowls, and small kennels shaped like dog houses.

The idea was inspired by Ikea’s in-store childcare, which is available at Ikea locations worldwide, and Manland, an entertainment area for husbands that some Australian Ikea stores tested for a few days last year.

I’m happy to see that Ikea is trying to accommodate families with pets, but I’d never leave my crew in the “Dog Parking.” The pets are left unattended, so there’s no stopping someone from stealing a dog or feeding the pups something they shouldn’t have. Insurance reasons alone will probably prevent the “Dog Parking,” idea from coming to our side of the pond, but I do like the idea of Ikea stores becoming more pet friendly. I don’t think that there’s a need for doggie daycare, but perhaps they can start with more pet products. I love Ikea’s funky designs, but I was always surprised that they don’t make more items for animals.

Is your favorite store pet friendly?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Post-Katrina Overpopulation Problem
New Orleans is still struggling to recover from the destruction

Hurricane Issac's recent flooding and destruction brought back painful memories of Katrina. Thankfully, this time changes were implemented to keep families and pets together. Animals were brought to a local church (and then to a shelter up North when the church flooded) to ride out Issac until they could be reunited with their families.

The new rescue programs aren't perfect, but they're a big improvement from having no plan back in 2005. These measures are particularly essential in light of the stray pet population that continues to plague the area. I was shocked to learn how the problem has grown.

It's been seven years since Katrina, and New Orleans' hardest hit areas are still recovering. In addition to the destroyed buildings and displaced families, over 600,000 animals were killed or stranded because of the disaster. According to the local SPCA, the abandoned pets turned into a significant stray pet problem. In the areas that haven't been rebuilt, homeless animals freely roam the streets and reproduce in empty houses.

Due to the increased crime levels, many of the remaining residents got watch dogs and most are tied outside to guard the land. Few are spayed or neutered, which further perpetuates the overpopulation problem.

Today, the SPCA is still fighting for FEMA assistance, like many other organizations. When their old headquarters was destroyed by six feet of water during Katrina, people all over the country (no doubt including many Bark readers) donated money for a new building. But the SPCA is overwhelmed by the current stray animal situation and desperately needs funding. They're hoping a combination of outreach and education programs, free spay/neuter services, and increased kennel capacity will help rein in the stray pet population for good.

Visit the Louisiana SPCA web site to donate to their fund.

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?

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