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JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
First Dogs Born by In Vitro
Cornell hopes the 'test tube' pups will lead to advances in protecting endangered species and eliminating genetic diseases.


















A litter of adorable puppies born at Cornell University this year represent not only a scientific achievement, but hope for protecting endangered species and eliminating genetic diseases. These pups were the first to be brought into this world by in vitro fertilization.

As part of the study, researchers transferred nineteen embryos to the host female dog, who later gave birth to seven healthy puppies, two from a Beagle mother and a Cocker Spaniel father, and five from two Beagle couples. For successful in vitro fertilization, researchers must fertilize a mature egg with a sperm in a lab, to produce an embryo. Then they have to return the embryo to a host female at the right time in her reproductive cycle, which only occurs once or twice a year.

The researchers encountered numerous challenges along the way, such as getting the timing right for collecting the mature eggs, simulating what the female tract does naturally to prepare sperm for fertilization, and properly freezing the embryos. They eventually achieved success with fertilization rates of 80 to 90 percent.

According to Cornell professor, Alex Travis, scientists have been trying to do in vitro fertilization in a dog since the mid-1970s, but all attempts have been unsuccessful. They hope that this study will lead to advances in conserving the genetics of endangered species, using in vitro to introduce certain genes back into the gene pool of captive populations, and even preserving rare breeds of show and working dogs. 


The researchers also hope that one day in vitro, combined with with new genome editing techniques, could allow them to remove genetic diseases and traits from embryos, eliminating heritable diseases. Dogs share more than 350 similar genetic disorders and traits with humans, almost twice the number as any other species, so it makes the work in this area doubly compelling.

It will be interesting to see what developments come from this work, and the ethical implications. While in vitro is used by zoos and conservation organizations to increase birth rates in captive animals, it's not exactly clear how it can be used to conserve the genetics of endangered species in their natural habitat. It sounds great that this technique could be used to preserve rare dog breeds, but it also has the potential to be abused. This also raises a larger ethical question of how the "host dog" is chosen and used. If a breeder repeatedly uses in vitro, could certain dogs become perpetual surrogates, similar to female breeding pups in puppy mills?

I'm happy to see that Cornell achieved this breakthrough, several decades in the making, but I hope that the dog world treads carefully as it navagtes how this technique is used.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
First Statewide Animal Abuser Registry
Tennessee's online database goes live on January 1st.
Over the past few years, several states have tried unsuccessfully to pass bills creating a registry for animal abusers. These states include Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. While this type of database has been established on the local level, such as the one New York City suburb Suffolk County put in place back in 2010, there are none on the state level.

That will all change on January 1st when Tennessee's online database goes live. Earlier this year, the Animal Abuser Registration Act was signed by Governor Bill Haslam and tasks the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation with posting a list of individuals convicted of aggravated animal cruelty, felony animal fighting, bestiality, and cruelty to animals. The database will be accessible to the public and will help breeders and animal shelters vet potential buyers and adopters.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Darren Jernigan, says that Tennessee was able to pass the legislation because it was limited in scope and didn't put any financial burden on taxpayers. For instance, the unsuccessful bill in New York also required all convicted animal abusers to undergo psychiatric evaluation and banned the person from ever owning a pet again.

But that doesn't mean Tennessee's bill breezed through. The legislation was tweaked for three years before bipartisan consensus could be reached. For now the registry only includes individuals convicted of felonies, but Rep. Jernigan hopes that one day it will also include those convicted of animal abuse-related misdemeanors as well.

Convicted animal abusers' information will remain on the registry for two years following a first offense and five years following a second offense. It will take awhile for names to start appearing on the list since it won't contain retroactive information. Only individuals convicted of crimes after January 1, 2016 will appear on the list.

I hope that other states will follow Tennessee's lead and put similar registries in place. In addition to helping shelters and breeders, it also sends a strong message that the government takes animal abuse seriously. 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Parking in NYC
The Dog Parker lets people run errands with their pets.
In New York City, I often see dogs tied to lampposts or parking meters while their human counterparts run in a store to buy milk or pick up laundry. Even though these trips are usually quick, it's not safe to leave pets outside like that. They could be stolen, eat something toxic, or escape, among other possible scenarios.    Now there's finally an alternative to leaving your dog at home, although it does comes with its challenges. Brooklyn resident Chelsea Brownridge decided to create a solution to the city petlover's dilemma, a dog house called the Dog Parker. Chelsea was inspired to create the Dog Parker after she had to leave her pup Winston at home while she and her friends took a long walk to Prospect Park. Unfortunately he couldn't join them because the group planned to stop for breakfast along the way. Chelsea was determined to find a way for dogs like Winston to wait safely outside of the restaurant while the humans ate.   The first two units are being tested in front of a retail store and coffee shop in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn.  The Dog Parker is insulated to avoid temperature swings, while a solar powered fan provides air circulation. Users can track the inside temperature through the Dog Parker app. On days when the inside temperature goes below 32 degrees or above 85 degrees Fahrenheit, the units will be shut down and unavailable for use.    Users have to show proof of vaccination when they apply for the membership card that provides access to the Dog Parkers. Members are then charged 20 cents a minute ($12 per hour). There is a three hour limit per 12 hour time period to avoid anyone leaving their dog in a unit too long. If anyone leaves their pet beyond the maximum stay, a Dog Parker employee will pick up the dog and bring them to a boarding facility.   Although the units are cleaned every other day (or more often on an as-needed basis), I could see cleanliness or the spread of germs to be a potential challenge. In a busy neighborhood, countless pets could have contact with a Dog Parker in any given weekend.    But my concerns are more on the usage of the units, which is largely up to members. For running quickly into a store or two, the Dog Parker does fill a niche in an urban area where most people walk to do their shopping. But for longer outings, like eating at a restaurant, it's probably best to keep your dog at home. The maximum stay, three hours, seems like a long time to keep your pet in a box on the sidewalk.   Dog Parker recognizes that not all pets will do well in their units, but the responsibility is on members to make the right judgement call. I also hope that users will see the importance of gradually introducing the Dog Parker to their pets. It can be scary to be left in an unfamiliar place, with people, and potentially their pups, walking by and peering in.   Chelsea plans to have 100 Dog Parkers across Brooklyn by next spring, and eventually wants to expand throughout New York City and to other areas of the country.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A Fitting Memorial in Wyoming
Retired military dog is honored with a rare public funeral.
Army ranger Matthew Bessler and his Belgian Malinois, Major Mike, shared a special bond after working together in an elite Special Operations group. After two tours in Iraq, they both came home in 2010 with symptoms of PTSD. When Mike was retired and promoted to major, Matthew filed for adoption and later trained Mike to be his service dog. And so began their new life back in the civilian world, where they relied on each other for support.

Mike and Matthew worked through their PTSD together for years, until October, when Mike was shot to death by a bicyclist who accused the dog of attacking him. That day Matthew lost his best friend and service dog. Mike was his "other half" and Matthew would often say that they would die together. If one went, the other would go soon after. Matthew believed that he couldn't live without his beloved pup.

Soon after Mike's death, Matthew's friends began raising money to cover the costs of a funeral and enlisted the help of a local reverend. Earlier this month, their dream came to fruition, with about 100 people attending the services, a huge turnout for the small, rural town of Powell, Wyoming.

At the memorial service, five projectors showed photographs of Mike and Matthew, along with videos of their training together from 2007. Matthew wore his full Army dress uniform and green beret, holding Mike's brown leather leash. He made a speech, highlighting 11 words that described Mike, "loyal, compassionate, hero, attentive, courageous, intelligent, personable, brave, dedicated, resilient, ball."

Later, at the funeral, the Powell Veterans Honor Guard celebrated Mike with a 21-gun salute, a bugle player performed Taps, and a member of the Guard presented Mike with an American flag.

According to the U.S. War Dog Association, it's not uncommon for individual military units to hold tributes for dogs lost in battle, but Major Mike's public funeral may be only the second of its kind in modern history. The other was for a dog that served in Iraq and was buried with military honors last year in Michigan. The Army doesn't provide retired military working dogs with the same burial honors as human soldiers and veterans, but Matthew hopes that Mike's funeral will change that.

Mike was buried next to the plot that Matthew has reserved for himself, so one day they will be able to rest side by side again. Until then, Matthew has received offers of replacement puppies and service dogs, as well as messages of support from around the world.

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
An Unlikely Patient on the Front Lines
Army surgeon Colonel Fredrick Lough reflects on treating a Czech war dog in Afghanistan.
Colonel Fredrick Lough has had a long career with the military, serving as a surgeon for the U.S. Army Medical Corps from 1970 to 1987, and returning in 2007, at the age of 58, after seeing soldiers in harm's way in the Middle East. Colonel Lough was deployed twice to Afghanistan where he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal. Colonel Lough performed hundreds of surgeries while on the front lines, but there was one in particular that was a little different than the rest.

One day, after a mortar attack, a Czech soldier came onto base carrying a bleeding Belgian Malinois named Athos. The dog belonged to Sergeant Rostislav Bartončík and was trained to search for explosives. The attack left Athos with a huge open wound, a damaged urethra, and fragments of shrapnel.

Colonel Lough and another surgeon decided to take action. While they didn't have experience treating dogs, they figured that they knew how to control bleeding. The team stabilized Athos, cleaned the wound, and coordinated a transfusion with blood from another dog. After their work was done, Athos was taken by helicopter to larger base, and then to Germany to recover. Athos was later honored with a plaque, bone, and leather collar by the Czech government for his heroism.

Reflecting on that day, Colonel Lough says that the experience felt totally different from other surgeries. Having a dog on the operating table invoked a bit of home for everyone in the room and brought out a unique emotional response from all those involved.

Thanks to Colonel Lough and the rest of the team on base, Athos is doing well, albeit with a small limp. Their story shows that the human-canine bond can shine in the darkest and most dangerous places!

Watch Colonel Lough talk about Athos in this AARP video.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Surprising Cause of Death for Police Dogs
40 percent of law enforcement pups are killed from heat exhaustion.
Earlier this week, animal lovers around the world mourned Diesel, a seven year old Belgian Malinois who was killed in action in a Paris suburb. The brave dog lost his life when French police sent Diesel into an apartment following a showdown with suspected terrorists. Diesel's role in Wednesday's mission highlighted the important and dangerous role that dogs play in law enforcement.

In 2010, Jim Watson, director of the North American Police Work Dog Association estimated that there may be around 50,000 active police dogs in the United States. But that number may be higher now, given the growing need for trained pups to assist officers and sniff out bombs and drugs.

But as the number of police dogs increases, more pups are being killed each year. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP), there have been 26 police dog fatalities in 2015 so far, over 30 percent more compared to 2013. The most recent death was a dog named Hyco who was shot last month while chasing a group of suspected carjackers with the Anderson County Sheriff's Office in South Carolina.

But one leading cause of death has nothing to do with violence on the front lines, and easily preventable. Over 40 percent of the fatalities this year were due to heat exhaustion, usually from being left in a squad car on a hot day. In August, two dogs with the Baltimore City Detention Center died when the air conditioning failed in a police vehicle. And in May, an officer was suspended without pay after he inadvertently left two police dogs to overheat in his car.

Now many K9 unit vehicles are being outfitted with electronic systems that automatically regulate heat and humidity. Other systems can alert officers if the air conditioning fails so they can remotely open a door, allowing the dogs to escape.

Steve Weiss, a New York Police Department lieutenant who serves as ODMP's Director of Research, agrees that more widespread adoption of these systems would cut down on heat exhaustion deaths, but says that better laws protecting police dogs would help too. "Laws in many states involving the deaths of police animals are not very strict."

It's shocking that so many police dogs are dying from something so preventable. We have the ability to significantly cut down on these fatalities. Given how much these talented dogs give us, we owe it to them to put these protections in place for their safety. 

Wellness: Healthy Living
Xylitol in Peanut Butter
More food products are including this ingredient that is toxic to dogs.
It's well known that chocolate is toxic to dogs, but not everyone is aware of xylitol. In an ongoing survey by Preventative Vet, over 50 percent of respondents weren't aware of xylitol or the danger it poses to dogs. In many cases, this sweetener can be even more toxic than chocolate (the picture above shows a dangerous amount of dark chocolate compared to the number of xylitol-containing sugar free gum pieces that could be deadly).

The ingredient is so toxic that symptoms can show up within 10 minutes of ingestion. This includes weakness, lethargy, loss of coordination, seizures, vomiting, and rapid breathing. Even small amounts can cause life-threatening hypoglycemia and liver failure. Fortunately dogs can recover if treated promptly.

Last year I wrote that xylitol was becoming more common in household products since it can reduce calorie intake. I always knew to be careful with sugar free gum, but the sweetener has been popping up in cookies, cough drops, toothpaste, cosmetics, and mouthwash.

To make things worse, I recently learned that xylitol is being included in some specialty brands of peanut butter. This is alarming because many people use peanut butter to fill Kongs or to make dog treats. Currently no major brand is affected, but this highlights the need to be vigilant in checking the ingredients on the products we use. It's important to note that xylitol can be listed on labels as sugar alcohols, which encompasses many different sugar alcohols, including xylitol.

Please spread the word so that we can make sure no dog is accidentally affected by xylitol poisoning!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pit Bull Police Dog
Program trains rescued bull breeds to sniff out drugs and find missing people.
Today a rescue pup named Kiah (pronounced KY'-uh) graduated from an intense training program, making her one of just a few Pit Bull police dogs. Kiah certainly stands out from the typical Belgian Malinois and German Shepherds on the job.

Kiah will help the Poughkeepsie, New York Police Department detect drugs and track missing people. She'll also serve as a goodwill ambassador for her breed and for the police.

Kiah was given to the department at no cost thanks to a partnership between Animal Farm Foundation, a New York nonprofit that works to ensure equal treatment and opportunity for Pit Bulls, Universal K9, a company that trains law enforcement pups, and Austin Pets Alive, a Texas shelter. Normally trained police dogs can cost as much as $15,000, but this program identifies and trains rescued Pit Bulls to serve as detection dogs for police across the country at no cost to law enforcement. They've placed seven detection dogs so far, including Kiak.

Officer Justin Bruzgul, Kiah's handler, says that the pup is high energy and affectionate, and that they had an instant bond. "I couldn't ask for a better partner."

After Kiah arrived from Texas, her training was finished by George Carlson, the Ulster County, New York sheriff's deputy. He says there's little connection between a dog's breed and their aptitude for police work. The most important factors are the pup's drive, energy, and eagerness to please. George believes that Kiah is the only Pit Bull police dog on the East Coast.

This is such a cool partnership and I can't wait to see Kiah in action! Her journey can be followed on Facebook.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Online Dating Meets Petfinder
PawsLikeMe uses an algorithm to match people with adoptable pups.
One of the dogs available on PawsLikeMe.





















Petfinder, founded in the early days of the internet, revolutionized the rescue community by bringing homeless animals to the screens of thousands of people looking for their next pet (and I'm sure to another thousand who were "just browsing." Who hasn't poked around Petfinder just for fun?!). The web site allows prospective pet parents to search for available animals by location, breed, age, and gender. But what Petfinder doesn't do is filter by energy level or other personality characteristics.

Two women long involved in the rescue community, Elizabeth Holmes and Marianna Benko, and veterinarian Coleen Johnston wanted to create a web site that would put the emphasis on personality and lifestyle fit. Think of it as online dating meets the animal rescue world.

This year they launched PawsLikeMe, a web site that uses an algorithm to match people with available dogs in the area. Prospective adopters answer questions that takes into account what PawsLikeMe considers to be the four core personality traits that influence the human-canine bond: energy, focus, confidence, and independence.  

Anyone can list a dog for adoption on the web site, hopefully giving people a proactive alternative to dropping their pet at a shelter or kicking them out of their home. To keep people out that are looking to make a profit, 50 percent of the automatic $75 adoption fee goes to approved non-profit organizations with a validated 501c3 status or a veterinary clinic with a validated license to receive any adoption fees. The other 50 percent is kept by PawsLikeMe for the operation of the web site.

Shelters and other rescue organizations can also list pets on the web site. After I took the online quiz, I was matched to many available animals in my area, including dogs from the shelter where I adopted my Border Collie mix, Scuttle.

I love that this web site gets people thinking not only about a dog's cute photo, but about the personality and lifestyle fit in terms of energy level and other characteristics. However, I hope that users don't expect a perfect match (anyone who has used online dating knows that these web sites are far from that!). PawsLikeMe is a potentially powerful platform for getting more visibility for their homeless pets and I hope to see more people and rescue organizations use this web site!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Penguin Protecting Pups
Maremma dogs in Australia keep foxes and other predators away.
Dogs have long been used to guard livestock, and more recently have been tasked with protecting endangered big cats, like cheetahs, in Africa. Conservation pups are also being trained to help wildlife by being trained to sniff out poachers' contraband and search for animal droppings for scientific research.

So when Southern Australia's Middle Island was faced with a rapidly declining Little Penguin population, sheepdogs were unsurprisingly the answer. These small penguins were once common along Australia's southern coast. But when red foxes were imported for sport hunting in the 19th century, colonies on the mainland disappeared, leaving most of them on islands.

But that is changing as well. Middle Island once had 800 resident penguins, but the number dwindled to below ten in 2005 as changing tidal patterns and increasing sedimentation made the island accessible from the shore. But today their numbers are back in the triple digits, and much of the credit has gone to a local chicken farmer known as Swampy Marsh. His story is finally being told in the Australian movie, Oddball.

Swampy was first introduced to Maremma sheepdogs when he got a pup named Ben to protect his free range chickens from foxes. When he heard about the penguin's plight, he knew dogs like Ben could help.

One of his farm workers, university student David Williams, wrote a proposal to the state environmental agency for using the livestock guardian dogs on the island. Although it seemed like an obvious solution, the approval process dragged on, even with the penguin population continuing to dwindle. They were afraid no one would listen until the penguins were completely gone.

But finally in 2006, the proposal was approved and the first Maremma was put to work--Ben's daughter Oddball. Since then the penguin population has rebounded to 150, and not one has been lost to a fox.

Maremma dogs are ideal for the job since they are self-reliant and can be left to defend land for long periods of time. Apparently they know to not finish their supply of food and water right away (guess my pups could never be livestock guardian dogs!). Training them involves introducing them to the penguin's distinct fishy odor. Gradually they learn to treat the penguins like any other livestock to protect.

Oddball has since retired, and now lives with Swampy. Her successors, Eudy and Tula, are also nearing the end of their careers at age eight. To secure their replacements, the local groups that manage the project recently raised more than $18,000 to buy and train two new pups.

Seeing the success of Swampy's idea, Zoos Victoria is now trying to use the livestock guardian dogs to reintroduce the Eastern Barred Bandicoot, a small marsupial not seen outside captivity since 2002. A five year trial is currently underway.

It's very cool to see these farm dogs being used in unique ways all over the world!

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