Home
JoAnna Lou

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

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?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Learning from Tragedy
The agility community bands together for a friend in need

Last week international agility competitor Elicia Calhoun and six of her dogs were headed home from a competition when tragedy struck. Elicia fell asleep at the wheel and hit an 18-wheeler truck, causing her SUV to roll over several times and her dogs to be ejected from the car.

Elicia was taken to the hospital but checked out early (with a punctured lung!) to look for her missing pups. Fortunately she had a lot of support helping her through this difficult time.  

The agility community was amazing, organizing search groups, spreading the word on Facebook, and raising over $13,000 for Elicia. I heard many generous stories, such as people banding together to pay for a helicopter search, a Arizona couple flying their plane to look for the missing pups, and a group from Texas bringing horses to help in the rescue efforts.

The Facebook group that was created to aid in the search is now being used as a forum to talk about safe car restraints for pets, creating emergency information cards, and preventing drowsy driving. A lot of good will come out of this tragedy.

My crew rides in wire kennels, but thanks to this group, I’ve learned that the doors can pop open on impact and the dogs can be ejected. I’ve seen quite a few people say they bought sturdier crates or pet seatbelts after hearing about this accident.

Thankfully Elicia was conscious after the crash, but the situation sparked a discussion on having emergency information for each of your dogs. Some people have shared templates, but Bark Buckle Up also has a free Pet Safety Kit that features a decal pointing rescue workers to emergency cards in the glove compartment.

Finally, falling asleep at the wheel is something that could happen to any of us, particularly those who do a lot of early morning and late night driving to and from dog shows. The Live to Run Again web site has safety tips on preventing drowsy driving. They also organize a library of free books on tape at agility trials around the nation.

While the accident was tragic, it brought together a community and inspired many people to reevaluate the way they travel with their pets.  

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs in Hot Cars
Petition aims to get the word out about dangerous vehicles

Each year thousands of dogs die in hot cars, a tragedy that's easily preventable. When I travel to agility trials, sometimes I leave my crew in our SUV while I make a quick rest stop. I know not to do this in warm weather, but I didn't know until recently how fast cars can heat up even in more mild temperatures. On a 75 degree day, vehicles can heat up to 100 degrees in just 10 minutes. Scary stuff.

It's important to get the word out to avoid any more causalities.

A petition on Change.org is asking Subaru to create a commercial featuring the dangers of leaving dogs in hot cars. The message would fit nicely with the car company's “Dog Tested, Dog Approved” advertising campaign. Getting this information out on television would reach millions of animal lovers and save countless lives.

People don't realize how fast their cars can become a lethal oven. Please spread the word so that dogs across the country will be safe this summer.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Facebook to the Rescue!
Social media helps a dog in a peculiar situation

Social media web sites are often blamed for isolating people and changing the way we interact. But time and time again I've seen networks, like Facebook, rally people together for a common cause.

Last week Beth Gresham, an animal rescue volunteer in Tennessee, spotted a dog with his head stuck in a plastic container on the side of the road. When she tried to approach him, the scared pup ran back into the woods.

Beth wasn't able to get to the small spotted dog, but she posted a cell phone picture to Facebook soliciting help in capturing the pup in need. When Jess McClain, another animal rescue volunteer, saw the photo online, she put together a search party and set out to find the dog.

The next day, the rescuers found the pup, who they've since named Miracle, and used container cutters to set him free. Many pets are abandoned in the woods, but they're not sure if the container was placed on the his head intentionally or it got on accidentally. Either way, Miracle was lucky to run into Beth and have many people dedicated to finding him.

During the search, the rescue party also found another stray dog and it looks like both pups will find new homes.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Do Dogs Act Guilty?
New research looks at conflict deffusing behavior in canines

74 percent of dog lovers believe that their pups act guilty when they've done something wrong.  There is plenty of evidence that dogs experience primary emotions, like happiness and fear, but it's hard to prove that they experience secondary emotions, like jealousy and guilt.

In 2009, Barnard College professor Alexandra Horowitz found that dogs were more likely to display behaviors we associate with guilt after being scolded. However, those who didn't misbehave appeared more guilty when scolded when compared to those who had actually done something wrong.

We know that over time canines evolved ways of communicating with humans, so is our dog's "guilty look" a learned response to diffuse conflict? Bark columnist and canine cognition researcher Julie Hecht and a team from Eotvos Lorand University set out to see if misbehaving canines would behave differently than dogs who had not done anything wrong and if people would be able to tell if their dog misbehaved based on their greeting behavior.

Like in the Barnard College study, the team found that dogs showed more guilt-associated behaviors when scolded. But then the findings got a little complicated.

Both groups of dogs were equally likely to act guilty whether they misbehaved or not, however dogs who actually did something wrong were more likely to show guilt-associated behaviors after subsequent greeting opportunities. So perhaps there is some element of guilt in our pups?

If there is, we're not very good at interpreting those signals. After accounting for people who knew their dogs had a history of stealing food, pet parents were not able to determine whether their pups misbehaved based on the greeting behavior.

Demystifying emotions like guilt and jealousy is difficult. But we're lucky to have many universities spearheading research in this area, so hopefully we'll know one day for sure.

Do you think that your dogs act guilty?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Filming Dogs in a New Light
Web series helps find homes for 'unadoptable' pets

You may have seen the video of a mischievous Corgi circulating on the internet recently. The curious dog creates a mess in the kitchen that leads to a small fire (don't worry, no one was hurt). The video is part of The Pet Collective, a You Tube channel consisting of seven original, short-form animal series. The Corgi clip is from Pet Sense, a show that stars an animal communicator helping families solve behavior problems.  

Beyond the comedic videos that You Tube is so famous for, The Pet Collective also has a series called The Unadoptables. Each week this show features a pet that's difficult for shelters to find a home for. These cases include animals with special needs and those considered too old or unattractive.

I love The Unadoptables because, not only do the videos help find homes for these animals, they also influence how people view pets that are considered less desirable. The next time someone visits an animal shelter, they may think twice about picking a cute, fluffy puppy over a dog with a scar on its face.

The videos are well filmed and edited, and are viewed by thousands of You Tube viewers, so these animals have a good chance of finding homes. Although the Pet Collective doesn't move out of preview mode until tomorrow, some of the "unadoptables" have already been adopted!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Danger of Water Intoxication
Swimming dogs are at risk of ingesting too much water

Last week a friend’s dog had a close call with water intoxication. Her crew was playing in a local river when one of her Border Collies emerged staggering and vomiting liquid.

Symptoms quickly worsened on the way to the vet, but after a few harrowing days, the dog was fortunate to make a full recovery.

Apparently the poor pup ingested too much water while repeatedly diving into the river, mouth open, trying to catch a ball. Drinking too much causes electrolyte levels to drop, thinning blood plasma and leading to swelling of the brain and other organs.

Before I learned about water intoxication, I thought that playing in the lake was safe if your dog was a strong swimmer. But now I know to be mindful of how my guys interact with the water and to force them to take ample breaks. Dogs can even drink too much water from playing with a lawn sprinkler.

Unfortunately water intoxication progresses quickly. Now that summer is officially here, it’s important to review the signs so you can get an affected dog to the vet as soon as possible.

Symptoms include lack of coordination, lethargy, nausea, bloating, vomiting, dilated pupils, glazed eyes, light gum color, and excessive salivation. Advanced symptoms include difficulty breathing, collapsing, loss of consciousness, and seizures.

As the weather gets warmer, stay safe. Water intoxication can affect both people and our pups.     

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Humanity's Best Friend
We may owe our evolutionary success to the domestication of dogs

Scientists have long debated why Neanderthals lived successfully on earth for over 200,000 years and then died off after humans came along, about 40,000 years ago. Some blame it on climate change, while others think humans were more successful at getting food due to social cohesion and the ability to develop advanced tools.

However, a new theory claims that we may owe our evolutionary success to the domestication of dogs.

Anthropologist Pat Shipman speculates that the relationship between humans and canines began in hunting, where dogs would help people identify prey and haul carcasses back home on their backs (dogs of the Paleolithic era were typically the size of a modern-day German Shepherd or larger). This assistance gave humans an advantage in obtaining food and conserving energy.

Shipman believes that the relationship between humans and dogs only got stronger over time and may have even led to shared characteristics for communication. In humans, the whites in our eyes are highly visible, compared to other primates, allowing people to "talk" silently when hunting in groups. It turns out that canines, unlike other animals, have the ability to decipher our eye contact. In a study conducted at Central European University, dogs performed as well as human infants at following the gaze of a person when they held their head still.  

Because canines may play an important role in our success over Neanderthals, Shipman calls them "humanity's best friend." Dog lovers need no validation that our pets are critical in our lives, but now we may have more to thank them for than we previously thought!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
National Dog Bite Prevention Week
Organizations come together to teach safety around pets

A controversial home video of a baby taking away a toy from a Golden Retriever has been making the rounds on Facebook.  While the child had been raised from birth alongside the family pup, any dog can bite when they are caught off guard.

Nearly five million dog bites happen each year in the United States.  This month a diverse group of people and organizations are coming together for National Dog Bite Prevention Week, including ‘It’s Me or the Dog’ trainer Victoria Stillwell, the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the United States Postal Service (USPS), pediatricians, plastic surgeons, and representatives of the insurance industry.

It’s interesting because they’re all on board for different reasons.

Victoria Stillwell is getting the word out that outdated dominance training methods, like rolling dogs onto their backs, can lead to fear and anxiety, which is a common cause of aggression.  

Pediatricians are in on the day because dog bites are highest among children between the ages of five and nine years old.   And these injuries aren’t coming from strange animals.  In victims younger than 18, the family dog inflicts 30 percent of the bites and a neighbor’s dog is responsible for another 50 percent.

Insurance companies are motivated to prevent canine altercations because they pay out millions of dollars each year on dog bite claims.  State Farm Insurance paid out more than $109 million dollars on nearly 4,000 claims last year.

I was surprised to see the USPS on the list, but apparently dogs attack 5,669 postal workers each year.  Unfortunately not everyone is responsible and keeps their pets contained inside the house or in a fenced yard.

So it’s important to take advantage of National Dog Bite Prevention Week to learn how to avoid injury, particularly for kids who are at the highest risk.

Check out the AVMA web site for dog bite prevention resources, including coloring sheets for children

Pages