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JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Aussie Lab Weighs in at 187 Pounds
Rescued pup became obese from a junk food diet

At 187 pounds, Samson, a recently rescued Black Labrador in Australia, is easily the most obese dog in the country. Unsurprisingly, Samson is showing signs of high blood pressure, a common side effect of packing on the extra pounds. Making matters worse, Samson can't even safely exercise until he looses some weight.

Samson got to his current state because his previous family fed him a diet of burgers, pizza and other unhealthy foods. Fortunately, Samson was rescued by the Animal Aid shelter in Coldstream who immediately put him on a strict diet. They hope to get him to a healthy weight by the end of the year so he can be adopted.

Many people ask me if it's okay to feed their dogs human food and are ashamed to admit that they feed table scraps as treats. I always find it funny because I liberally feed leftovers as treats. In fact many human foods are healthier than commercial dog treats! Unfortunately, stories like Samson's give human food a bad reputation for pups.

Do you feed your dog human food?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A Lucky Pup Gets Four New Legs [Video]
New prosthetics give dogs a normal life

Dogs are amazing creatures who are able to live in the moment and adapt to anything that comes their way. I've met dogs missing one or two legs who barely seem to notice that they are different from the other pups. We definitely have a lot to learn from the canine mindset!

Recently a Red Heeler named Naki'o became the first dog to be fitted with a complete set of bionic legs. The prosthetics are built to mimic muscle and bone to allow dogs to run, jump, and swim. The prosthetics were designed and fitted by Martin Kaufmann, founder of Orthopets.

Just after they were born, Naki'o and his siblings were abandoned after their family's home was foreclosed. Weakened by malnourishment and the harsh Nebraskan winter, Naki'o got his paws stuck in freezing water and developed severe frostbite at the tender age of five weeks old.

Soon after, the puppies were rescued, but not before Naki'o lost his paws, leaving all four of his legs with rounded stumps. Amazingly, Naki'o adjusted by crawling around on his belly.

After Naki'o was adopted, his new family organized a fundraiser to pay for two prosthetics on his back legs. Naki'o took to his new legs so well that Orthopets decided to fit his front legs free of charge. It was the first time Orthopets set up an animal with a complete set of bionic legs.

There was an adjustment period, but just a few days later Naki'o was already running around. Now Naki'o routinely beats Christie's other dogs to the ball!

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Paralyzed Dog Saved in Joplin, Mo.
A community rallies together to help an injured pup

There are many amazing stories that came out of last month's tragedy in Joplin, Missouri, but for me, a Cocker Spaniel named Sugar and the dedicated community who came to her aid stood out in particular.

Panicked by the impending tornado, Sugar escaped from the safety of her family's basement just before the storm ripped through their house. When the family emerged, the 10-year old dog was missing and their home was demolished.

Hoping that Sugar might still be alive, one of their relatives searched the internet in hopes of finding the family pet. Amazingly, she stumbled upon a Facebook page that led them to Sugar. As it turns out, a good Samaritan found Sugar paralyzed in the wreckage and brought her to the Joplin Humane Society.

Since resources were tight in Joplin, Sugar's family brought her to the Missouri Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital where it was revealed that Sugar had sustained a traumatic disc rupture. She had no use of her hind legs and was experiencing pain in her paws.

Through the Silent Partners Fund and the College of Veterinary Medicine, the hospital absorbed the cost of Sugar’s treatment and therapy. Orscheln Farm and Home in Columbia also helped out by donating food and toys.

Sugar's surgery was a success and just two weeks after the tornado, Sugar was already showing movement in her hind legs. Amazingly, her veterinarians are hopeful that she will be able to regain full function in her legs.

Sugar's perseverance and the community who rallied behind her is truly inspiring.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New Trend: Executive Protection Canines
Security guards gone to the dogs

Harrison Prather used to train dogs for the British special forces and the Navy Seal Team 6, but a growing market led him to start Harrison K-9 Security Services to provide his talented pups to wealthy civilians.

Some people come to Prather for his executive protection dogs, as he calls them, after receiving threats or after human bodyguards proved ineffective. Others simply like the combination of protection and companionship.

Prices have increased in recent years due to the growing number of people who like the security and status provided by a guard dog. It's not uncommon for people to pay upwards of $60,000 for a dog trained in Schutzhund, or protection work. Prather's dogs cost over $200,000 since they are trained for three years in Germany before coming to the United States for further skill development.

The executive protection dogs learn tracking and fighting skills, but are also trained to be gentle in the house with family.

These dogs play an interesting role as both a bodyguard and a companion, but I do worry that the hefty price tag could cause these dogs to be seen as merchandise. I hope that the buyers consider the responsibility of an animal, and don't just view these dogs as a living security system.

What do you think about executive protection dogs?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Studying Kids and Pet Allergies
Exposure to dogs can be beneficial for developing immune systems

I don’t currently have kids, but one of my fears is that my future children may become allergic to my dogs. Fortunately, a new study found that having pets in the house could potentially lessen the risk of developing allergies.

The study, led by Ganesa Wegienka, MS, PhD, of the Department of Public Health Sciences at Henry Ford Hospital, set out to answer one of the most popular questions parents have—whether pets will increase their baby’s risk of developing allergies.

Researchers followed 565 children from birth through the age of 18. They found that boys who lived with a dog during the first year of their life had about half the risk of developing allergies as compared to those without a dog in the house. 

Interestingly the study did not find a connection with girls and dogs, but both sexes had a smaller risk of developing a feline allergy if they lived with a cat. Researchers have determined that the first year is the most important exposure period when it comes to allergies.

What has been your experience with kids and pet allergies?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Physical Therapy
Finding a conditioning program for your pup

Last weekend, I attended a canine conditioning seminar given by Petra Ford, P.T., CCRT and Kristine A. Conway, D.V.M. of Aqua Dog Rehabilitation. I'm always interested in ways I can keep my dogs in top physical condition, particularly since I compete with them in agility.

Canine physical therapy and rehabilitation has been a rapidly growing field in recent years. I think this is partly due to veterinary medicine taking a more holistic view of the dog and more people participating in a variety of activities with their pets.

When thinking about physical therapy, rehabilitating injuries naturally comes to mind, but what I found most interesting was physical therapy's role in preventing injuries. During the seminar, Petra and Kristine first evaluated each dog's structure and then recommended stretches and strengthening exercises we could do to prevent injuries in the future.

I've taken my dog, Nemo, to get chiropractic adjustments and massages, but what I really liked about physical therapy was the active role I played in Nemo's treatment. Petra and Kristine showed us how we could do these exercises at home and make a real difference in our dogs' physical condition.

Learning the exercises was great, but the most critical lesson of the day was how important it is to know your dog's normal behavior and movements. I know from experience that our dogs will do whatever you ask of them, even if they're hurting. It's really up to us to diagnose an injury before it develops into a serious problem.

If you're interested in learning more about canine conditioning, ask your veterinarian to recommend a physical therapist in your area. It's ideal to see one in person to get a baseline evaluation and hands-on guidance, but if that's not an option, there are many books and DVDs available on the topic.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Nazis Trained Dogs to Talk
Hitler planned to use dogs to win WW2

In recent years, canine cognition research has gotten extremely popular, but interest in how dogs think isn't exactly new. In the 1920's, German animal psychologists believed that dogs were almost as intelligent as humans, and capable of abstract thinking and communication.

This school of thought even influenced Hitler in his quest to win World War II. Recent research discovered that the Nazis hoped to build an army of talking dogs that would free up human workers in concentration camps.

The Nazis set up a dog school called Tier-Sprechschule ASRA in the 1930s, which stayed open throughout the war. Officials recruited dogs from all over Germany with the intention of training them to speak and tap out signals with their paws.

These findings may seem to come out of left field, but Dr. Jan Bondeson, the professor from Cardiff University behind the research, says that a strong bond between humans and nature was part of the Nazi philosophy.

"Indeed, when they started interning Jews, the newspapers were flooded with outraged letters from Germans wondering what had happened to the pets they left behind.”

I've read a lot about war dogs, but this piece of previously lost history is perhaps the most unique story that I've ever heard.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Making Dog Theft a Felony
NY bill passed to strengthen punishment for pet thieves

Having a beloved pet stolen is one of my worst nightmares. In New York, pet thieves are typically only charged with a misdemeanor since dogs are considered property by law. The value of stolen property must exceed $1,000 to qualify as a felony larceny. Since it's hard to place a dollar value on an animal, most thefts are prosecuted as the lesser offense. Fortunately, it looks like this may be changing for the better.

Earlier this week, the New York State Senate passed a bill with a landslide 58-3 vote that would make it a class E felony to steal a cat or dog. If the bill becomes a law, stealing a pet could get you up to four years in jail. The State Assembly is expected to pass its version of the bill later this month.

Besides making pet theft a more serious crime, the law would also give police a greater incentive to look for missing pets. Since most cases are prosecuted as a misdemeanor, often police can only take limited action on reported thefts. This bill seeks to rectify these situations.

Similar legislature has had difficulty getting adequate support in the past, but judging from the overwhelmingly positive response in the Senate, I'm hopeful that this bill will be passed.

I consider my dogs to be family, so ultimately I wish the law would be changed so that pets would not be considered property. However, I think this bill is certainly a big step in the right direction.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Targeted Spay/Neuter
A first-of-its-kind program zeroes in on specific neighborhoods

Shelters and rescue groups have long offered low-cost spay/neuter surgeries in hopes of making a dent on the homeless pet population. It's hard to measure the effect of these programs, but a new focused initiative is hoping to increase the impact.

Last month the ASPCA launched a first-of-its-kind program that uses a geographic information system to focus on New York City neighborhoods with high abandonment rates. Residents in those areas are now being offered low- or no-cost spay/neuter surgeries. The current neighborhoods are Manhattan's Lower East Side and East Harlem.

To measure the effectiveness of the program, the ASPCA is collecting data to compare the number of abandoned pets in the targeted neighborhoods before and after the program. This study will also be one of the first to look at actual numbers instead of relying on anecdotal evidence.

It looks like there will be many more of these types of programs in the near future. PetSmart Charities is offering grants for focused spay/neuter programs and is currently accepting applications.

For all of those who live outside of targeted areas, there are many low cost programs available all over the country. The ASPCA maintains a database of programs on their website.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Panhandling Dogs
Cruelty suspected outside of NY baseball stadiums

Working in Manhattan, I see a number of homeless people sitting on the sidewalk asking for money. One man I see regularly uses a cat and a dog to encourage passing people to hand over their change. The animals are not on leash, but seem to be trained to sit in their assigned spots. However, every time I see them, I worry that the animals might get startled and dart into the busy city street.

Recently, a pandhandler has been setting up in front of the Met and Yankee baseball stadiums with a dog named Coffee. This dog sits for hours dressed up in team gear, wearing sunglasses and holding a pipe in her mouth. The worst part is Coffee wears a shock collar that concerned fans claim is used to keep the poor dog from lying down.

After receiving several calls, the ASPCA sent a team of agents from its Humane Law Enforcement department to Yankee Stadium last weekend during the popular rival Subway Series between the two New York teams. Unfortunately, Coffee wasn't present and the ASPCA doesn't have any evidence that any NYS animal cruelty laws have been violated. The ASPCA is continuing to monitor the situation and urges anyone who sees the dog to call their Humane Law Enforcement department at 212-876-7700, ext. 4450, or email enforcement@aspca.org.

Concerned baseball fans have created a Stop Abusing Coffee Facebook page.

Have you seen any panhandling dogs?

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