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JoAnna Lou

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

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.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Burial Ban in New York
State puts an end to human ashes in pet cemeteries

Hartsdale Pet Cemetery, the first of its kind in America, holds a special place in my heart. My cat was cremated there and I have friends whose pets are buried there. The Hartsdale Pet Cemetery has been open for over 100 years and is a testament to the special relationship humans have with their pets.

Given that it's the final resting place for many special animals, it's not surprising that about 600 pet lovers chose to join their dogs and cats by having their ashes buried at the cemetery. Although people have been doing this for decades, the ritual is now a thing of the past.

In February, New York's Division of Cemeteries made the practice illegal and ordered the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery to stop taking human ashes. The statewide ban became official in April.

Officials say the ruling was created because human cemeteries have more state protections than pet cemeteries. Additionally, human cemeteries must be nonprofit while pet cemeteries can be a for-profit businesses.

As you can imagine, plot holders at the Hartsdale Pet Cemetery are angry about the sudden restriction.

I understand where the Division of Cemeteries is coming from, but it seems unfair since there are no other restrictions on where you can put human ashes.

If ocean lovers can have their ashes carried out to sea and nature lovers can have their ashes scattered in the forest, why can't an animal lover have their ashes buried at a pet cemetary?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Top Pet Friendly Airlines
Petfinder rates the best airlines for pets

Flying with pets can be incredibly frustrating, especially if you travel with a large dog. I go through great lengths to avoid putting my dogs on a plane, even if that means driving over 1,000 miles from New York to Florida!

But for those of you who have to travel by plane, Petfinder just released their annual list of most pet-friendly airlines. The airlines were reviewed based on the following criteria: most pet-friendly overall, best amenities for pets (and pet parents), best for transporting pet variety, best for budget-conscious consumers, best for flying multiple pets in cabin, and best for big furry friends.

Most important, all airlines that made the ranking were required to have zero pet deaths in the past reported year (according to official government reports).

Here are the top airlines for 2011:

  • Most Pet-Friendly Overall: Pet Airways. This choice isn't surprising, given that Pet Airways caters to animals, but hopefully this airline will inspire others to up their game.

  • Best Amenities for Pets (and Pet Parents): JetBlue. JetBlue goes above and beyond with the perks. Amenities include a pet carrier baggage tag, a travel “petiquette” guide, 300 frequent flyer points each way, and a comprehensive e-booklet with pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, parks and animal hospitals in some of JetBlue’s major cities.

  • Best for Transporting Pet Variety: Frontier Airlines. Frontier allows the most types of pets including rabbits, guinea pigs, and birds.

  • Best for Budget-Conscious Consumers: WestJet. WestJet has the cheapest pet fee at $50. AirTran Airways was a close second at $69.

  • Best for Flying Multiple Pets in Cabin: Frontier Airlines. All airlines have a limit as to how many pets can ride in the cabin. Frontier allows up to 10 pet crates on board, however only one container is allowed per passenger.

  • Best for Big Furry Friends: Pet Airways. Again Pet Airways rules with its pets-only flights.

I hope that reviews like Petfinder's list will encourage more airlines to become more pet friendly. Maybe one day all pets will be able to travel in the cabin alongside the humans. One can only dream!

Have you flown with a pet? Who would you nominate as the most pet friendly airline?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Airlifted Out of Calif. Forest
A hike turned into an overnight excursion for a couple and their dog

A couple weeks ago, a friend of mine ended up carrying his 50 pound dog for two miles after the poor pup tore the pads on his paws during a trail run. I wondered what I would do in the same situation. Unfortunately, I'd probably be stuck because I don't usually carry first aid supplies and I definitely don't have as much upper body strength as my friend. The ordeal certainly got me thinking.

Even the most well-conditioned dog can become injured on a hike or run, so it's important to have a plan if something should go wrong. This is even more important if you're trekking in a remote area.

A couple in California learned this lesson the hard way while on an afternoon hike at Angeles National Forest last weekend. During the outing, their Labrador mix, Baxter, cut his pads and soon grew too tired to complete the hike. The couple couldn't carry the 80-pound dog, so they were forced to call the police and wait overnight for help to arrive. The next morning a rescue helicopter airlifted the couple and their dog to safety.

I don't run or hike in remote areas, so I usually rely on the fact someone can come get me if there's an emergency. But after hearing this story, and knowing what happened to my friend, I think I'm going to start carrying a few basic supplies with me. Torn pads are fairly common for active dogs, so bringing disinfectant and gauze on our next outing is probably not a bad idea.

What do you bring with you when you run or hike with your dogs?

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