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JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Does Your Dog Need a Flu Shot?
The facts about canine influenza

As the weather gets cooler, it's just about flu shot time—for the humans anyway. I never get the canine influenza shot for my furry crew, but an outbreak at a local shelter had me rethinking my decision. Adoptions have been suspended at the Bergen County Animal Shelter in New Jersey while they battle a flu outbreak.

Generally the virus isn't serious, if caught early, but it can cause complications like pneumonia, which increases the risk. Since flu symptoms resemble other respiratory diseases, canine influenza is often mistaken for kennel cough.

The first canine influenza vaccine was approved two years ago and initial tests showed no side effects. Because it contains inactivated virus, the vaccine won't cause illness. It's important to note that the vaccine doesn't prevent the flu, but it significantly reduces the severity and duration.

The vaccine is intended for dogs at risk of exposure to the virus, such as those who participate in activities with other dogs or those who go to doggy daycare. The risk groups are the same for dogs who are recommended to receive the kennel cough vaccine.

My dogs are at a moderate risk since they regularly go to a training club and attend dog shows. However, I decided to pass on the vaccine for my crew since I don't board them or bring them to doggy day care. If you're considering the vaccine for your pups, consult your vet.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
First Commercial for Dogs
Purina releases an ad designed for pets

Sometimes my dogs look at the television, but I'm not sure if they're actually watching. I haven't seen any connection to a particular image or sound. I think they just notice the movement on the screen and have learned to ignore the noise.

I thought that might change when I heard that Purina released what they're calling the first-ever television commercial designed for both dogs and humans. The goal was to make an advertisement that caught dogs' attention, but didn't detract from the dialogue intended for humans.

The resulting commercial, for their Beneful dog food, features a squeak, a high-frequency tone (that humans can barely hear), and a ping noise. Purina also said that the commercial also features whispering, which they found was successful in gaining dogs' attention, although I didn't hear any whispering in the advertisement.

The commercial was released in Austria and can be viewed below. When I played the commercial, my dogs didn't seem impressed. I didn't even see an ear move towards my computer.

How did your crew react?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Future of the ID Tag
GPS lets you track your pet's location

Companies are always trying to improve on the good old identification tag. I've seen USB memory stick tags, Quick Response (QR) codes tags, and now GPS units that attach to collars.

GPS technology for collars typically sends a text or email notificaiton when your pet leaves home and gives you the ability to track your dog on a map using a computer or cell phone.

Having a GPS unit on your dog's collar seems a bit excessive and it could give people a false sense of security. A GPS unit isn't going to stop your pet from running in front of a car or eating something toxic. However, if one of my pets ever got lost, being able to track their exact location would be invaluable.

GPS units for dogs are surprisingly small, but they're still a bit bulky to have on my dog all of the time. For now I think I'll stick to the good old metal identification tag and microchip.

Would you get a GPS unit for your dog?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Transporting Dogs from Overpopulated States
Shelters fill empty kennels with Southern pups

For years, local shelters in the Northeast have been bringing homeless dogs up from the South for a shot at adoption. When I first found out about these rescue missions, it seemed like a waste of resources when there are so many homeless pets right here in New York.

But, as it turns out, many Northeastern shelters and rescue groups have a hard time keeping up with demand for certain dogs. So it has become common to transport dogs that will be adopted quickly, like small breeds. Overpopulation is a big problem in the South because spay/neuter rates are much lower there.

New Jersey-based PetResQ is one of those rescue groups that transport Southern dogs. After learning about animal control officers accused of shooting 22 dogs to death last year in North Carolina, they decided to organize a transport targeting dogs slated for euthanasia in that region.

Their plans came to fruition two weeks ago when 50 volunteer pilots successfully transported more than 100 dogs from South Carolina to PetResQ.

I know that many dogs are euthanized every day in New York, so it still feels wrong to bring more animals into the picture. However, in reality most homeless dogs in my area are Pit Bulls and most people want to adopt a Retriever or Beagle. If bringing dogs from the South fills that need, it seems like a win-win for both sides.

What do you think about the transport effort from the South?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Should Vets Promote ID Tags?
Vets and shelters have a positive influence on tag usage

My dogs have microchips and identification tags, but I often take their collars off when they're in the house. I had one of my dogs' collars get caught on a piece of furniture, so I do it as a safety precaution. However, this could be a problem if one of my dogs escaped from my house.

The Journal of the American Veterinary Association reports that fewer than half of lost dogs were wearing tags at the time they went missing. Microchips are great because they're permanent, but an identification tag lets people know instantly how to get your dog back home.

Eighty percent of pet lovers believe it's important that dogs and cats wear identification, but only 33 percent put tags on their pets all the time. Many of those pets don't wear ID tags at all. A study published this month found that veterinarians and animal shelters can have a positive influence on this number.

Dr. Emily Weiss, vice president of shelter research and development for the ASPCA, and her team tracked 109 people and their pets who had been fitted with collars and tags during a vet visit or at the animal shelter. Before the study, only 14 percent of the animals studied had been wearing an ID tag, but two months later, 84 percent were still wearing the tags.

Given the success of Dr. Weiss's study, do you think that veterinarians should be responsible for making sure pets have identification? My dogs have microchips and identification tags, but they also have a rabies tag from the veterinarian that lists when they got their vaccine and the veterinarian’s contact information.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Best X-Rays of 2011
Vets submit their most surprising x-ray finds

One of my dogs is a master thief. Despite my best efforts to keep the house eternally “puppy proofed,” every now and then I'll find Nemo shredding a sock or sponge--or I'll find out later when it comes out the other end.

Fortunately nothing has ever gotten stuck, but it's something that's always in the back of my mind. Now, Veterinary Practice News' X-ray Contest has me thinking that there could be something in there that I don't know about!

The magazine asked veterinarians to submit their best x-ray finds of the year. The winning submission was taken by Dr. Vanessa Hawkins at Bayshore Animal Hospital in Oregon when she was examining a dog with a lame hind leg. To her surprise, Dr. Hawksin found nine handballs inside of the dog's stomach! It was an incidental finding that she would've never discovered had he not been x-rayed for the lameness.

What is the strangest thing that your dog has ingested?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Joss Stone Fosters Dog
Soul singer invites a shelter pup into her NYC recording studio

I love when celebrities use their star power to help a good cause, especially when it involves animals.

For the past week, Joss Stone has been fostering a dog while recording her next album in New York. Stone is a huge dog lover and missed her four pups back home in England. When she inquired about fostering, Animal Haven matched her up with Oprah, a six-year-old Bull Mastiff/Pit Bull mix. Oprah's sweet, laid back personality was perfect for hanging out in the recording studio.

Stone has been posting video blog updates on her YouTube page to encourage people to give Oprah a forever home.

So far the match has been a win-win for everyone. Stone gets her canine fix and Oprah gets quality time outside of the shelter and exposure to potential adopters around the world. Stone promotes the all-important act of fostering. Plus, Oprah's loving personality is giving Pit Bull mixes some great publicity!

Anyone interested in adopting Oprah should visit Animal Haven's website or call 212.274.8511 for more information.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Saying Thanks
Who are the important people in your dog's life?

From political platforms to airing grievances, award show acceptance speeches give celebrities 30 seconds to fill the air with whatever is most important to them. Game of Thrones actor and winner of the Best Supporting Actor Emmy Award on Sunday night, Peter Dinklage, showed how much he loves his pup, Kevin, when he thanked his dog sitter in his acceptance speech, perhaps a first in the show's history.

Someone once told me that it takes a lot of work to raise a dog in today's complicated world and I completely agree. Dinklage's acceptance speech made me think about all of the people I would thank for making a big difference in my dogs' lives.

First would be my parents, who take care of my dogs when I'm at work and on vacation. Then my training instructors, who have taught me the skills to teach my dogs good manners and how to have fun together in sports like agility. And last, but not least, my training buddies, who help me work through training challenges and support me through hard times.

Who would you thank on behalf of your dogs?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Uptick in N.Y. Dog Theft
Even well identified pets are at risk

The recent increase in pet theft has hit close to home as there have been several dog kidnappings in my area this summer.

Some are straightforward, like Matsu, the Yorkshire Terrier who was stolen when he was tied outside of a deli. Others are a little more complicated.

A few weeks ago, Kumiko Masaoka and Michael Reinhardt were at a Brooklyn park with their West Highland Terrier, Winston, when the pup was spooked and ran off. They did all the right things--searched the area, contacted animal shelters and veterinarians, posted flyers, and informed the microchip company.

The next day the couple was put in contact with a girl who found Winston and handed him over to a police officer. Unfortunately, the police officer ended up giving the dog to another family (it's still in dispute whether the family tried to claim Winston or if the police offered him to the family).

Thankfully Winston has since been returned, but this story just goes to show that even a dog with proper identification can easily end up in the wrong hands.

When we lose a pet, our natural inclination is to contact animal shelters and veterinarian offices, but “non-pet people” may not think to go to these places. For many, the police seems like a natural fist resource, as in Winston's case. But police don't typically deal with lost animals, so they may not know the proper protocol, such as checking for a microchip or verifying the identify of someone claiming a pet.

As dog theft increases, it's important for key members of the community, like the police, to get training on how to handle lost and stolen pets. Additionally, it's probably a good idea to check with your local precinct if you're looking for a lost dog.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Eavesdropping on Humans
Study: Dogs behave based on observations of people

My dogs always seem to be watching what I'm doing. I'd like to think they care about my well being, but I think they're more interested in any clues that I might drop food or that it might be dinner time.

A recent study led by Sarah Marshall-Pescini at the University of Milan looks at the information dogs get from watching us and the decisions they make based on that data. Her research focused on what's called interspecies evesdropping, one species (in this case a dog) watching the interactions between two members of another species (in this case two humans).

In the study, the researchers had dogs observe food-sharing between humans. One person, designated the “beggar,” approached two people sitting on separate chairs, both holding a bowl of sausages. When the beggar asked for a piece, one person said no and moved one hand in a dismissive gesture, and the other said “have it” and gave a piece to the beggar. The beggar then left the room and the dog was set free to make a choice.

The study found that the dogs were five times more likely to approach the person who shared a piece of sausage than the person who chose not to share.

My dogs, particularly my food-greedy Shelties, are particularly clever at figuring out who is most likely to give them food. In my house, we like to call it “identifying the weak one.” While the study didn't exactly surprise me, it's interesting that eavesdropping on third-party interactions is a quality that we share with our dogs. The information gained from eavesdropping is considered an important input for decision-making in many other animals, including humans.

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