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JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A New Kind of Service Dog
Puppies Behind Bars trains canines for veterans with Port Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The Wall Street Journal isn’t exactly my go-to place for dog news, but while reading the financial newspaper this month, I discovered an amazing program.

Puppies Behind Bars has been working with prison inmates to raise guide dogs since 1997. Three years ago they launched Dog Tags, a program that provides service dogs to injured veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan. The trained dogs are provided free of charge, including transportation and hotel fees while the new handler attends the two-week team training at the Puppies Behind Bars headquarters.

Seeing eye dogs were first trained in Germany during World War I to aid blinded veterans. The Dog Tags program introduces a new generation of psychiatric-service dogs aimed at helping those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. These canines can recognize changes in a person’s breathing, perspiration, and scent that precedes a panic attack. The dogs can create space in crowds, wake up handlers from nightmares, and help patients differentiate between hallucinations and reality by barking if a real person is nearby.

And the veterans aren’t the only ones that benefit from the program’s remarkable canines. Each puppy is raised by prison inmates who apply to be a part of Puppies Behind Bars. The inmates socialize the dogs, expose them to different environments, groom them, and teach them basic training. In return the inmates receive the unconditional love only an animal can give, plus the opportunity to learn a new vocation. 

To date, Puppies Behind Bars has matched eleven service dogs with veterans and plan to have 15 more available by the end of 2009. Watch a Wall Street Journal video about Luis Carlos Montalvan and his dog Tuesday.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pet Airways Takes Flight
The pet-only airline began service this week.

Earlier this year, I wrote about my pet travel frustrations along with anticipation over the launch of Pet Airways, a canine and feline exclusive airline. This week, their first flight took off from Republic Airport in Farmingdale, N.Y. The company has certainly struck a chord with pet lovers as their flights are already booked for the next two months.

Pet Airways, however, doesn’t come without its limitations. I’ve found that in order to use the airline, your timeline needs to be flexible. The company will operate out of regional airports near the five launch cities, New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Denver, and Los Angeles.

This means an extra trip to drop off and pick up pets. In addition, you may arrive at your destination well before your dog or cat. Cross-country trips take about 24 hours, which includes an overnight stop in Chicago for bathroom breaks, dinners, and playtime. And, for now, flights leave on Tuesdays and Thursdays only.

One-way fees range from $149 to $399. The lower end is comparable to airline cargo fees which go up to $250 each way. The service, however, is unparalleled. Dogs and cats will fly in the main cabin refitted with about 50 crates. Pets will be escorted to the plane by attendants that will check on the animals every 15 minutes in flight. The pets are also given pre-boarding walks and bathroom breaks.

The limited flight schedule and out-of-the-way airports have made it difficult for me to take advantage of the airline so far. And I’m not crazy about having to take separate flights. Sending my dog on a 24-hour trip without me seems stressful (for me and the pup!), even if there will be pet loving attendants. Nonetheless, I’m grateful for the alternative to cargo and I’m hoping that the demand for Pet Airways will encourage other airlines to expand their pet offerings. 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog’s Role in Studying Human Oncology
Similarities in the two species’ DNA helps researchers.

Meningioma is one of the most common brain tumors in humans and canines. Determining the gene responsible for the disease isn’t easy. According to Science Daily, humans with this type of cancer usually lose a certain chromosome made up of almost 50 million base pairs of DNA that code for more than 500 genes.

Lucky for oncology research, it turns out that dogs and humans are genetically similar, but organized differently. This makes it possible to isolate smaller regions of genetic data rather than searching through the whole chromosome. In other words, scientists can focus their studies on a small part of those millions of base pairs.

 

For a long time scientists had misidentified the NF2 gene as the culprit behind meningioma. By comparing human and canine genomes, researchers at North Carolina State University found that the NF2 gene on chromosome 26 was rarely affected in dogs with meningioma. Instead, the cancer-stricken canines showed the loss of chromosome 27. This discovery has allowed researchers to focus on the corresponding chromosome in humans, narrowing down the search 50-fold.

 

Sharing similar genetics means that both humans and canines will benefit from this research. And, down to our DNA, we have more in common with dogs than it might appear!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Art in 140 Minutes
Aimée Hoover uses Twitter-inspired portraits to promote her artwork.

With more and more companies getting on the Twitter bandwagon, dog artist, Aimée Hoover wondered how she could use the latest in social networking to promote her business. Instead of simply tweeting every now and then, she discovered an interactive and fun way to spread the word about her work and connect with fellow dog lovers.

Inspired by Twitter’s 140 character limit, Aimée wondered if she could paint a portrait of a fellow tweeter’s dog in less than 140 minutes. She tweeted looking for photos to fuel her experiment and a contest was born. So far Aimée has completed five free portraits of five lucky pups.

The time limit turned out to be quite liberating and Aimée even surprised herself by the pieces she’s been able to complete in such a small amount of time. Aimée’s commissioned portraits, which include more detail and continual collaboration with the client, take 24-40 hours to complete. 

Aimée plans on running the contest approximately once a month for as long as her schedule allows. The details on the next opportunity can be viewed on her blog. She’s even posted photo tips to help those vying for a free portrait. All Aimée asks is for winners to pay it forward and do something nice for someone else.

I have a weakness for canine art and have been a longtime fan of Aimée’s work. She has an amazing ability to capture each dog’s unique personality on canvas. So it didn’t surprise me that she found a way to challenge herself while inspiring others to share photos of the special canines in their lives. 

I’ve subscribed to other business’ Twitter feeds before, and it usually feels more like an infomercial with their mindless blasts of promotional tweets. Aimée’s Twitter page showcases her beautiful art and gives fans a peek into her daily routine.

Have you seen any unique canine-related uses of Twitter or other social networking websites?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Apps for Dog Lovers
Teach your pup a trick or find an off leash park with your iPhone or iTouch.

As the Apple commercial suggests, there really does seem to be an “app” for just about everything. These applications can be used with the Apple iPhone or iTouch iPod. Many are even offered for free. 

You can download any of these apps by going to the Apple iTunes store through your computer, iPhone, or iTouch. Here are the canine highlights that received high reviews from users.

Clicker (free) – Never leave home without your clicker. This app makes the click sound at the touch of a button so you never miss a training opportunity.

Pet First Aid ($2.99) – Be prepared in the event of an emergency with videos and step-by-step instructions on pet first aid and other health topics. The content was written by an American Red Cross pet first aid instructor.

Dog Tricks & Bark Machine ($0.99) – Lugging around a training book is so last year. This app provides portable step-by-step directions with photos to train tricks, solve behavior problems, and play games with your pup.

Off Leash (free) – Ensure your dogs are never without a spot to stretch their legs with Off Leash, an app that locates the five closest dog parks. You can search by your current location with your iPhone’s Locate Me feature or by zip code. Currently, the app is limited to the United States but there are plans to expand to other countries in the coming months. The database is updated every 2-3 weeks.

Pet Notebook ($2.99) – Always have your dog’s most important information handy. The Pet Notebook provides record keeping for registration and health data.

Diagnostic Imaging Atlas (free) – Designed for veterinarians to educate their clients, this app is valuable for any pet lover. Diagnostic Imaging Atlas (DIA) features medical illustrations of dog and cat illnesses and health problems.

Have you used any of these programs before?  Makes me have serious iPhone envy!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
First Canine Influenza Vaccine
U.S. Department of Agriculture approves protection against the contagious virus.

Lately the flu, specifically the swine variety, has been on everyone’s minds. While the H1N1 swine flu doesn’t pose much of a threat to our pets, there is a risk of contracting the H3N8 dog flu, a highly contagious respiratory illness. Last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that it had approved the first vaccine for the canine influenza. The vaccine does not always prevent infection, but it decreases the severity and duration of the illness.

Canine influenza was first identified in 2004 when pneumonia killed a third of racing greyhounds in Florida. Today, the flu has been found in 30 states and the District of Columbia, mostly in close quarters like animal shelters and pet stores. The flu has hit Florida, New York, Philadelphia, and Colorado the hardest.

Dr. Cynda Crawford, one of the early researchers of the virus, estimates that over 10,000 dogs have been infected in the United States, a hefty number but small compared to the nation’s 70 million dogs. At one time there was a fear that the flu would kill one to ten percent of the nation’s dogs. 

Most dogs have no immunity to the dog flu, so it has the potential to spread quickly. The virus can be passed through a water bowl or person’s clothes, no direct dog-dog contact is necessary. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is no evidence that dogs can transmit the virus to humans.

Symptoms, which may not show up until several days after contracting the virus, include coughing, sneezing, and nasal discharge. However, a laboratory test is the only conclusive way to know if you dog has canine influenza. Most pups make a full recovery, but if it progresses to pneumonia, it can be life-threatening. Unlike human influenza, the dog flu infections occur year round.

I try to minimize the number of vaccines that my pets receive. For instance, my crew gets blood titers instead of boosters at their annual checkup. My dogs seem to be in the moderate risk group -- I never board them, but they do have a lot of contact with other canines at obedience school and agility trials. I’m leaning towards not vaccinating since the overall risk doesn’t seem high, but I plan on consulting with my veterinarian to get his opinion before making a final decision. 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Breaking Up Dog Fights
Learn to keep you and your dog safe in case of an emergency.

This past weekend, one of my pups was involved in a bad scuffle with another dog. Luckily those present were able to break up the fight fairly quickly, but it was a scary experience. Despite taking pet first aid classes, I realized that I don’t know what to do when one of my pets is attacked. The weekend’s events inspired me to do some research. 

According to Jacque Lynn Schultz, ASPCA Companion Animal Programs Advisor, making noise or spraying citronella spray can be used as a first resort, although it’s usually not effective when the fight is heated. 

My first instinct was to grab my dog’s collar and use my arm to separate the fight, but doing so can make the situation worse and is a sure ticket to serious injury. 

The safest way to physically break up a fight is for two people to grab the back legs of each dog and lift their rear off the ground like a wheelbarrow. Then they should move backward in an arc away from the other dog. This forces the dogs to sidestep with their front feet to keep their chin from hitting the ground.

If this doesn’t work, Pit Bull Rescue Central suggests that you use a break stick, a tool that is inserted in the back of the dog’s mouth, behind their back teeth. 

My dogs get along with everyone, canine and human, so reading up on dog fights hadn’t previously crossed my mind. But dog trainer Adam Katz says, "the issue isn't whether your dog is or isn't nice, it's how the two dogs' temperaments interrelate." Understanding canine behavior and knowing the warning signs can prevent fights in the first place, no matter how laid back or friendly your own dog may be.

I hope you never need to use this information, but in the event you do, you’ll be more prepared than I was this weekend.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
First-Ever Animal Policy & Advocacy Degree
New Humane Society University to fosters understanding of our relationships with animals.

Dogs have lived alongside humans for ages, but in many ways we know little about them. For decades our understanding of animal-human relationships has been largely limited to anecdotal stories. Institutions such as Harvard’s Canine Cognition Lab and the American Humane Endowed Chair at the University of Denver would’ve been unthinkable until just a few years ago.

Recently, the possibilities for research in this field has expanded even further. The Humane Society of the United States’ newly licensed university has begun accepting student applications for matriculation in the fall, making it the first in the nation to offer bachelor degree programs in animal studies and the first in the world to offer a bachelor’s degree in animal policy and advocacy.

Applicants must complete 60 college credits, equivalent to at least two years of an average college degree program. Those who already have bachelor's degrees from other institutions can enroll in graduate certificate programs in animal studies, animal policy and advocacy, and humane leadership. The program is run out of their facility in Washington D.C., but also includes online study options.

I’m most excited about the studies in animal policy and advocacy. The graduates from this program are sure to have a significant impact on how animals are represented and understood in our society. Makes me want to go back to school!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Using Technology to Solve Canine Boredom
An engineering grad student invents a way to interact with his dog remotely.

Recently I stumbled upon an iPhone controlled dog treat dispensing device built by Stephen Myers. The Biomedical Engineer PhD student created the dispenser to interact with his dog Cooper during his long grad school days. 

The one-of-a-kind creation allows Stephen to monitor his pup by web cam and deliver treats from anywhere his iPhone receives service. He details how the dispenser was built on his blog.

I’m always on the lookout for new treat dispensing toys to keep my crew busy while I’m at work, so I was excited to discover such an innovative device. Unfortunately Stephen isn’t selling his creation and I definitely don’t have the technical expertise to build it (let alone in Stephen’s amazing one hour time frame!). 

So I’ll have to rely on my trusty Kong Time and collection of manual food dispensing toys, like the Buster Cube or the DogPyramid. However, I can only imagine the impact this valuable training tool could have on solving boredom behaviors like barking and furniture chewing.

How do you keep your dogs busy while you’re out?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
FDA Approves the First Canine Cancer Drug
Palladia offers options for treating the second most common canine tumor.

Earlier this year, I attended an agility trial in New Jersey that was raising money for canine cancer research. Decorating the arena were pictures of dogs who had cancer at some point in their lives. There were more than 100 photo montages covering every inch of free space. 

During an intermission tribute, handlers were asked to raise their hand if they ever had a dog affected by cancer. I was shocked to see well more than half the audience with their hand up and soon learned that canine cancer effects one out of every three dogs.

Since then, two of my friends found tumors on their dogs, one benign and one malignant. Thankfully, both were successfully removed, but the topic has stayed on my mind. So I was excited to hear that this month the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the first drug developed specifically for the treatment of canine cancer. Palladia, an oral drug, works by cutting off the blood supply to mast cell tumors, the second most common tumor in dogs.

Palladia will be available next year through veterinary oncologists and internists. There are a number of side effects and, like any drug, will have its limitations. But Palladia is a huge step in the right direction for curing this horrible disease.

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