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JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dogs of the Titanic
The doomed ship's survivors included three canines

April 2012 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. Knowing that only 31 percent of the ship's human passengers survived, I was surprised to learn that three dogs made it safely to New York.

Only first class passengers were allowed to bring dogs on the voyage and many belonged to prominent families. There were 12 confirmed dogs on board the Titanic including a Toy Poodle, a Fox Terrier, a French Bulldog and millionaire John Jacob Astor's Airedale named Kitty. The three survivors were all small enough to be smuggled onto the lifeboats—two Pomeranians, one named Lady, and a Pekinese named Sun Yat-Sen who belonged to the Harpers, of publishing firm Harper & Row.

Most of the dogs did not live in the cabins with their family and instead were cared for by crew members in the ship's kennel. Some of the pets were even insured, but mostly because they were considered property. However, that wasn't the case for all of the dogs aboard the Titanic.

There are many heartbreaking stories that came out of the disaster, but as a dog lover, I'll never forget the one about Ann Elizabeth Isham and her beloved Great Dane. Although many passengers regarded their animals as material possessions, Ann was said to have visited her dog every day at the ship's kennel.

Legend says that when Ann tried to evacuate with her Great Dane, she was told that he was too large. Ann refused to leave without him and got out of the lifeboat. When a recovery ship toured the wreckage days later, the crew spotted the body of a woman holding onto a large dog. It's assumed that the bodies recovered were that of Ann and her Great Dane, but the information is unverified. However, whoever the woman and dog were, one thing is for sure—they were there for each other until the very end.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Conflicting Gestures of Affection
Hugs have the opposite meaning to dogs

As a kid, I remember watching the emotional scene in the movie Homeward Bound and seeing the oldest boy hug his Golden Retriever, Shadow, upon being reunited. I also remember reenacting the scene many times with my poor cat (unfortunately for the cat, I didn't have a dog when I was younger). We regard our pets like family, so hugging them feels natural.

According to a recent survey, 30 percent of dog lovers hug their pets more than their human family members. More than half of those surveyed said that hugging their dog makes them smile. However, it may not be the case the other way around.

In honor of the relationship we have with our pets, Purina's Beneful named April 10th the first annual Hug Your Dog Day. I understand the dog food company wanted to celebrate the human-canine bond, but encouraging people to hug their dogs isn't a good idea.

Of course, I've hugged my dogs before. It feels satisfying, but now that I know more about canine behavior, I can tell that the feeling isn't mutual. My dogs simply put up with hugging, but would rather I pet them instead.

According to canine behaviorist Patricia McConnell, in primates, hugging is an expression of love, endearment, support, or a gesture of mutual fear or sadness. Dogs, however, don't have arms like primates and evolved with no concept of our term of endearment.

In fact, a hug has the exact opposite meaning to a dog. What starts off as good intentions most closely resembles a gesture of dominance to our pets. Because we've built a relationship of trust with our dogs, they know we're not acting aggressively, but it still makes most pups uncomfortable.

It probably goes without saying to never hug a dog you haven't met before. This is also related to how you would approach a strange animal. The best way is pet them under the chin or chest, not on their head or back, which they may view as threatening, and looks similar to the beginnings of a hug! This is an important lesson to pass on to other animal lovers, especially children who are particularly vulnerable to bites.

So next time you go to hug your dog, pay close attention to their body language and facial expression. If your dog is licking his lips, panting, flicking his ears back, or shows stiffness in his body, even subtly, it's time to back off.

We may see our pets as our four-legged children, but it's important to remember that they're not humans. There are many other ways to show our dogs that we love them, however tempting it is to give them a hug.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pit Bull Takes a Bullet for His Family
N.Y. pup chases away an intruder and survives a bullet to the skull

Pit Bulls get a bad reputation in the media, especially in my area of New York. But a heroic Staten Island pup brought the bully breed a bit of much deserved positive press this week.

On Saturday, Justin Becker and Nicole Percoco had an intruder visit their apartment, posing as a FedEx deliveryman. As the man tried to force his way inside, Justin trapped the armed suspect in the doorway, but was unable to shut him out. That’s when the couple’s 12-year old Pit Bull, Kilo, sprang into action.

As the brave dog leapt towards the door, the intruder fired a shot into Kilo’s head and ran off. There was so much blood, Nicole thought for sure that they would have to say goodbye to their beloved dog. But Justin rushed him to the veterinarian and Kilo turned out to be very lucky.

The bullet ricocheted off Kilo’s skull and exited through his neck, sparing him from certain death.  Kilo’s veterinarian called the case “one in a million” and credited Kilo’s thicker skull for protecting his brain. Apparently, Pit Bulls have particularly thick skulls as compared to other breeds, such as Yorkies. The hospital staff was so impressed by Kilo’s loyalty and sweet personality that they drew an “S” for “superhero” on his head bandage.

I am always in awe of our dogs’ selfless behavior. Kilo could certainly sense the danger of the situation at Justin and Nicole’s apartment, yet he rushed to protect his people in a split second.

Kilo is lucky to be alive, but Justin and Nicole are just as lucky to have him as a part of their family.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
From the Round Pen to the Office
Building better work dynamics through herding sheep

I fund my agility addiction with a job in corporate professional development. Over the years, I've seen a lot of parallels between how people and dogs learn. For instance, human or canine, it's best to break down new behaviors into small achievable pieces. And, whether it comes in the form of a good performance review or a click from a clicker, feedback is rarely given often enough.

We have a lot we can learn from our dogs, but a shepherd in Wiltshire, England, has taken the notion to a new level. Chris Farnsworth is teaching business professionals to build better office dynamics by rounding up sheep. In his “Raising the Baa” course, teams learn how to give feedback, develop leadership skills and deal with stress through herding and analyzing video.

I've seen many team building exercises over the years, but this one is definitely the most unique. Participants have said that they've learned a lot about improving office relationships, but I'm sure they also found out that being a sheepdog is no easy task!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Breed Ban: Next Stop Airlines
United is next in line to discriminate against certain dogs

The United/Continental Airlines merger has been causing quite the stir lately. And because United is a federal contact carrier, any policy changes greatly affect military personnel.

Last month, the airline changed the way they transport pets, dramatically increasing fees flying into countries with certain regulations. United ended up making an exception for military families, but it ruffled a lot of feathers.

Now, United Airlines has jumped on the breed-ban bandwagon and singled out nine breeds they deem dangerous—Pit Bull Terriers, American Staffordshire Terriers, Presa Canarios, Perro de Presa Canarios, Dogo Argentinos, Cane Corsos, Fila Brasileiros, Tosas, and Ca de Bous. Those dogs, and mixes that include those breeds, are not allowed to travel United after the age of six months or after they reach 20 pounds in weight.

After a public outcry, United removed the word “dangerous” to describe the breeds, but they made no change to the ban. This affects countless pet lovers, but also means that military families stationed away from home may not be able to fly back on United with their dogs.

I've said this before, but I wish more governments and companies would realize that a sweeping breed ban will not solve their problem. At a minimum I think they should make an exception for dogs who have demonstrated good manners, like earning the AKC Canine Good Citizen certification or passing a therapy dog test. It's unfair to let a bad reputation affect all dogs of a certain breed.

A petition to persuade United to reverse the ban has been started on Change.org. So far they have over 35,000 signatures.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Facebook Says No to Puppy Mills
ASPCA teams up with the social network to clean up their online classifieds

In some ways ridding the world of puppy mills seems easy. If people simply stopped buying animals from pet stores, the problem would be solved. But in reality, it sometimes feels like a battle that will never be won.

Anytime a friend is looking for their first dog, I try to educate them about puppy mills and point them in the direction of reputable breeders or shelters. But many times, I've been disappointed over the years when some of those friends give into instant gratification and turned to a pet store.

Unfortunately, the popularity of the Internet has only helped perpetuate puppy mills. Buying dogs online has become as common as buying from pet stores. This is particularly troubling because dogs sold on the Internet are exempt from the Animal Welfare Act license and inspection requirements of brick and mortar pet stores.

Now, puppy mills have one less place to advertise online. The ASPCA's No Pet Store Puppies campaign teamed up with Facebook and Oodle, the company behind the social network's Marketplace, to put new measures in place that ensures puppy mill dogs will no longer be sold in Facebook's online classifieds.

This is a small step in solving the problem of online puppy sales, but it's great to see key companies, such as Facebook, supporting the campaign. Puppy mills contribute to the overpopulation problem and
ignore the best interests of the dogs they exploit. Preventing these sales might be an uphill battle, but it's an critical one. I'm hopeful that one day we will be successful in making puppy mills a thing of the past.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Finding Adopters on Facebook
Is there a balance between exposure and spam?

I remember when Petfinder revolutionized the way adoptable animals found potential homes. A dog who might only be seen by a few visitors passing through the local shelter could now be seen online by hundreds of people.

Facebook has taken this exposure to a new level. Now homeless animals can be seen by people who aren't even looking for a new pet. Photos and descriptions are easily shared with thousands of people in a matter of seconds.

The City of Hartford Animal Shelter, one of Connecticut’s largest kill shelters, credits Facebook with saving countless pets each month. It's not uncommon for several months to go by without having to euthanize any dogs.

Last year, many rescue groups and shelters had their Facebook accounts suspended after being targeted by an automated anti-spam filter. Facebook has since reversed the glitch, but it highlighted the frequency and repetitive nature of these type of posts.

In addition to the shelters and rescue groups I follow, I have a lot of friends who post about dogs and other pets looking for homes. And there are certainly a lot. Even I admit that I sometimes glaze over the numerous postings on Facebook. However, I realize that this awareness is necessary for finding homes and I know many people who have found their new furry family members through these updates.

Are there too many adoption posts on Facebook? Do we just need to be more creative with how we use the social networking tool?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Awards for Promoting Animal Issues
The Genesis Awards honors media for raising public awareness

Some say that award shows are all about politics and popularity. But at least one show is about rewarding works that bring attention and compassion to those who need it. Since 1986, the Genesis Awards has honored television, film, print and radio media for raising public awareness about animal issues. One of my favorite films of all time, Finding Nemo, won Best Animated Feature Film in 2004.

The Genesis Awards were founded by Broadway actress and animal advocate, Gretchen Wyler, to encourage members of the media to spotlight animal issues. In her honor, a special award is given each year to a celebrity who uses his or her fame to bring attention to animal issues.

This year's Gretchen Wyler Award will be given to actor Ian Somerhalder. The Vampire Diaries actor blogs, tweets and talks about animal issues, such as puppy mills and shark finning. He has also addressed Congress about endangered species.

The other Genesis Award winners will be revealed at the ceremony on Saturday, March 24 in Beverly Hills. The final results are decided by a committee selected based on their personal histories in working for animal causes.

Here are some of this year's Genesis Award nominees. The full list can be viewed on their website. Which are your favorites?

Feature Film

  • Dolphin Tale
  • Rio
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • War Horse

Feature Documentary

  • Born to Be Wild 3D
  • Buck
  • One Lucky Elephant

Sid Caesar Comedy Award

  • The Cleveland Show, “Ain't Nothin' But Mutton Bustin'”
  • The Colbert Report, multiple issues
  • Melissa & Joey, “Toledo's Next Top Model”

Dramatic Series

  • The Glades, “Swamp Thing”
  • Hawaii Five-O, “Lapa'au”

National News

  • ABC World News with Diane Sawyer, “Egg Farm Cruelty”
  • CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, multiple issues
  • NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, multiple issues

Talk Show

  • The Ellen Degeneres Show, multiple issues
  • The Martha Stewart Show, “Vegan Cooking”
  • The Oprah Winfrey Show, “Vegan Challenge”

Reality Series

  • Animal Planet Investigates: Captive Hunting Exposed
  • Crimes Against Nature, “Blood Ivory” and “Making a Killing”
  • It's Me or the Dog, “Bone of Contention”
  • Vanguard, “Tiger Farms”

Magazine

  • Mother Jones, "The Cruelest Show on Earth"
  • National Geographic, multiple articles
  • O, Oprah Magazine, multiple articles
  • Vanity Fair, “Agony and Ivory”
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New Tick Prevention Developed
Fungus-derived pesticide promises to safely ward off ticks

Ticks drive me crazy. I love hiking with my dogs, but I hate the ticks that come with our fun outings. Fortunately, I don't have a problem in my backyard, but I have many friends who are forced to use chemicals to keep the pesky bugs away from their pets and kids.

So I was excited to learn that scientists in Connecticut have been developing a pesticide that uses a strain of fungus deadly to ticks. Best of all, this natural treatment promises to be safe for pets and beneficial critters, like bees and earthworms.

Synthetic pesticides, which have an 85 to 100 percent success rate, are still more effective than the fungus-based pesticide, which is about 74 percent effective. However, it's great to have an organic option that works well. The product will be commercially available in 2014 under the name Tick-Ex.

Apparently tick research is severely underfunded, so it's great to see safer prevention options developed and brought to market. I really hope that one day we'll have an effective organic alternative to topical tick prevention treatments.

What strategies to you use to keep the ticks from taking over your backyard?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
From Shelter Pup to Police Dog
N.Y. State trains homeless canines to join the police force

Recently, I was reading about a superstar police dog and discovered a really cool fact—about one-third of New York State's police dogs are rescues.

This particular German Shepherd, Sgt. Harry J. Wheeler, was found wandering the streets of Brooklyn eight years ago. Fortunately, he was taken in by Glen Wild Animal Rescue, which thought his keen perception and protective nature would make him a great police dog. Soon after Sgt. Wheeler was enrolled in a 20-week training course with the New York State Police canine division and now serves in Binghamton, N.Y.

During his years on the job, Sgt. Wheeler has helped find six bodies in police investigations, including locating the body of a missing boy that police had been unable to find for months. This find led to the murder suspect's conviction.

Training rescues to assist the police is a win for the homeless dogs, the police and the community. There's no question that Sgt. Wheeler is one talented pup, proving that shelter dogs really can do anything!

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