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JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Update on Missy
Happy ending for dog left on a mountain

Last summer I wrote about Missy, a German Shepherd who got caught up in a custody battle between Anthony Ortolani, the man who left her to die 13,500 feet up on a mountain, and her rescuers.

In the end Anthony entered a guilty plea for cruelty to animals and was recently sentenced to a year of probation and 30 hours of community service. In addition, John Steed, one of the rescuers, was allowed to adopt Missy as part of the plea deal.

Missy now goes by Lucky and has two canine siblings at home with John. The German Shepherd even received a lifetime membership to 14ers.com, the climbing group that organized her rescue.

The men who saved Lucky were so inspired by the experience that they created The Brothers of Lucky Search and Rescue (BOLSAR) dedicated to high alpine search and rescue in the Colorado Rocky Mountain region. It took two days for them to organize Lucky's rescue effort. BOLSAR will allow for faster coordination of volunteers, which means quicker rescues. Since park forest rangers aren't allowed to send search parties for animals, BOLSAR is necessary for the safety of dogs who love to hike.

In addition to the rescue work, BOLSAR plans to conduct community outreach programs to raise awareness on how to safely hike with pets.

What a happy ending to Missy's story!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
One Million Likes for a Puppy
Kids launch a Facebook campaign to convince their parents

When I was a kid, I desperately tried to convince my parents to get a puppy by creating presentations on how responsible I was and assembling mock schedules showing how all the chores would be completed.  Unfortunately I was never successful and ended up having to wait until after college to get my first dog.

Now children these days have technology on their side.  When the Cordell family in Massachusetts lost their dog of ten years last August, the five kids instantly started begging for a new puppy to fill the void.  However, their parents, Ryan and Evie, were reluctant to get a new pet so soon.

Then their two daughters, Cadence and Emerson, came up with a plan.  After reading about two kids who convinced their parents to get a cat after their Facebook photo got 1,000 likes, Cadence and Emerson proposed a similar deal with their dad.  Not believing it was possible, Ryan agreed to get a new puppy if their photo got one million Facebook likes.

The kids quickly posted a photo holding a sign that read, "Hi World, We want a puppy. Our dad said we can get one if we get 1 million Likes! So LIKE this! He doesn't think we can do it!" 

After three hours they had 10,000 likes and then by the seven hour mark they reached their goal.  Never underestimate the power of social media!

Adding to the good news is that the Cordells are planning to adopt their new pup from a rescue group or shelter.  They’ve already started searching Petfinder.com and are hoping to have their new addition soon. Like their Facebook page for updates on their journey.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Crowdfunding a Canine Film
Student makes a documentary about a special town dog

From the outside, Rockford, Alabama is just another symbol of the bad economy, a community of just 400 people on the verge of becoming a ghost town. The recession hit Rockford hard, forcing many of the town's shops to close and many people to move away in search of jobs.

But those who know Rockford, know that it's a special town with a rich history and character. Ava Lowrey, a film student at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts, grew up 30 minutes from Rockford and set out to share the story of how the small Alabama community embraced a homeless pup who in turn gave them hope.

Back in 1993, the town found a dirty and disheveled mutt wandering the streets. A few people decided to name the pup Fred and nurse him back to health. Soon enough Fred became the official “town dog.” Rockford may have saved Fred, but Fred brought out the best in the town. The pup had a weekly column in the local newspaper, a bank account, and even led parades--something they stopped doing after his death in 2002.

Although Fred is gone, his tombstone and the stories left behind show how much he meant to the community. Ava's film explores the town's narrative and the relationships Fred had with the people of Rockford.

Filming was finished in December, but Ava needs financial support to complete the documentary. Ava is appealing to dog and film lovers on Indiegogo, a crowdfunding platform, to raise money. Perks for donations vary from a shout out on their blog and Twitter feed ($25 donation) to an executive producer credit ($700).

Check out the trailer and donate if you'd like to see this heartwarming canine tale to completion.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Sniffing Out Superbugs
A Beagle is trained to detect Clostridium Difficile

With the recent flu outbreak, controlling contagious diseases has been a hot topic lately.  While the flu is mostly a seasonal challenge, hospitals and nursing homes battle "superbugs," or antibiotic resistant bacteria, year round.

Illnesses related to superbugs can be difficult to control in health care facilities and pose a serious health threat.  Transmission can be prevented with early detection, but diagnostic tests can be expensive and slow.

Researchers in the Netherlands decided to investigate whether dogs could be trained to detect superbugs.  Animals have been trained to sniff out cancer and detect low blood sugar levels, so why not bacteria.  In their first study, the researchers decided to focus on Clostridium Difficile, which can cause diarrhea, colitis, or even life threatening toxic megacolon.  The bacteria is on pace to surpass severe staph infections and MRSA in frequency and severity.  Past hospital outbreaks have claimed hundreds of lives.

The scientists began the study by training Cliff, a two year old Beagle, to identify c. difficile in stool samples and in infected patients.  Cliff indicates finding the bacteria by sitting or lying down.

After two months of training, Cliff proved to be quite reliable.  In the first part of the study, he was shown 100 stool samples (half with C. Difficile and half negative control samples).  Cliff correctly identified all 50 positive stool samples (100 percent) and 47 out of 50 negative samples (94 percent).

For the second part of the study, Cliff was taken to two different hospital wards to test his detection abilities on 300 patients.  The Cliff correctly identified 25 out of 30 people with C. Difficile (83 percent) and 265 out of 270 negative controls (98 percent).  Cliff works quickly and has the potential to check out an entire hospital ward for C. Difficile in under ten minutes.

I was impressed not only by Cliff’s detection abilities, but by the fact he was trained in only two months.  And this was Cliff’s first exposure to scent work!  Simply amazing!

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.

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