JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A Doggy Cake Masterpiece
NYC bakery creates edible dog portraits

As BARK readers know, I throw my dogs a birthday party every year. It’s a great excuse to gather my friends and their pups for canine games and yummy treats.

Usually, I bake my own cakes (one for the humans and one for the pups), but in my years of party planning, I’ve seen lots of awe inspiring professional dog-themed cakes. However, this latest human version from NYC baking extraordinaire Patti Paige really takes the cake!

Patti Paige teamed up with local artist, Dena Paige-Fischer, to create custom dog portrait cakes unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Each features a detailed masterpiece painted with food coloring, based off of a photograph. I don’t see how anyone could possibly eat these cakes!

The dog portrait cakes start at $150 and a portion of the proceeds goes to Animal Haven, a local shelter.




Dog's Life: Lifestyle
NYC Clothing Store Sells Puppies Amid Protests
Unpomela illegally uses puppies to attract customers

Sometimes, I feel like we’re making a lot of progress against puppy mills and pet store dogs—PetCo and PetSmart have in-store adoption centers; puppy mill exposes have been featured on Oprah and Nightline; and celebrities, such as Katherine Heigl, regularly promote rescue pups.

However, last week I was discouraged after hearing that Unpomela, a New York clothing store is selling puppies from their display window. My guess is that their operation will be shut down soon, since they don’t have a license to sell animals (although they did post a ‘not for sale’ sign after a local shelter employee pointed out this fact). But it was shocking nonetheless that a clothing store would even think this was a good idea.

Sure puppies are probably quite effective at luring people into a store, but I wish Unpomela thought about teaming up with a local rescue group instead. Macy’s in San Francisco did this last holiday season, attracting hordes of shoppers and facilitating in the adoption of hundreds of animals. A win-win for all involved!

In Unpomela’s case, a negative public outcry is helping to ensure this doesn’t happens again anytime soon. Local shelter Animal Haven organized a protest last week and many people have already expressed their views on the customer ratings web site, Yelp.

How do you think we’re doing in the fight against puppy mills?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Making Obedience Class Mandatory
NY sought to require graduation from obedience school

In a perfect world, everyone would have great relationships with their dogs--teaching basic manners, providing lots of exercise, and participating in an activity together like agility or therapy work.

Last week, a bill was proposed in New York that would require people to successfully complete a basic obedience class with their dogs or risk having their pet taken away. 

The goal of the bill is to “minimize vicious dog attacks, the destruction of property and unnecessary human or canine deaths; to better acquaint dog owners with their dogs; to teach dog owners proper obedience techniques, which will help owners to have better control of their dogs; and to minimize aggressive dog behavior and negligent dog owner behavior.”

At first glance, the bill seems like a great idea. I only wish more people would take a basic obedience class and spend dedicated time each week bonding and working with their dogs.  But I can see many potential problems with the legislation. 

For one, not everyone lives in an area like New York City where there are many training classes available. Cost or distance could make a class prohibitive for some people. 

Second, the bill would allow the state to establish requirements for dog obedience schools. What and who would define successful completion?

Last of all, I could see this bill making people resent dog training. All of us positive trainers know that the fastest way to get someone to hate something is to try to force them to do it!   

New York’s bill has since been defeated, but what do you think about making obedience class mandatory?



Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Retired Sled Dogs for Adoption
Outdoor Adventures is working with a rescue group to rehome unwanted pups

Earlier this year, dog lovers were shocked to learn that Outdoor Adventures in Whistler slaughtered 100 sled dogs due to a downturn in the economy. When Lisa Wogan covered the story, she wrote that inhumane treatment of sled dogs isn’t as uncommon as we might like to think. 


With all of the bad press that came out of the mass euthanasia, Outdoor Adventures is now looking for foster or adoptive homes for 35 dogs that they are retiring. If you can help, contact Paula at the Whistler Animal Shelter: pdelbosco@whistlerwag.com or 604-935-8364.   It’s important that people only respond with offers to help and refrain from attacking Outdoor Adventures. Sled dog advocates want to encourage more companies to work with rescue groups to adopt out unwanted dogs. What happened earlier this year was a tragedy, but thankfully Outdoor Adventures has learned to be more humane in how they treat their retiring dogs, whether they were forced to or not. Given the media attention that this tragedy has garnered, I hope that treatment of sled dogs will improve and that more companies will follow Outdoor Adventures’ example.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Commercial Diets for Senior Dogs Vary Widely
Tufts study finds difference in perception and reality

I’m a big believer in "you are what you eat," so you can understand why my dogs’ diet is really important to me. I definitely worry more about what I’m feeding my pups than about what I feed myself!

There’s so much in the canine nutrition world to navigate—raw food, home-cooked meals, kibble, just to name a few. And if you feed a commercial diet, do you choose a specialty formula geared towards puppies, seniors or large-breed dogs?

It seems that I’m not the only one with a certain amount of confusion on this topic. A study published this month by veterinary nutritionists at Tufts University found that the nutritional content of senior pet foods varies as widely as consumers’ perceptions about them.

Most respondents believed that senior dog foods contained less calories, fat, protein and sodium, but senior diets on the market vary widely in these areas. Additionally, about 43 percent of respondents fed their dogs a senior diet, but only one-third of those people did so on the advice of a veterinarian.

This disconnect could be potentially harmful, for instance, if a senior diet was chosen for a dog with heart disease based on the assumption that it had less sodium.

Currently, there are no AAFCO guidelines specifically for senior formulas. Given that there is such variation, it’s even more important to consult a veterinarian and to read labels closely to make sure you’re using the right diet for your dog.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Borrow a Dog at the Library
Yale Law lets students “check out” the resident therapy pup

Last week, Yale Law School’s library started offering therapy dog services on a trial basis. Interest has been high, so it’s hopeful that the program will continue.

Students can sign up at the circulation desk to “check out” Monty, a certified therapy dog, for 30-minute sessions of stress busting. The Border Terrier-mix belongs to librarian Julian Aiken, so he’s well loved even when he’s “off duty.”

As you can imagine, it’s easy for students’ stress levels to rise at the nation’s top-ranked law school, so the librarians are always looking for new services to offer. After reading about the benefits of therapy dogs, they contemplated the idea for some time.

To keep the peace among any non-dog lovers, Monty is hypoallergenic and visits are confined to a non-public space in the library.

The idea of therapy dogs and college students isn’t quite new. Other schools, which include Tufts University, New York University (where my therapy group, The Good Dog Foundation, visits), Oberlin College, and the University of California, invite dogs to campus during finals, but Yale is the first I’ve heard of that lets students “check out” a therapy dog.

A little one-on-one time with a friendly pup sounds like the perfect way to beat stress!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Determination Comes on Two and a Half Legs
The amazing story of a rescued pup from Mexico

New Yorker Mary Hammett found the perfect running partner in her adopted dog, Joyce. The split-faced pup manages to be incredibly fast, despite having only two and a half legs. If it weren’t for her physical limitations, you might never know about Joyce’s early hardships in life. She has an unbridled enthusiasm and is an inspiration to everyone that she meets.

Last year the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) rescued 40 dogs from Cozumel, Mexico, who had been evicted from their home at the local garbage dump.

Mary found out about the “Dump Dogs,” as they were nicknamed, through an IFAW e-mail. She wasn't actively looking to adopt another dog, and certainly not one from thousands of miles away, but there was something special about Joyce.

As it turns out, Joyce was in dire need of veterinary care. The trauma she had experienced put her at risk for a bone infection and time was running out.

Mary and her boyfriend debated about rescuing Joyce when there were so many local animals in need.  But one look at Joyce, and the huge cast on her back leg, and the decision was made.

"We cannot save them all,” explains Mary, “But Joyce, against all odds, had come to our attention from far, far away. She captured us, and truly, there was no more debate. Joyce was our dog, and the sooner we could get our arms around her, the better.”

There were many challenges during the first few months, but Joyce had an extraordinary determination. She was on a full battery of medications and went through many different wheelchairs and harnesses before Mary could find one that worked for Joyce.

But in just eight months, Joyce has made incredible progress and is nearly unrecognizable from the dog in the IFAW e-mail.

"Joyce is a rock star,” remarks Mary. “She is fierce, funny, smart, sweet, and intense. She can cruise remarkably fast on her two and a half legs and, with a little assist from me and a back-end harness, she has become my running partner. Joyce has a lot more endurance than I have!”

Joyce has also become somewhat of an ambassador for rescued pets. Mary says that people are drawn to Joyce. "It’s an incredible experience to witness the collective compassion of people that respond to her.”

One of IFAW’s founding principles is that the interests of humans and animals are not separate and that we are truly interconnected. I think that Joyce’s story really embodies that special relationship that we have with dogs and just goes to show how much we have to learn from them.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Myth of the Quick Fix for Behavior Problems
Contrary to popular belief, changing behavior takes time

In January, I welcomed a new puppy into my home, a 7-week-old Border Collie named Remy. With any new dog, there is always a growing list of things to train—learning not to chase the cat, greeting people politely, walking nicely on a leash, settling in a crate, just to name a few.

Most times, the solution is simple, reward good behavior and ignore bad behavior, but changing any behavior takes time, patience and dedication. For instance, Remy used to bark at other dogs making noise in the neighborhood. I wanted to stop this behavior for obvious reasons, but also because he had to learn to settle at agility competitions when there will be other dogs barking. 

So I started counter-conditioning Remy so he would learn to associate barking with getting yummy treats for being quiet. First, I played a CD of dogs barking, starting at a low volume and working up to a high volume. Every time a dog barked, I fed Remy some yummy treats. When this was going well, I progressed to working in harder “environments”—staying quiet walking around the neighborhood where there is a barking dog a few houses down, at our training club where there are several dogs barking in crates, and eventually at a competition, where dogs are barking and running around.

Our animal shelters are filled with pets abandoned because people don’t realize the time and dedication required to train good manners. 

Recently, I was annoyed to discover a new training tool that promises to stop your dog’s unwanted behavior in 7 minutes or less. I know it’s a marketing ploy, but products like the shakeTrainer are frustrating because it promotes the fallacy that any behavior issue can be solved instantly. In addition, this blanket solution ignores any possible underlying reasons, such as fear or a health issue. 

As any responsible dog lover knows, there is rarely a quick fix for anything. If we could only get the word out, maybe there would be less abandoned pets in the world.

Do you have a training story to share?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
How to Help Pets in Japan
Many organizations are taking donations to help dogs in need

Over the past week, I've been glued to the news watching the unbelievable devastation caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

The Japanese are known for how much they love their dogs, and I've seen many heartbreaking images of people evacuating with their pets tucked under their arm. The evacuation shelters appear to be pet friendly because I've seen many photos of people with their dogs at these places.

In looking for ways to help these animal lovers, I found the following organizations:

Ark Bark is a rescue group based in Japan that helped hundreds of animals after the country's Kobe earthquake in 1995. The organization expects a huge influx of homeless pets soon and is preparing to transport animals to emergency shelters when the roads open.

Japan Earthquake Animal Rescue and Support is a collaboration between HEART-Tokushima, Animal Garden Niigata, and Japan Cat Network. They have already helped several animals, including the famous dog who wouldn't leave his injured friend.

World Vets is a volunteer organization that provides veterinary aid to areas in need. They have already sent a first-responder team to Tokyo to do an “on the ground” assessment and to provide initial help.

The American Kennel Club's Companion Animal Recovery Canine Support and Relief Fund is taking donations to support search and rescue dogs looking for survivors and to aid in disaster relief for pets.

Additionally, agility lovers have been rallying to raise money for Japanese dog sport enthusiasts after spotting a photo in the news showing an incoming wave seconds before covering a backyard with agility equipment. This picture really made the tragedy “real” for those of us in the sport.

Even those low on funds can help out. The Annenberg Foundation has pledged $100,000 to the relief efforts if 100,000 people 'Like' the Dog Bless You Facebook fan page in the next 10 days. If that number is reached by Sunday, the donation doubles to $200,000.

I am always amazed at how the dog community supports each other and this tragedy has been no exception. Over the past week, I've seen people all over the world step up to organize efforts to help the Japanese and their pets in this toughest of times.


Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Therapy Through a Dog’s Eyes
Seattle hospital attaches cameras to their therapy pups

When I visit the hospital with Nemo, as part of the Good Dog Foundation therapy program, it’s so rewarding to see the joy the dogs bring to the patients. Pets have an amazing ability to cheer up people and it always brings a smile to my face.

Now everyone can enjoy the power of pet therapy, even if you’re not in the hospital.

The Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, Wash., created their own therapy dog program in 2008, called Swedish/Edmonds Therapy Pups (STP). STP recently found a way to share their work through the dogs’ point of view.

STP attaches special video cameras to their therapy dogs and posts selected videos online through YouTube. The videos can be found on their website, and I guarantee they will brighten your day!