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JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
WebMD for Dogs
DoggedHealth helps pet lovers diagnose canine health problems.

If you’re like me, there are certain websites that you don’t know how you ever lived without. One of the first that comes to mind is the popular medical diagnostic site, WebMD.

Finally, a similar resource has been created for canines. Earlier this year, DoggedHealth debuted the Diagnostic Dog as an information resource to empower pet lovers to make educated healthcare decisions for their four-legged family members. Users can click on a map of the canine body to access articles about related health problems. All content is written by a veterinarian or a dog trainer, depending on the topic. 

I’m looking forward to being able to refine searches by symptom (a WebMD feature), which DoggedHealth is in the process of developing. Diagnostic Dog certainly won’t replace my veterinarian, but it’s a great resource for increasing my knowledge before I step into the office. Of course like WebMD, Diagnostic Dog has the potential to make worried pet parents a bit paranoid, but it’s comforting to know that a wealth of information is only a few clicks away.

What are your favorite canine-related websites?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Canine Role in the Anti-Piracy Crusade
Disc-detecting dogs help shut down illegal DVD operations in Malaysia.

Dogs have been trained to detect everything from bombs to cancer. But until this week, I had never heard of DVD sniffing dogs in the anti-piracy crusade. There really is no limit to what dogs can be trained to do!

According to the Motion Picture Association (MPA), its member companies lost 6.1 billion dollars to worldwide piracy in 2005. Struggling to find a solution, they turned to dogs’ superior olfactory abilities to join in on the mission.

Recently, a black Labrador named Paddy led a series of raids that uncovered 35,000 pirated DVDs and a replication machine, leading to the shutdown of six warehouses in Malaysia. Paddy was given to the country by the MPA to help in the battle against illegal DVDs.

Although not well known, dogs are not new to the anti-piracy scene. The Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) bought the first DVD-detecting canines in 2006, Lucky and Flo. Originally search and rescue dogs, their handler trained them to detect polycarbonate, the polymer used in DVDs. 

In just a few short months, Lucky and Flo had sniffed out over two million pirated discs and even had a $30,000 bounty put on their heads by a Malaysian pirate syndicate. 

I always love to read about working dogs and their remarkable abilities. Many times we think of dogs playing more of a companionship role today. After all, you don’t see many Dachshunds hunting badgers or Shelties herding sheep. But dogs, such as Paddy, Lucky and Flo,  remind us that their role alongside humans is always evolving.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pet Soup Kitchen in Danger of Closing
Daffy's throws a block party fundrasier to help save its Georgia warehouse.

In the March/April issue of the magazine, I wrote about Daffy’s Soup Kitchen in Lawrenceville, Ga., where the mission is to keep families and their pets together. Daffy’s has continued to grow, now distributing more than 20,000 pounds of food per month, supporting more than 1,000 people and 2,000 animals at locations across eight states.

Although demand has grown for this much-needed resource, Daffy’s has recently been dealt a devastating blow. Due to the current economic conditions, its sponsor can no longer afford to cover its warehouse lease. The soup kitchen is now faced with the possibility of closing its main distribution center by September if Daffy’s doesn’t find new sponsors.

To help raise money, the soup kitchen is holding its first annual Daffy’s Day Block Party on Saturday, June 13th from 12-5 p.m. to benefit the Warehouse Fund. Animal lovers and leashed pets are invited to the festivities. In addition to human food, Taj Ma-Hound Bakery and Dogwell/Catswell will be giving out yummy treats for the dogs. Professional photographer, Heather Cosgrove, will be on site taking photos. 

The event isn’t limited to fun and games. There will also be pet CPR demonstrations and the opportunity to sign up for future Daffy’s CPR classes. The block party will be held at Daffy’s main warehouse at 2160 Oakland Industrial Court, Suite 100 in Lawrenceville, Ga. 

If you’d like to help Daffy’s out, but can’t make it to the festivities, they’re accepting online donations through their website.

Daffy’s estimates that 219 animals are euthanized every day in Georgia, a number they fear could increase if they’re forced to shut down. In addition to the local impact, Daffy’s has also provided guidance to pet soup kitchens that have opened in other areas around the nation. I’m hoping that the community will come together to save this important resource. 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Grieving Through Art
DoveLewis’ Community Art Program helps pet lovers heal after a loss.

When a friend’s dog recently passed away, in my search for a memorial gift, I discovered an amazing program started by certified grief counselor and artist, Enid Traisman at DoveLewis emergency animal hospital in Portland, Ore.

Through running one of the first pet loss support programs in the nation, Traisman found a unique way to use art to foster the healing process. Three years ago, the former social worker turned full-time pet grief counselor added the Community Art Program to the already successful group therapy sessions and 24-hour message line. Offered for free through a sponsorship by Dignified Pet Services, pet lovers can sign up through the hospital’s website.

Twice a month, Traisman picks projects to help grieving pet lovers memorialize animals who have recently passed away. People are asked to bring pictures of their pets to personalize their artwork. Past projects include picture frames, memory boxes, and prayer candles. At special adult-only sessions, participants have the opportunity to create glass memorial keepsakes fused with their pets’ ashes in a kiln.

Although Traisman has been doing this for years, she is still moved by what is an emotional process. “These memorial art sessions have been fabulously rewarding,” Traisman says. “It is amazing to see the beautiful items people create in memory of their beloved pets.” 

The DoveLewis Community Art Program is a great way to honor the pets who have given so much during their short time with us. I only wish there were more of these beneficial programs at other hospitals around the world.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
The Dog Who Sparked an Animal Rights Movement
Slate.com explores the history of protecting animals in medical research.

Today, Slate.com begins a five-part history of animal rights in regards to laboratory testing. The series begins with the heartbreaking story of Pepper, a Dalmation who forever changed the way American science obtains and uses research animals. Pepper sparked a national movement in 1965, when she was stolen from her loving home in Pennsylvania and sold to a New York hospital for cardiology research.

It was extremely difficult to read the article’s descriptions of gruesome animal testing (the opening part in particular made my stomach turn). However, it’s amazing to learn about the humble Pennsylvania farm dog's impact. Many of the politicians and lobbyists involved in Pepper’s story went on to introduce and support the nation’s first animal welfare laws.

Slate.com will publish a new chapter in its series each day through the end of the week. The online magazine is also hosting discussions on their Facebook and Twitter pages that will be periodically visited by the author, Daniel Engber, who will respond to readers.

More than 40 years later, it’s horrifying that dogs continue to be stolen for medical research. While it’s technically illegal for stolen animals to be sold or used in research, it is legal for Class B Dealers to take stray animals from the street. HBO’s Dealing Dogs documents the modern illegal dog trade.

I’m not a proponent of animal testing, but it’s hard to deny that many of today’s medical advances are due in part to thousands of canine martyrs. Pepper herself was a part of a crucial development in cardiology research.

How do you feel about this controversial ethical debate?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Putting Unused Airline Miles to Good Use
Donate frequent flyer miles to Guide Dogs of America.

I’m by no means a frequent flyer. As I mentioned previously, in a post about Pet Airways, I avoid traveling by plane since my dog would have to fly in cargo. Needless to say, I never rack up enough miles to qualify for a free flight.

Rather than let my miles expire, I recently discovered a way to put these points to good use. Northwest and United Airlines let you donate unused miles to the Guide Dogs of America. The contributions are used to transport dogs, trainers, and recipients to GDA’s training headquarters in Sylmar, Calif. Other airlines have programs that allow you to donate miles to charity, but Northwest and United Airlines are the only two I've found that benefit a dog-related organization. 

In a time when non-profit groups are facing decreased donations, this is a great way to help out a worthy cause without dipping into your bank account.  Visit the Guide Dogs of America web site for more information on how to donate your miles.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Homeless Pups Find Help Behind Bars
Paws on Parole inmates and shelter dogs help each other out.

Prison inmates and shelter dogs both live behind bars in what is often a harsh and solitary environment. Now programs around the country are bringing the two together to foster responsibility and adoptability. 

Alachua County Animal Services’ Hilary Hynes was approached by the Florida Department of Corrections to start a prison dog program after hearing about the benefits of similar efforts in other areas. Three months ago Paws on Parole was born, matching inmates from the Gainesville CI Work Camp with dogs from the local animal shelter. The teams are supervised by dog trainers who teach the participants how to train their pups to pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen test. 

The dogs aren’t the only ones benefiting from Paws on Parole’s positive reinforcement. Similar programs have found that working with animals has led to a decrease in discipline problems. Hynes reports that Paws on Parole has changed the entire atmosphere of the work camp. “The confidence of the handlers is fantastic,” she says. “They’re eager to show off what they’ve taught their dogs and have asked for additional related reading material.”

I’m always amazed by the power of animals to inspire change and compassion. For inmates who often feel ostracized from the rest of society, programs such as Paws on Parole showcase the canine ability to love unconditionally. And what a great opportunity for the inmates to return that gratitude by helping the dogs.

If you’re in the North Central Florida area and are interested in adopting a Paws on Parole graduate, contact Hilary Hynes at Alachua County Animal Services, 352-264-6881. Visit this web site to locate a prison pups program near you.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Fetching From A Photo
Research shows Border Collies may understand how humans communicate.

From rolling over to fetching the remote, I’ve always been impressed by the canine ability and willingness to learn whatever humans want to teach them. When I attended ClickerExpo in March, I was amazed to see videos of a shelter dog learning concepts such as bigger versus smaller and guide dogs training to develop other-awareness, the skill needed to understand if a doorway is too low for their handler to walk through.

A month ago, I wrote of my excitement that Harvard University’s new Canine Cognition Laboratory would be studying these types of complex behaviors. While I wait for the initial findings to be posted, I was eager to read about similar research, though on a much smaller scale, led by Juliane Kaminski.

In the study, five Border Collies were taught to fetch a toy from another room when shown a full-size or miniature replica, often called “matching to sample.” Two dogs were even able to complete the task when shown a photograph of the toy. What makes this research remarkable is that, according to the article, earlier studies of chimpanzees and dolphins showed that these animals had difficulty retrieving matching objects.

Kaminski believes that this may be attributed to the fact that dogs have lived alongside people for thousands of years. It’s possible that, as a result, dogs have evolved a feel for how people communicate. 

Although it's hard to draw any conclusions from this small study, it's nonetheless remarkable and I look forward to seeing larger research on this topic.

Kaminski's full length study will be published in an upcoming issue of Developmental Science.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Celebrating My Dogs’ Special Day
Birthday party fun for pups and pet lovers alike.

This past weekend, I threw my dogs a birthday party attended by their canine and human friends. Apparently I’m not alone. According to the American Pet Association, 22 percent of dog owners celebrate their pet’s birthday.

Our party was rodeo-themed with the human guests wearing cowboy hats and the dogs sporting red bandanas with sheriff badges. Keeping in line with the festivities, I asked friends to send photos of their pups being bad and made personalized “Wanted” posters. Every year I try to send attendees home with a keepsake that serves both as a souvenir of the event and a memory of quality time spent with their pet over the years.

No birthday is complete without a cake. I baked the doggie version using the Peanut Butter Delight Dog Birthday Cake from the Dog Treat Recipe Exchange. I tripled the ingredients to fit PAWShop’s bone-shaped pan. Of course, the animals ate better than the humans, whose cake was made from a box mix!

There was much socializing done by all, but we did manage to squeeze in some games -- with a little training. We practiced sits by playing Musical Mats to country music and tested heeling in a Spoon Race with biscuits instead of eggs. I have to say, it was amazing how well everyone did with so many high-level distractions!

The dogs were generally well behaved, with the exception of a few trampled plants. Most of the pups were familiar with each other from training or trialing together, but it also helped to have responsible guests at the party. Everyone was good about leaving reactive or easily stressed pets at home.

By the time I was cleaning up after the party, my dogs were pooped from the day’s festivities. I’m sure they were wondering why every day doesn’t bring lots of visitors and cake!

How do you celebrate your pets’ birthday?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
American Idol Finalist Receives Guide Dog
Paula Abdul kicks off National Guide Dog Month by giving Scott MacIntyre an extraordinary gift.

Last week, Paula Abdul, Natural Balance, PetCo and other independent pet stores kicked off National Guide Dog Awareness Month by surprising visually-impaired American Idol finalist, Scott MacIntyre, with the gift of a guide dog. MacIntyre was told he was coming to the ceremony to sing, but instead Abdul informed him that after the upcoming American Idol tour, he will be matched with a guide dog and go through the 28-day training program.  

On the show, MacIntyre was often seen being helped onto the stage by friends and fellow contestants. With his new furry partner, he’ll have newfound independence. Many find fame after appearing on American Idol, but MacIntyre will receive the most loyal fan of all.

I’m also glad to see American Idol’s popularity being used to bring more attention to this worthy cause. It can take more than two years and $40,000 to train a guide dog. This year’s goal for National Guide Dog Awareness Month is to raise over two million dollars. Participating stores will ask customers to round up their total at the register (i.e., $5.55 to $6.00) to donate the difference and Natural Balance will contribute fifty cents for every specially-marked food bag sold.

For more information on what goes into the making of a successful guide dog, see Jane Brackman’s article, published in the Jan./Feb. issue of the magazine. Watch a video of MacIntyre singing "No Fear":

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