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JoAnna Lou

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

News: JoAnna Lou
Saving the Japanese Tsunami Dogs
Rescue groups rally to help those left behind

It's been almost nine months since a tsunami-ravaged nuclear plant forced thousands of people from their homes in Japan. The photos of residents evacuating with their dogs was heartbreaking, although the number of of pet-friendly evacuation shelters was impressive.

Today, access is restricted to the evacuation zone, but I was shocked to learn how many animals are still there. Most non-Japanese media outlets left the area long ago, but animal lovers have been using the Internet to spread the word.

Animal rescue groups have risked arrest and radiation exposure to sneak into the evacuation zone and help the pets left behind. Volunteers take in as many dogs and cats as they can, and put out food for the animals they can't take with them.

People have been petitioning the Japanese government to assist with the animal rescue efforts, or at least allow volunteers to officially enter the evacuation zone. Earlier this week, the government announced it will allow approved groups to rescue more than 1,000 pets. No concrete criteria or plans have been set, but rescue groups are hopeful that this is a big step in the right direction.

For more information on the rescue efforts, a friend of mine created the Japanese Earthquake Animal Info page on Facebook to share links and brief translations of Japanese news related to animal rescue activities.

News: JoAnna Lou
Holiday Gifting Trends
The average gift budget for pets is $46

Every year, it seems more and more pet retailers are joining in on the Black Friday and Cyber Monday bandwagon. In my area, several pet stores opened as early as 7 a.m. on Black Friday. 

Not brave enough to face the crowds, I took advantage of many online deals for treats and paw-safe ice melter. Doctors Foster and Smith even planned a live, streaming webcast of sales and giveaways on both shopping holidays. No doubt pet gifting has become a big business!

According to an AP-Petside.com survey, just over half of pet lovers will be buying gifts for their pets this holiday season, with a higher percentage of those under the age of 50 shopping for their furry friends.

Not surprisingly, 68 percent of pets will receive toys and 45 percent will receive food or treats. 

The poll reported that people are planning on spending an average of $46 on their pets. Most people I know, myself included, spend about $10 to $20 on each of their pets at the holidays. But I think this is because we buy our pets “gifts” all year long!

Like the survey respondents, I usually buy my crew a few new toys and treats for Christmas. Every year, I also have a larger ticket item under the tree, but it’s usually something I had been planning on buying anyway, regardless of the holiday. Last year, it was a Nina Ottosson brainteaser game and this year it’ll be new winter coats.

What are you planning on giving your pups this year?

News: JoAnna Lou
Problems with Imported Chicken Treats
Illness is on the rise due to products such as chicken jerky

It seems like every month there’s a new pet food product that gets recalled. According to the FDA, the number of dogs getting sick from imported chicken flavored treats has been on the rise. The FDA ran extensive tests, but can’t identify the specific contaminant, nor can they attribute the rash of illness to a specific brand.

Symptoms have included decreased appetite and activity, vomiting, diarrhea, increased water consumption and urination, and even kidney failure and Fanconi syndrome, a condition associated with low glucose.

I gave up buying most commercial dog treats a long time ago. It’s much cheaper to make your own, plus you can control all of the ingredients. For anyone who is hesitant to make dog food, treats is a good place to start. It doesn’t have to be complicated or gourmet.

For training I usually cook steak or chicken and cut it into small pieces. If you don’t have a lot of time, you can even use the microwave. When I’m in a rush and need something really yummy, I’ll stick a hot dog in the microwave and have something ready in just a few seconds. Not the healthiest treat, but a lot better than a lot of commercial treats! Every now and then I’ll also take out the baking supplies and make regular dog biscuits.

Do you make your own dog treats?

News: JoAnna Lou
Recognizing the Signs of Bloat [Video]
See what the symptoms look like in real life

Everyone with a large, deep chested dog is always worried about bloat (any breed can get bloat, but this demographic is disproportionally affected). Bloat is particularly scary because of how fast the condition becomes serious.

When bloat occurs, the dog’s stomach fills with air, fluid and/or food. The enlarged stomach puts pressure on other organs and can cause difficulty breathing and even damage to vital organs.

According to the ASPCA, even with immediate treatment, approximately 25 to 40 percent of dogs die from this condition. But certainly the odds are much better the sooner the dog can get emergency treatment.

I'm familiar with the signs of bloat, but the video below helped me learn what the symptoms look like in real life.

Roscoe, the dog in the clip, was adopted from Akita Rescue Mid-Atlantic Coast. The video was taken when he first got to his new home. No one present had ever seen bloat before. As soon as they realized Roscoe was sick, they rushed him to the emergency vet where he received life-saving treatment.

Thanks to this video, I feel much more confident that I could identify the symptoms of bloat.

News: JoAnna Lou
Herding Elephants in Thailand
A shelter dog finds a job at Elephantstay sanctuary

With my Sheltie and a Border Collie you can probably tell that I love herding breeds. It’s so much fun to see these dogs organize sheep or cattle in a way that will never be matched by human or machine. For all the fellow working dog lovers, I had to share the story of Buddy, a cattle dog who manages quite the herd.

Buddy has the job of keeping 100 elephants in line at the Elephantstay sanctuary, a rehabilitation and breeding center in Thailand. The story is even more amazing because Buddy was rescued from a shelter to do this job.

Working at Elephantstay isn’t always serious. Buddy has a playful relationship with the elephants. The sanctuary residents have been known to take him by the leash, tickle him with their trunks and blow air on his back.

Recently, Buddy was faced with a unique challenge when floods forced the elephants to leave the sanctuary. For weeks, Buddy had to keep the elephants together on the streets of Thailand, a testament to his dedication.

To learn more about Elephantstay or to donate to the cause, visit their website.  The flood destroyed the farm where they grow the elephants’ food and it will take over a year to resume production.

News: JoAnna Lou
Do Men Make Dogs More Reactive?
A study looks at the characteristics of reactive dogs

As pet lovers, we've always known that animals pick up on our emotions. When I first started competing in rally obedience and agility, Nemo always seemed to pick up on how nervous I was. As I gained more confidence, Nemo also looked more comfortable in the ring.

But could our being male or female affect our pets?

According to a new study, the sex of the person on the other end of the leash has the biggest effect on reactive behavior towards other dogs. The researchers proposed that the higher instance of threatening behavior and bites may be connected to a higher instance of aggressive and impulsive tendencies in men.

The study is certainly interesting, but there could be many explanations for this finding. Perhaps men are more likely to choose dogs that have strong personalities that are predisposed to being reactive towards other dogs. Or maybe men are less likely to socialize their pets. When I go dog events, like group hikes and play groups, the crowd is always mostly female.

What do you think about the study's findings?

News: JoAnna Lou
Clarifying Barking Ordinances
Los Angeles city council votes to create a barking limit

Often times, I wake up during the night to the sound of my neighbor’s dog barking. Sometimes it’s accompanied by said neighbor yelling at the dog to be quiet. This almost never works, but it can be self-rewarding in the moment to the person, and unfortunately the dog. I have Shelties, so I know from personal experience!

A neighboring town has a barking limit that they recently put in place (ten minutes during the day and five minutes after 10 p.m.), but my city does not. However, other places are starting to follow suit.

Last week, the Los Angeles City Council approved an ordinance amendment that clarifies their guidelines for barking dogs. A violation is now defined as a dog barking continuously for ten minutes or intermittently for 30 minutes in a three-hour period. The plan has to be passed by the mayor before it’s put into action.

Barking ordinances can be good and bad news for pets. If they’re loosely defined, it can make it harder to weed out the legitimate cases. Some dogs may be unfairly targeted by people who don’t like pets or are feeling vengeful towards a neighbor.  

But if the ordinance is well defined, like the proposed amendment in Los Angeles, it can protect well behaved dogs and preserve resources, such as off-leash runs and pet-friendly apartments. What’s nice about Los Angeles’ ordinance is that all complaints will be handled on a case-by-case basis through the hearing process.

I would love it if the ordinance required offenders to meet with a dog trainer or behavior counselor. People may find barking annoying, but we should never forget that dogs bark for a reason.

What do you think about barking ordinances?

News: JoAnna Lou
Long Lasting Effects of Puppy Mills
Study shows the emotional scars of dogs from large breeding operations

In recent years, countless talk shows, news documentaries and celebrities have called attention to the inhumane conditions in puppy mills. As if this environment isn’t bad enough, a new study shows that the effects of these facilities extends far beyond the dirty kennels and rampant illness.

The animal welfare organization, Best Friends Animal Society, teamed up with veterinarians, James Serpell and Deborah Duffy of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine on a study that looked at the psychological effects of dogs in large-scale commercial breeding operations (aka, puppy mills). Their research found that puppy mill dogs struggled long after leaving the facility.

The Best Friends–UPenn study is the first to compare the psychological and behavioral characteristics of over 1,000 puppy mill dogs with pets acquired from other sources. The findings showed significantly elevated fear levels, compulsive behaviors, house soiling and a heightened sensitivity to being touched.

I think that the psychological effects are due to two main factors inherent in puppy mills, so legislation aimed at improving conditions wouldn’t make much of a difference in long-term behavior.

First, the puppies are not socialized. A good breeder takes the time to ensure their puppies are familiar with strange sounds, people and environments. Dogs born in a puppy mill only see a cage until they’re purchased.

Second, puppy mills breed dogs without regard to temperament, so many of these pets are already predisposed to fear or compulsive behaviors.

The study is certainly not surprising, but I hope that it will strengthen efforts to ban puppy mills instead of simply regulating conditions.

News: JoAnna Lou
Guide Dog Runs in Track Meets
A Golden Retriever gives high schooler the chance to run

Guide dogs have a special and important job. Not only do they help people with their day-to-day tasks, these working dogs give their people the gift of independence.

As a fellow runner, I was inspired by the story of Sami Stoner, the first high school athlete in Ohio to compete with a guide dog.

Sami began running on her school's cross-country team in eighth grade, but by the end of that year, she was diagnosed with Stargardt disease, which left her legally blind.

In order for Sami to run on the junior varsity cross-country team, one of her friends, Hannah Ticoras, initially ran alongside her in races. But
after Hannah graduated, Sami was worried that she wouldn't be able to compete. All that changed when a special guide dog entered her life.

Now, Chloe the Golden Retriever has picked up where Hannah left off and Sami continues to run in competitions with Chloe by her side. The guide dog watches out for roots and finds the clearest path for Sami to run.

For Sami, running with Chloe isn't about winning. In fact, she isn't allowed to place at track meets. For her, it's about being able to do something she loves and showing that having a disability isn't the end of the world. And for that, Sami is thankful for her loyal guide dog, Chloe.

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Training for Halloween
Pre-holiday prep helps dogs get comfortable in their costumes

Every year in New York City, the Tompkins Square Dog Run holds a Halloween parade and costume contest. Hundreds of dogs enter and thousands of people come to watch. This year the winning costumes were fairly tame, but in the past outfits have been over the top.

As fellow blogger, Karen B. London wrote, most dogs don’t like costumes, especially complicated ones. But it can be tempting to dress up the pups, especially if you have a party to go to. I try to pick out simple costumes and take the few weeks beforehand to make sure my dogs are happy to wear them. It’s not a good idea to just plop the outfit on your pup a few minutes before your party!

This year I got my new puppy, Remy, a racehorse costume, complete with a little jockey that sits on his back. He’s never worn a costume before, so I wanted to make sure it was a positive experience by introducing it to him slowly. There were three behaviors I trained before I put the costume on fully.

Velcro = yummy treats
The racehorse costume has Velcro on the belly and neck band, so I wanted Remy to learn that the noise is a good thing. I started by opening the Velcro a little bit and immediately giving him some treats. I progressed to opening the Velcro all the way and then to opening the Velcro behind his head (simulating the way he’d hear the Velcro when I was taking the costume off of his body).

The costume on my back is a good thing
Next, I wanted to make sure that Remy was comfortable with the costume on his back. So I started by lightly touching the outfit to his back and rewarding him with treats. I gradually worked up to resting it on his back.

I’ll even get into my Costume myself!
I really don’t like the idea of forcing dogs to wear costumes, so I usually train the dogs to “put on” part of the costume by themselves. In this case, I trained Remy to put his nose through the loop that would go around his neck. I started by holding the neck band and giving him a treat when he moved towards the costume to sniff. I gradually increased the criteria until Remy stuck his nose through the loop, and eventually his whole head.

With a little preparation, Remy was soon happy to get into his costume and was ready to go to our training club’s Halloween party.

Have you trained your dogs to wear a costume?

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