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JoAnna Lou

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

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.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Technology for Lost Dogs
ID tags with QR codes bring pets home

Little black and white squares have been popping up everywhere—on advertisements, business cards and magazines. These Quick Response (QR) codes are barcodes that are designed to be read by smartphones. People can take a photo of the square and retrieve text, contact information or open a webpage on their phone.

Now these QR codes can help bring your dog home. A new company, PetHub, engraves QR codes on identification tags. When the square is scanned, it takes the user to the PetHub web site where the pets' information is stored.

The idea for PetHub was born when founder, Tom Arnold, was on vacation. The former Microsoft employee was worried about his dog at home and thought that technology could help keep his pup safe.

QR codes certainly look cool hanging from dog collars, but I wouldn't use it as a sole form of identification. Not everyone has a smartphone and even for those who do, the code creates one additional step to getting the information needed.

However, QR codes do have their advantages. Information can be updated instantly through the PetHub web site, which is useful if you go on vacation. You can store more data, like medical information, which wouldn't fit on a traditional identification tag.

Would you get a QR identification tag?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Remembering 9/11 SAR Teams
September events honor human and canine rescue teams

As we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11, there are many victims to remember and many heroes to honor. Among those to pay tribute to are the hundreds of search and rescue (SAR) dogs who worked alongside police, firefighters, and other rescue workers at the World Trade Center. Like many others involved in the rescue efforts, canine SAR teams are mostly made up of volunteers who willingly put themselves at risk to help others.

SAR dog advocacy group, Finding One Another, is teaming up with the Tails of Hope Foundation, an organization dedicated to advancing veterinary and human medicine, to honor SAR teams through a series of commemorative and educational programs.

The following are three highlights from their September calendar. The Finding One Another website has details on additional events.

Recognition Ceremony at Liberty State Park (September 11 at 1 p.m. in Jersey City, N.J.)
This ceremony will honor the canine SAR teams, veterinarians, Veterinary Medical Assistance Teams (VMATs) and other working dogs and handlers that played an instrumental part in the 9/11 rescue efforts. The event will start with a processional march led by teams who served at the World Trade Center and end with SAR dog demos. Thousands of SAR teams are expected to participate in the event.

Penn Vet Working Dog Center 2011 International Conference (September 7-9 in Pearl River, N.Y.)
The theme of the conference is “Defining, Developing, and Documenting Success in Working Dogs.” Participants will discuss advancements that benefit working dogs and increasing public awareness about SAR dogs and the risks that they face on the job.

The conference is chaired by Cynthia M. Otto, DVM, PhD, DACVECC, Co-Chair of the 9/11 Tenth Anniversary SAR Tribute and Associate Professor of Critical Care at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. Participants are expected to attend from all over the world.

SAR Photography & Artifact Exhibit (through September 2011 in West Nyack, N.Y.)
This exhibit at the Palisades Center Mall will feature photographs, large banners, and artifacts that depict the SAR community’s work at the 9/11 sites and elsewhere. A kickoff event will be held on September 9 and will include artistic performances and demonstrations. Portions of the exhibit will be donated to the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.

We owe so much to the dogs and handlers who worked alongside rescue workers on September 11th. It's important to advocate for them so that we never forget the risk they took, and still take, every time they come to the aid of people in need.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Adopting the Doggie in the Window
N.Y. store changes the concept of the mall pet shop

Mall pet stores always make me sad, partly because I know the dogs came from puppy mills and partly because I know these stores encourage visitors to buy pets on impulse.

So I was excited to find out that a new pet store is opening at the Palisades Mall in West Nyack, N.Y. that does not sell any pets. Even better, the USA Dog & Pet Shop features animals for adoption from the Hi-Tor Animal Care Center. Currently the shelter is over capacity and is hoping that the partnership with the unique store will boost adoption numbers. Applications will be available at the pet store, but all adoptions must be completed at the shelter.

The USA Dog & Pet Shop will also be exclusively selling products made in the United States. This is a good resource considering the toxicity problems we've seen in imported products in recent years.

I hope that more mall pet stores will adopt this admirable business model. It's a great way to promote adoption and responsible pet ownership in a high traffic area.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Weathering Hurricane Irene
Emergency plans with the dogs in mind

This past weekend, everyone on the East Coast was hurrying to prepare for Hurricane Irene. I wasn't in an evacuation zone, but I put together a “go bag” for my pets and put crates by the door, just in case we had to leave home. Fortunately, we didn't end up needing any of the emergency supplies. By the time Irene reached New York, the hurricane was downgraded to a tropical storm and the damage was much less than expected.

I was impressed by the local efforts to accommodate pets in emergency planning. New York City evacuation centers welcomed pets, and taxis and subways were required to transport pets of all sizes to help people get to safety with their furry loved ones. The ASPCA worked closely with the New York City Office of Emergency Management to assist with the city’s disaster relief efforts. The Office of Emergency Management even had a dedicated Animal Planning Task Force. I'm glad that the government is learning from past relief efforts, such as Hurricane Katrina.

Natural disasters are stressful, but I felt a lot more comfortable knowing that I didn't have to worry about where I could go with my pets in the event of an emergency.

How did you prepare for Hurricane Irene? Did you take advantage of a pet friendly evaculation center?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Cancer Detecting Pups
Dogs can diagnose lung cancer in humans

Earlier this week, I wrote about the depressing number of dogs affected by cancer. Many organizations and researchers are working towards finding a cure. Meanwhile, dogs may play an important part in curing humans.

Lung cancer is the the deadliest form of cancer worldwide, but current detection methods have been unreliable. Scientists are looking at a possible test for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which have been linked to the presence of cancer, but it's been difficult to apply and no lung cancer-specific VOCs have been identified.

Researchers at Schillerhoehe Hospital in Germany decided to see if dogs could be used to identify the elusive lung cancer VOCs.

The study worked with 220 volunteers, including lung cancer patients, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patients, and healthy people. The dogs successfully identified 71 samples with lung cancer out of a possible 100. They also correctly detected 372 samples that did not have lung cancer out of a possible 400.

The researchers concluded that the dogs could detect lung cancer independently from COPD and tobacco smoke. The findings are a big step towards the accurate diagnosis of lung cancer.

I'm always amazed that despite all the technology in the world, sometimes the most powerful tool of all is a dog's nose!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Signs of Canine Cancer
One in three dogs will be affected by cancer

I still remember when I first heard that cancer affects one in three dogs. I was at an agility trial fundraiser for canine cancer research and the organizers asked anyone touched by the disease to raise their hand. Almost everyone had their hand up.

It's a scary statistic that hit home recently. Three of my friends have lost dogs to cancer in the last month. The disease has become so commonplace that last week there was an Internet hoax last week about a canine hero who was diagnosed with Hemangiosarcoma.

So I thought it was a good time to review the National Canine Cancer Foundation's 10 early warning signs of canine cancer:

  • Abnormal swellings that persist or continue to grow
  • Sores that do not heal
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Bleeding or discharge from any body opening
  • Offensive odor
  • Difficulty eating or swallowing
  • Hesitation to exercise or loss of stamina
  • Persistent lameness or stiffness
  • Difficulty breathing, urinating, or defecation


Between research and early detection, hopefully one day we'll be able to make cancer a thing of the past.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Budgeting for Dog Expenses
The ASPCA and Mint.com calculate annual and monthly pet costs

Dog lovers don't need a survey to tell us that we spend a lot of money on our pups. But exactly how big is our pet budget?

The ASPCA calculated basic annual expenses for a variety of pets (not including one-time purchases, like a crate or leash). According to their survey, the average medium dog incurs the following costs per year:

  • Food - $118
  • Recurring Medical - $236.30
  • Toys/Treats - $55.60
  • License - $13.90
  • Health Insurance - $222.40
  • Miscellaneous - $41.70

I don't buy pet health insurance, but I know that I can easily spend over $400 on medical bills for one of my dogs in a year. And I definitely spend more than $118 per dog on food. Let's not even get started about agility classes and trials!

Personal money management website, Mint.com, also looked at pet spending through their users. They found that the average person in the United States spends $112 per month on their pets (note that this number is for all pets in a given household). They also looked at variation by city. San Francisco spent the most money, $148 per month over the national average.

Obviously, there are many things that influence these numbers, but it's a good start to get people thinking about pet related expenses before they add a dog to the family.

How much do you estimate that you spend on each of your dogs in one year?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pet Thefts Up This Year
AKC reports 32 percent increase in stolen dogs

Last year, I wrote about a piece of legislation aimed at making pet theft a felony in New York State. The bill hasn't been passed yet and, unfortunately, it looks like pet theft is on the rise.

This year, the American Kennel Club reports a 32 percent increase in stolen dogs. The data are taken from media reports of pet theft and customers who call the Companion Animal Recovery service, so the statistic may not be totally representative of the whole pet population. However, many believe that all types of crime have increased as a result of the economy, so the report could hold some truth.

I always thought that small, trendy breeds were the most attractive to thieves, but interestingly the AKC says that Pit Bulls and other large breeds are most common.

Typically, pets are stolen for monetary gain, but I wonder if the large dogs are being stolen for dog fighting. People used to worry about pets being stolen for laboratories, but today most dogs and cats are bred specifically for research purposes.

Although the number of stolen dogs has gone up, the AKC stresses that the number is small compared to those who are lost or abandoned.

For tips on preventing pet theft, visit Petfinder's web page on the topic.

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