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JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Surf’s Up
Canines ride the waves in San Diego for a good cause.

After writing last week about pet friendly cities, I started reading more about San Diego’s Surf Dog Surf-A-Thon. The annual event invites both humane and canine surfers to Del Mar’s dog beach to raise money for the Helen Woodward Animal Center and to promote responsible pet ownership.

The participants raise money for homeless animals based on the number of waves they catch in 30 minutes. The event isn’t until September 13, but organizers expect more than 100 pups to participate from as far away as Japan.  

Not sure if your dog has what it takes? Helen Woodward Animal Center has organized training clinics so your four legged beach bum can learn how to ride the waves. The next session will take place on August 16 and 22 from 9-11 am at Del Mar’s dog beach. Surf boards are provided, but instructor and dog trainer, Rob Kuty, recommends bringing a canine life jacket.

Do you think your pets would like surfing?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Top Cities for Dogs
MSNBC publishes their list of pet-friendly destinations.

I’m always on the hunt for dog-friendly destinations. This week MSNBC published their Top 10 Pet Friendly Cities of 2009, giving me many new trip ideas. I was excited to see that my own hometown of New York made the list, mandating a staycation perhaps! New York was joined by San Diego, Chicago, Seattle, Alexandria, Portland, San Francisco, Lake Tahoe, Los Angeles and Boston.

These cities were picked based on the variety of pet-friendly lodging, restaurants, tourist amenities and pet events. MSNBC’s list represents a variety of canine friendly activities, from San Diego’s three off-leash beaches to Alexandria’s Yappy Hours at Hotel Monaco.

I’m already scheming to take trips to kayak with my dogs in San Diego, enjoy the beachside view of the Golden Gate Bridge together in San Francisco, party with my pooches at SkyBark in Los Angeles and take the pet friendly ferry ride from Boston to Cape Cod.  

The author, Sandy Robins, is dead on when describing New York and our surprising number of dog parks among the sea of skyscrapers and high rise apartments. The Shake Shack stand she mentions is indeed delicious and the menu even features the Pooch-Ini, a doggie custard sundae. Madison Square Park is also the location of past American Kennel Club Responsible Dog Owners Day events.

What are your favorite pet friendly cities?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Familiar Sounds of Barking
Study finds that we’re born with a natural ability to understand dogs.

An important part of being a dog lover is learning to understand canine body language. Personally, I attribute my knowledge to my pups, a perfect teaching team. But it turns out that we may be born understanding more than we think. 

A new study published in the July issue of Developmental Psychology found that 6-month-old babies could match the sound of an aggressive bark with a picture of an angry-looking dog and the sound of a happy bark with a friendly-looking dog, even if they didn’t have pets at home. 

In the study of 128 infants and toddlers, the researchers played barking sounds while showing the babies two photos of the same dog, one displaying aggressive body language and the other friendly body language. They found that the babies were more likely to look longer at the picture of the dog whose expression matched the barking. Only 15 percent spent more time looking at the wrong dog or equally at both.

Prior research has shown that babies can distinguish between happy and angry sounds, but the ability to match sounds to photos is remarkable. Dogs and humans have no doubt evolved with each other over the years. So I’m most interested in the scientists’ next study, which will compare how humans relate to dogs versus wolves in an attempt to understand our unique relationship with domesticated canines. 

It's important to note that while it appears that babies have some understanding of canine communication, it doesn't mean they know how to interact safely with dogs. Doggone Safe provides a wonderful resource for teaching bite prevention to children.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Replicating Superstar Working Dogs
Korean Customs Service clones drug-sniffing canines.

The Korean Customs Service has long bred and trained their own drug sniffing canines to work at airports throughout the country, but it has proved to be a costly endeavor. Typically only 10-15 percent of puppies even pass the behavior test just to qualify to begin training. Of those dogs, only 30 percent graduate from the program, an investment of over $40,000 per pup, an expensive operation that produces mostly dogs that are adopted out as pets.

South Korean scientists now believe they’ve found a way to boost the success rate to 90 percent by cloning. Their first experiment, a litter of seven puppies cloned from Chase, a talented drug-sniffing Labrador Retriever, in 2007 are already showing tremendous potential.

As puppies, all seven passed the initial behavior test and six of the seven graduated from the training program and are now working at airports throughout South Korea. The seventh dog dropped out of the program due to an injury.

On top of the prodigy litter’s extraordinary passing rate, the Korean Customs Service has reported that the dogs, like Chase, have shown superior performance compared to other working canines.

I’m still unsure about the ethical implication of cloning dogs but I certainly see the positives. Besides saving money, higher passing rates means less dogs need to be adopted out, opening those homes to other pups. In addition, if the Korean Customs Service's success can be replicated, cloning could have a huge impact on other working canines, like guide dogs.

Check out New Tang Dynasty Television's coverage of the puppies:
 

What are your thoughts on cloning working dogs?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Neutering Dogs with Shoes
ZAPP sells footwear on eBay to help strays in Mexico.

I’m never one to miss a shoe sale and recently I discovered footwear bargains that help out a great cause.

In San Felipe, Mexico, 92 percent of the area’s animals live on the street. For years, euthanasia by electrocution has been the method of choice to control the overwhelming population of 15,000-20,000 stray dogs.

Realizing that euthanasia would not solve the root of the overpopulation problem, Steven Forman founded the Zero Additional Pup-ulation Project (ZAPP) to help control strays humanely through spaying and neutering. It’s an ambitious program in an area where animal welfare is in its infancy. Forman estimates that 1,200 animals have to be spayed and neutered each month just to stop San Felipe’s stray population from growing. 

ZAPP, which relies exclusively on private donations, started Shoes for Spays to take advantage of pet loving shoe addicts hunting for bargains – a win-win situation. The program takes donations of new or gently worn shoes and resells them on eBay, which has raised enough money to spay and neuter an amazing 5,500 animals to date. 

Shoes for Spays has given me a new way to rationalize footwear purchases, but it also has me wondering about the potential of the many unworn shoes in my closet. Surely a great excuse to make room for new pairs!

Visit the Shoes for Spays website for more information on donating or buying shoes.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Animal Health Is A Booming Business
Pharmaceutical companies vie for a piece of the growing animal health industry.

For years animal health was a mere afterthought to pharmaceutical companies. Now with slowing growth in the human health field, and the proliferation of generic drugs, these companies are looking to animal health to diversify. The sector’s predictable cash flow, high margins and brand loyalty have made animal health a much more stable business than human pharmaceuticals. 

Merck and Pfizer’s animal health businesses have grown to $4.27 billion and $400 million in annual sales respectively. With both companies looking to sell part of their assets, several pharmaceutical companies are vying to own a piece of this rapidly expanding market.

According to U.K.-based research company, Vetnosis Ltd., animal drug sales grew 7.2 percent last year compared to 1.3 percent for human medicine. The sector has grown steadily despite economic cutbacks in veterinary care.

While much of the industry’s business stems from caring for the food we eat, our society’s changing view of pets is certainly making a large contribution. Merial’s Frontline flea and tick products alone account for about half of its $2.5 billion in sales.

With the recent development of ground breaking drugs like canine cancer treatment, Palladia, it’s clear that the pharmaceutical industry is finally taking pets seriously. While I’m a little worried about the potential cost of these new drugs (just look at our current health care debacle!), I’m always happy to see advances in the veterinary field that will improve the lives of our beloved pets.

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?

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