JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Best and Worst States for Animals
ALDF and HSUS ranks protection laws

Each year the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) separately rank the animal protection laws of every state in the country. Their reports are a great way to measure progress and to identify areas of improvement.

The good news is, according to the ALDF, more than half of all states experienced a significant improvement in their animal protection laws in the last five years. These improvements included increasing penalties for abuse offenders, requiring veterinarians to report animal cruelty cases and including animals in domestic violence protective orders.

Mississippi showed the most progress, moving from 50th to 30th overall this year. The change reflects the state making repeated cruelty and neglect a felony and authorizing mental health evaluations and counseling for offenders.

As you’ll see below, the ALDF and HSUS rankings are slightly different. But there’s consistency at the bottom. The three states that don’t have felony penalties for animal abuse—Idaho, North Dakota, and South Dakota—are the worst offenders on both lists.


Best: Illinois, Maine, Michigan, Oregon, California

Worst: South Dakota, Iowa, Idaho, North Dakota, Kentucky


Best: California, New Jersey, Oregon, Illinois, Massachusetts

Worst: Mississippi, North Dakota, South Carolina, Idaho, South Dakota

The differences can be attributed to the measures that each organization uses to put together their rankings. The ALDF focuses on animal abuse with companion animals. The HSUS rankings incorporate a wide range of areas including laws regarding killing animals for fur, science research protocols, keeping exotic pets, hunting and the treatment of farm animals.

I like that the ALDF report has suggestions for areas of improvement, although they only provide them for the best and worst states. If the report provided this information for each state, it would make it easy for people to advocate for stronger animal protection laws in their area.

How does your state measure up?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
K9 Crossing Guard
N.Y. dog helps children safely get to school

Kids in Greenwich, N.Y. have something to look forward to each day. When the children approach Main Street, on the way to school, Sophy, a German Shepherd-black Labrador mix, is there to greet them, along with volunteer crossing guard Clifford Mealy. Sophy has her own dog-sized “Stop” sign and leads the way as kids cross the busy street.

It makes me a little nervous to see an off leash dog so close to traffic. Even the best trained dogs can get spooked.

However, there's no doubt that Sophy puts a lot of smiles on kids' faces every day and encourages them to use the crosswalk. I certainly wish there was a dog to greet me back in my grade school days!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A Controversial Nose
U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on drug sniffing dog

In the Bark blog, we've written a lot about the amazing canine nose. Their olfactory skills make them invaluable partners. But how we use the canine nose has become a controversial topic. Is it legal for police dogs to search for drugs outside of a house without a warrant? Or does it violate the Fourth Amendment protection against illegal search and seizure?

This issue came to the forefront after Franky, a talented police dog, detected marijuana growing inside of a Miami-area house from the other side of a closed door.

Florida's highest state court ruled that it crossed the constitutional line, but the Florida attorney general wants the U.S. Supreme Court to reverse that ruling. The Supreme Court has approved drug dog sniffs in several other major cases, including drugs detected during routine traffic stops and airport luggage. But this case is more tricky because it involves a private residence.

Whichever way the Court rules, one thing is certain. Franky, the Chocolate Labrador at the center of the controversy, is an amazing dog. In Franky's seven-year career with the police department, the eight-year-old dog is responsible for the seizure of more than 2.5 tons of marijuana and $4.9 million in drug-contaminated money.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Saving Dog Fighting Victims
New program rescues seized pups in Chicago

Michael Vick's dogs got a lot of national media attention during his infamous court case. Most of them were fortunate to be placed in rescue, where they were rehabilitated and adopted out to loving families. But not all dogs from fighting cases get a second chance. Sadly, these canine victims are often euthanized.

The Court Case Dog Program aims to change that in Chicago. The program was established not long after 37 dogs landed in Animal Care and Control as part of the largest dog-fighting seizure in Illinois history. Most of the dogs were saved thanks to Project Safe Humane who happened to be at Animal Care and Control that day.

Inspired by how well the dogs were doing in their new homes, the Chicago Animal Care and Control, D.A.W.G. Court Advocacy, Best Friends, and Safe Humane Chicago teamed up to start the Court Case Dog Program.

Even better, the program pairs dogs with boys from Safe Humane's Lifetime Bonds detention center program. The boys learn how to interact with, care for, socialize, and train the dogs with positive reinforcement methods. The dogs transform into well behaved pets and the boys gain life lessons about compassion and caring for others.

So far the Court Case Program has found forever homes for eight dogs and has 17 more pups in training. Hopefully more communities around the nation will be inspired by this successful program.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Seeing the World for the First Time
Beagle Freedom Project rescues dogs from laboratories

You may have seen the You Tube video of rescued beagles experiencing grass and sun for the first time (check it out below if you haven't seen it yet). It's amazing to see the dogs tentatively come out and experience the things we take for granted. I was so inspired by the video that I wanted to find out more about the efforts to rescue these dogs.

The Beagles in the You Tube video were rescued by Animal Rescue Media Education (ARME) as part of their Beagle Freedom Project. ARME works directly with laboratories who choose to release dogs that are no longer wanted for research purposes.The Beagle's friendly and forgiving personality that makes them wonderful pets also makes them ideal for living in a laboratory atmosphere, unfortunately.

Many companies are avoiding animal testing these days, but there are many products out there that still test on animals. It's important to know that the cruelty-free label can be misleading. Some companies claim that their product is cruelty-free because the final product wasn't tested on animals. However, the individual ingredients may have been tested on animals.

If you want to find true cruelty-free products, the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics' Leaping Bunny Program is a good starting point. The program maintains a standard for 100 percent cruelty-free products.

It's hard to avoid all companies that test on animals, but for products where there are alternatives, there's no question which option I would choose.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Exception Granted in Service Pit Bull Case
An Iowa breed ban was found to be in violation of the ADA

I'm not a fan of breed bans. They make a sweeping generalization about a whole group of dogs, while trying to solve a problem without getting to the root of the problem—irresponsible pet ownership. There are so many great dogs that get hurt by this type of legislation.

Snickers is a great example of how a breed ban unfairly discriminates against responsible dog lovers. James Sak, a disabled retired police officer, has relied on his Pit Bull mix, Snickers, since a stroke confined him to a wheelchair in 2008. The University of Illinois Medical Center paired the two together to help Sak walk, balance, and call for help in an emergency.

In November, Sak moved to Aurelia, Iowa to help care for his wife's elderly mother. Within a few days, Sak was ordered to re-home Snickers due to an ordinance that bans Pit Bulls in Aurelia.

Sak claimed that the ban violated the Americans With Disabilities Act and last week a federal judge agreed. Thankfully, an injunction was filed so that Snickers could live with James.

You can't judge a whole group of dogs based on a few exceptions. Hopefully Snickers' story will help show that there are many great Pit Bulls in the world. 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
National Train Your Dog Month
The APDT is celebrating with free events for January

Now that the new year has started, it's time to reflect on this past year and set resolutions. Naturally some of my goals are always dog-related.

I've started hiking with my dogs, and plan on taking up snowshoeing for the winter, so one of my goals in 2012 is to strengthen my crew's recall. I'm also hoping that my puppy, Remy, will be ready to compete in his first agility trial by the end of next year.

For those with a similar mindset, January happens to be National Train Your Dog Month. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers started the event in 2010 to promote the importance and benefits of socializing and training dogs. January was selected because of the many pets adopted during the winter holidays. So many dogs are abandoned because of behavioral problems that could have been prevented with socialization and positive training.

To help new pet parents start off on the right foot, throughout January, the APDT is offering free webinars and Facebook chats with pet training and behavior professionals. Topics include Adopting a Dog, Breed Discrimination Laws, Housetraining, and Dog Safety for Kids. A full schedule is available on the event's web site.

In honor of National Train Your Dog Month, do you have any training related resolutions for 2012?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Understanding Pet Lovers in the Internet Age
Hunch.com uses member data to learn about dog and cat people

Social media companies hold a lot of data about people and are privy to a lot of correlations and insights that could be really interesting. Recently I was wondering if anyone had put together data related to animals.

It turns out that Hunch.com has published two pet-related reports that draw on responses from its 700,000 users. The first looks at dog people versus non-dog people and the second looks at the differences between dog and cat people.

Some of the findings are not surprising. The report found that dog people are more likely to be extroverts, have a greater affinity for sports and the outdoors, and are more likely to live in a suburban or rural area.

Hunch.com also found that females tend to favor dogs with long hair and smaller breeds and males tend to favor hounds and retrievers.

Some correlations were more bizarre and random. Apparently dog people are more likely than cat people to be iPhone users or to enjoy slapstick humor and impressions. And on the more specific side, Chihuahua fans tend to be frequent doodlers and German Shepherd lovers tend to rely more on intuition than common sense.

Of course you can't extrapolate the reports' findings to all people, but it's fun to read about the correlations that Hunch.com discovered.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Burial Ban Lifted in N.Y.
Human ashes can continue to be buried in pet cemeteries

Many animal lovers want their final resting place to be next to their beloved pets. In New York, over 500 people's ashes have been buried at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in its 115-year history. Earlier this year, the practice was threatened when the state's Division of Cemeteries banned the burial of human ashes in pet cemeteries. There was a public outcry, especially among those who had already purchased plots for this purpose.

Well there's finally good news. The Division of Cemeteries announced this month that they will back off the burial ban.

The cemetery owners believe that a potential lawsuit being developed by Taylor York was the ultimate reason that the Division decided to change their mind.

York's uncle buried his wife, bunny, and two Maltese dogs at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery. When he passed away in April, the family was unable to bury him with his wife and furry kids due to the new ban. This prompted York to prepare a lawsuit against the state of New York.

I'm glad to hear that the ban was lifted. Although I don't have plans to be buried with my pets, I feel adamant that this should be an option for animal lovers.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Do Animals Have Empathy?
Study finds that rats look out for their friends

Rats have a bad reputation, but they actually make wonderful pets. I had two before my living situation allowed me to welcome dogs into my family. They were clean and actually quite personable. Reggie and Angie quickly learned their names and would run to the side of the cage when I came into the room. I always thought of them as being very dog-like.

A recent study not only confirmed that rats are smart, but found that they may have empathy for their friends.

Researchers at the University of Chicago placed a free-roaming rat in an enclosure with a caged rat. Once the free rats realized that they could release the trapped rat, they opened the cage every day, even if they were immediately separated (proving the rats were empathetic and not only freeing the trapped rats for companionship).

In the final set-up, the researchers placed rats into an enclosure with two cages—one with another rat and the other with chocolate. They found that the free rats were just as likely to free the caged rats as they were to access the chocolate. Even more unbelievable, the rats almost always shared the treats with the freed rats.

Interestingly when females figured out how to open the cage, they would immediately open it every day. Male rats would occasionally take a day off.

It’s pretty cool that there’s research showing that animals aren’t always just looking out for themselves. I would love to see a similar study done with dogs. When I was checking out the Canine Cognition Lab at Harvard University, the researchers mentioned that they had a canine empathy study in the works and there are other scientists who have tackled the subject.

I do think dogs are capably of empathy, even though I’ve never seen it in my own pups. I’ve heard stories of therapy dogs that “take on” the stress symptoms of the patients they visit and pups who won’t leave someone’s side when they’re depressed.

Have you seen your pups express empathy?