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JoAnna Lou

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

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!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Hospitals Welcome Our Dogs
Healthcare organizations partner with PAWS to bring in pets

I've never had to stay in the hospital for an extended period of time, but if I did I know that I'd miss my dogs. I can't imagine getting over an illness or injury without them there to cheer me up and make me laugh.

As studies document the healing power of pets, more healthcare organizations have started allowing animals into their facilities. My Sheltie, Nemo, and I visited patients at our local hospital through a therapy program. I could see people's faces light up when we entered the room. As the patients stroked Nemo's fur, they would open up and tell me about their own pets back at home.

Petting a dog can brighten up a dreary day in the hospital, but nothing can replace the joy of your own pets. An organization called PAWS (Pets Are Wonderful Support) realized that it was important to get people's animals into the hospital as part of the healing process. They've since convinced several hospitals across the country to adopt personal pet visitation policies.

After the program is in place, if a hospital worker hears that a patient has a pet at home, they can ask a doctor to approve a visit. Then PAWS checks that the animal is up to date on vaccinations and performs a “behavior check” to ensure the their temperament is suitable for a hospital environment. A volunteer will then accompany the pet to the patient's room.

I imagine that it's no easy feat to get health care facilities to create personal pet visitation policies. However, I'm glad that more hospitals are exploring alternative therapies. Any dog lover knows that our pets can be a powerful "medicine!"

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Displaced Animals in Colorado
Emergency evacuation shelters keep pets safe

Wildfires in Colorado have displaced tens of thousands of people and destroyed hundreds of acres of land, making it the most destructive fire in state history. The fast spreading disaster has also resulted in hundreds of animals with no place to go. Some are from evacuees needing temporary shelter for their pets and others are found lost or abandoned on the streets.

The Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region has two emergency evacuation shelters set up to accommodate the influx of pets. They've also put together a web site to keep track of what donations and supplies local rescue and volunteer groups need.

It's heartbreaking to see entire neighborhoods flattened and countless lives changed in an instant. But I'm glad that the Humane Society has made it easy for people to evacuate knowing that their pets are safe.

Animal lovers around the world have been rallying to support these families and pets in need. Visit the Humane Society's web site or Facebook page to find out how you can help the rescue efforts.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Interceptor/Sentinel Shortage
Novartis closes a factory that produces canine and human medication

Earlier this year I found out, somewhat randomly, that veterinarians were experiencing shortages of the heartworm medications Interceptor and Sentinel. As soon as I could, I went straight to the veterinarian and bought two of their last three boxes. I was shocked that the office wasn't more proactive in informing patients about the problem.

However, it seems that veterinarians didn't have the whole story either and that this situation isn't exactly uncommon.

Back in December, Novartis closed a Lincoln, Nebraska factory that produced both veterinary and human medication, including Interceptor, Sentinel, and Excedrin. While there are alternatives available, veterinarians have been frustrated over the way Novartis handled communication. The company is still unable to provide a date for when the factory will resume production.  

As I've been researching the topic, it looks like product shortages and recalls are no stranger to the veterinary field. After scrambling to buy the last boxes of Interceptor, I decided that I'm going to be proactive and research alternatives for all medication that my pets take. I found out about the Interceptor shortage through a passing comment on Facebook and was shocked that information wasn't widely shared either in the news or by my veterinarian.

The shortage comes at a particularly bad time since the mild winter has created an increased risk of heartworm disease this year. Given how long this problem has lasted so far, it's probably best to find an alternative if you're running low on medication.

Some dogs, particularly herding breeds, have an adverse reaction to heartworm medications containing ivermectin, so it's important to consult your veterinarian to identify a safe alternative.

Are you prepared if access is restricted to the medications your pets use?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
NYC Gets a Courtroom Dog
Staten Island’s DA is the first in the city to employ a canine

I can’t imagine how stressful it is for victims to testify in court. But if I had to do it one day, I know my pets would help me through the ordeal. Numerous studies have shown that animals have a calming effect on people, so it seems only natural to use dogs in these cases.

Last year New York’s first judicially approved courtroom dog helped a girl testify against her father in a rape case. At the time it caused a lot of controversy, but more and more people are realizing how important these trained canines are for those on the stand.

This month, District Attorney Daniel Donovan became the first New York City prosecutor to employ a courtroom comfort dog—a Black Labrador/Golden Retriever mix named Bronksey.

"As a prosecutor, I feel obligated to do everything I can to make it easier for victims, who must constantly relive what was likely the most physically, psychologically and emotionally traumatizing experience of their lives," Donovan says.

"There is something magical about the presence or touch of a loving dog that helps victims forget their pain and fear, if just for a moment, and be able to concentrate on moving forward and healing."

The two-year old dog, donated by Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), has already made a difference.

Last week a 12-year old boy was waiting to testify against his alleged abuser to a Staten Island Grand Jury and was visibly anxious. When Bronksey approached, the boy immediately smiled and had an easier time relaying his story in court.

Currently 16 states use courtroom dogs. Hopefully more cities will consider adding these valuable working pups to support victims.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
First CPR Guidelines for Pets
Researchers identify the ideal rate for chest compressions

Demand for pet first aid and CPR classes has increased as animal lovers look for ways to be prepared in an emergency. Until recently there was no standard for the canine and feline version of the procedure, despite the fact that laboratory animals were instrumental in developing CPR guidelines for people.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and Cornell University set out to change that by looking at decades of peer-reviewed data to determine the proper rate for chest compressions. Earlier this month they published the first set of evidence-based guidelines for resuscitating dogs and cats with stopped hearts.  

The researchers found the ideal rate of chest compressions is 100 to 120 per minute, the same rhythm used for humans. Doctors and medical students have found it helpful to think of the Bee Gees disco hit, Stayin' Alive, to help keep the ideal beat when performing CPR.

Fortunately sudden cardiac arrest is not as common in dogs as it is in people. It's thought that the condition in pets is closer to what occurs in young athletes with structural abnormalities of the heart muscle or a defect in the electrical circuitry. Pets can also suffer cardiac arrest due to difficulty breathing or a severe illness that also affects the heart.

Now that there's a CPR standard in place, I hope that veterinarians will be more proactive about getting this information out to pet parents. I would also like to see pet first aid certification becoming a requirement for those who work in animal-related fields like pet stores or doggy daycares.

Have you taken a pet first aid class?

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