Home
JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Government Funds PTSD Service Dog Study
Department of Defense begins research on the canine potential for helping veterans.

Back in July I wrote about the Puppies Behind Bars' Dog Tags program that provides service dogs to veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Now research is underway to demonstrate the impact of pairing up returning soldiers with trained canines.

The U.S. Department of Defense is financing a $300,000, 12-month study that will look at the effects of service dogs on changes in PTSD symptoms and medication use. Researchers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington D.C. will compare soldiers with PTSD who have a service dog with a control group of dog-less soldiers. Some of the dogs being trained for the study will be rescues, making this program even more compelling.

Last week, research psychologist, Craig Love, and Psychiatric Service Dog Society founder, Joan Esnayra, presented a preliminary survey of veterans with PTSD. Since receiving a service dog, 82 percent of respondents reported fewer symptoms and 40 percent reported using fewer medications. Furthermore, the length of time the team had been together correlated with the reduction in symptoms and medication use.

Pet lovers already know about the healing power of dogs, but scientific research will increase the potential for initiatives like Sen. Al Franken’s legislation to provide funding for the training of service dogs for veterans. I look forward to the impact this study is bound to have on future research on the power of the human-canine relationship.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Seaside Fun and Foliage
Labor Day ushers in dog friendly beaches across the Northeast.

I spent last weekend vacationing in the seaside communities of Southern Maine. While the towns I visited were dog friendly, the beaches were not. As I was walking around, I noticed that many of Maine’s sandy shores welcome canines after Labor Day--just days after my trip. 

This trend can be seen down the Northeast coast from Cape Cod to the Jersey Shore. September can still be quite warm, and the passing of Labor Day brings cheaper hotel rates and thinning crowds. What’s better than an affordable vacation with the pups by your side?

Once October comes, even more beaches welcome dogs. The cooler weather adds New England’s changing foliage to the already beautiful seascape. The first of the month opens up the shores of Delaware’s Bethany Beach, Maryland’s Ocean City, Massachusetts’ Martha’s Vineyard, and New Jersey’s Cape May, just to name a few.

The Northeast isn’t the only place where restrictions ease after the summer rush. Even San Diego’s Del Mar North “Dog Beach” expands after Labor Day, allowing pups access to the Main Beach in addition to other year round areas.

Come next summer, I might just plan my vacation for the cooler months.

For a comprehensive list of dog friendly beaches, visit PetFriendlyTravel.com’s web page.

Be sure to check out DogFriendly.com’s beach etiquette page before your trip to ensure we continue to have beaches to take our furry friends.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Running with Dogs
Increase your fitness with your four-legged best friend.

Recently, I attempted to run the NYC Half Marathon. Unfortunately, my race ended shortly after mile seven with a ride to the hospital for fluids. My running demise was due partly to the ninety degree August weather and dehydration, but mostly to lack of proper training.

I had meant to train when I signed up for the event, but let’s face it, there are much more fun things to train for… like agility! Reading Lisa's recent blog entry on running with dogs got me thinking about training with my pups for my next long distance event. 

Dr. Dawn A. Marcus, author of Fit as Fido, recommends starting by walking on a flat road with a goal of thirty minutes, five days per week. You can get better health benefits by exercising in small segments versus one long daily session. On the Fit as Fido website, Dawn has a log were you can track your daily mini-walks. 

Keep in mind that humans are better suited for long distance running than dogs, so it’s important to slowly build up distance and be mindful of conditions.

Veterinarian, Dr. Marcia Smith, says in an interview for Runner’s World, that sore pads are an easy indicator that you’ve gone too far too fast. A gradual increase in miles will toughen up your dog’s pads, in addition to making them less susceptible to injury. She also advises against feeding a large meal before running.

Marcia stresses the importance of proper hydration and monitoring dogs for overheating even when the temperature doesn’t seem that hot. Because dogs don’t sweat, they are especially vulnerable. Watch out for slowing down, a lolling tounge, drooling, and glazed eyes. Check out the ASPCA’s Hot Weather Tips for more warning signs.

Peter Larson, of Runblogger, trains on a regular basis with his Black Labrador, Jack. The duo runs as much as 7 miles at a time. Peter recommends holding off on running long distances with a puppy until their skeleton matures and the growth plates close (usually at around 10-14 months), a milestone commonly used in agility for determining when to start full sized equipment.

I’ve already started the Fit as Fido walking routine with one of my dogs and, unlike some of my former human exercise buddies, he’s always enthusiastic--no excuses!

For more walking tips, check out Dawn A. Marcus' web article on the topic.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Three Genes Behind the Canine Coat
Scientists identify the genetic variants that influence dog hair.

From the Puli’s cords to the Poodle’s curls, the canine’s array of coats makes them one of the most diverse species in the world. Until now, little was known about the genetics behind their fur. Recently, a team of researchers at the National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) studied 1,000 dogs representing 80 breeds and identified three genetic variants that account for all dog hair types.

Long hair is linked to the variant in the FGF5 gene, curly coats to the variant in the KRT71 gene, and wire hair to the variant in the RSPO2 gene. But the combinations are what make up the many canine coats we see today, and account for what researchers call furnishings, like a Schnauzer’s mustache. 

Here is a list put together by Science Daily, recapping the combinations:

  • Short-haired dogs (i.e., Beagle): No variant genes
  • Wire-haired dogs (i.e., Australian Terrier): Varient form of the RSPO2 gene
  • Wire and Curly-haired dogs (i.e., Airedale Terrier): Varient forms of RSPO2 and KRT71 genes
  • Long-haired dogs (i.e., Golden Retrievers): Varient form of the FGF5 gene
  • Long-haired dogs with furnishings (i.e., Bearded Collie): Varient forms of FGF5 and RSPO2 genes
  • Curly-haired dogs (i.e., Irish Water Spaniels): Varient forms of FGF5 and KRT71 genes
  • Curly-haired dogs with furnishings (i.e, Bichon Frise): Varient forms of all three of the genes

In addition to explaining dog fur, scientists believe that this breakthrough in genetic research will shed light on human biology and disease. The true discovery doesn’t lie in the genes themselves, but in the way they interact. Elaine A. Ostrander, Ph.D., chief of the Cancer Genetics Branch in NHGRI's Division of Intramural Research, believes that this approach will pinpoint multiple genes involved in complex human conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and obesity. 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
iPhone Amber Alert for Lost Pets
New app creates a wireless community for bringing missing animals home.

Lately several people I know from the local agility community have had a beloved pet go missing. Fortunately all of the lost pups were found quickly, but it’s a heartbreaking experience, even if just for a few hours.

For years standard protocol has been to call local animal shelters and post flyers around the neighborhood. More recently, technology has allowed us to cast a larger net by sending alerts over e-mail lists, message boards, and even Facebook or Twitter.

Now we have a new resource which combines the best features of the iPhone with a widespread cellular network of animal lovers. The new app, Community Leash, allows you to send an alert to other users when your pet goes missing. On the flip side, if you find a lost animal, you can check local postings and even take a photo with your iPhone’s built-in camera and create a "sighting."

My favorite feature of Community Leash is its use of the iPhone GPS capability to keep you updated on lost pets in the area. This allows you to keep an eye out for missing pets even when you’re away from home.   

Hopefully you’ll never need the Community Leash app, but at 99 cents it’s an affordable resource to have at your fingertips and a simple way to help pets find their way home. 

For tips on finding a lost pet, check out the ASPCA’s online resource. To see other canine related iPhone apps, see my previous blog post on the topic.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Boy or Girl?
Study finds that men and women differ on the perfect dog.

In the world of dog sports, I’ve often heard people say that men work better with female dogs and women work better with male dogs. That statement has yet to be proven, but a study by Monash University has begun to research how gender effects how we choose our furry friends. 

According to their study of 877 Australian dog lovers, women prefer male dogs and vice versa. Researchers also found that women tended to look for calm, obedient pups and men sought large, impressive dogs, more often opting for purebreds.  

While gender may predict how we choose our next furry friend, it may not influence how we interact with them. A study by Italian researchers showed that there is little difference in how men and women interact with their pets. Women tend to be more verbal, but both genders play similarly with their dogs. 

I do think there is some truth to gender’s effect on how we choose our dogs, but they’re pretty wide assumptions for which there are many exceptions. One only has to look at my old neighbor in Manhattan -- a 6 foot tall rocker guy with a tiny Chihuahua, though I have to admit chuckling to myself  anytime I saw them walk together on the street.

Have you noticed any gender differences in how we choose and interact with our pets?

For thoughts on gender’s effect on canine learning, check out Patricia McConnell’s article, The Gender Gap.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
When 2 Becomes 255
A Michigan man hoards his multiplying Chihuahuas through life and death.

Three weeks ago, Michigan police discovered hundreds of Chihuahuas living in a house covered in urine and feces with garbage piled up to the ceiling. The operation quickly turned into a multi-day rescue that uncovered 105 Chihuahuas, and even more shocking, 150 dogs in freezers who had passed away.

The man who lived in the house, Kenneth Lang, Jr., is now in psychiatric care. Criminal charges are being investigated, but it appears that Lang has an obsessive-compulsive disorder that led him to hoard everything, dogs (dead or alive), garbage, and just about anything else that came into the house.

Sadly, much of the horrible conditions could have been prevented by spaying or neutering. Apparently the 255 dogs are believed to have originated from Lang’s first two dogs. 

Since the discovery, Dearborn Animal Shelter has been working around the clock to give the rescued pups much needed medical care and to help them adjust to the world they’ve been shut out of their entire lives. 

The shelter has received more than 500 applications to adopt the Chihuahuas, which will be matched based on personality among other factors. Moreover, many of these dogs have special social and medical conditions and may take months to be placed into the right homes.

This week, the first 22 Chihuahuas were sent to their forever homes. "These dogs were living under abnormal circumstances and will require a longer learning curve for the most basic of things such as being walked on a leash, or going 'potty' outside,” explains Dearborn Animal Shelter Executive Director Elaine Greene. “Patience will be the key with the new adoptive families."

For more information on the Chihuahuas or to make a donation, visit the Friends For the Dearborn Animal Shelter web site or call 313-943-2697.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Tax Break for Pets
Rep. McCotter introduces HAPPY to encourage responsible pet care.

Earlier this month, Michigan Congressman Thaddeus McCotter introduced HR3501, a bill more commonly referred to as HAPPY, the Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years Act. The new bill proposes a change to U.S. Tax Code that would allow pet care up to $3,500 to be tax deductable.

Qualifying expenses include veterinary care, but won’t include the cost to acquire a new pet. The deduction is exclusive to legally owned, domestic animals. Animals used for research or owned in conjunction with a business do not qualify.

HAPPY was drafted to encourage responsible pet care and reduce the abandonment of pets by people struggling as a result of the economic downturn. The bill also mentions that 63 percent of U.S. households include a pet and that the human-animal bond has been shown to have positive effects upon people’s emotional and physical well being.

I don’t currently itemize my taxes, but if I could deduct pet care, it might become worth it for me to change the way I file. I’m not convinced that HAPPY will help reduce the number of abandoned dogs, but I do think it has the potential to encourage responsible pet care. It also legitimizes animals as a member of the family since we can currently deduct for human health care and education. However, if HAPPY passes, I would hope that no one would buy a pet because of the potential tax benefit (which isn't much compared to the cost of caring for an animal).

HAPPY is curently waiting to be reviewed by the House Committee on Ways and Means, so it will be interesting to see the outcome, although I'm not particularly optimistic it will pass. If you’re interested in supporting HAPPY, a petition has been set up on the Care 2 Petition Site. To view text from the actual bill, visit the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council's website.

What do you think about tax deductable pet care?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Fighting for a Rightful Piece of the Trust
Animal welfare organizations contest how Leona Helmsley’s estate has been allocated.

This week, the Humane Society of the United States, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Maddie’s Fund, filed a petition arguing that Leona Helmsley’s trustees disregarded her wishes to use her multibillion-dollar estate to help dogs. In February, a judge ruled in the trustees’ favor, allowing them to have sole discretionary power to decide which charities would benefit from her estate. The three organizations are calling their lawsuit the most significant financial litigation in animal welfare history. 

The topic has been a heated one since Leona Helmsley, wife of real estate mogul, Harry B. Helmsley, passed away in August 2007 with a fortune estimated at $5 billion to $8 billion. Most notably was the $12 million that Leona left to her own Maltese, Trouble, that later was reduced to $2 million by a judge.

Animal lovers rejoiced when it was revealed that four years earlier, Leona drafted a mission statement for her trust that listed providing for the care of dogs as a priority and other charitable causes could be determined by the trustees. Unfortunately, the last part left a gaping loophole for the current events. 

Furthermore, since the mission statement was never incorporated into her will or the trust documents, it wasn’t legally binding. Though her intentions seem clear, less than one percent of the trustee’s grants announced in April benefits animal related organizations. Of that amount very little went to animal welfare. Ten percent went to the ASPCA and 90 percent to guide dog organizations. 

According to the Humane Society of the United States, there’s a long history of disputing animal trusts. In the later half of the 19th century, a bequest of a $100,000 estate to the ASPCA was contested by the donor’s heirs and a court ruled in their favor.

More recently, tobacco heiress, Doris Duke, left her money to support the arts and the prevention of cruelty to animals or children. But because of that “or,” her trustees chose to allocate the money to only children. 

When it comes to a trust or will, like many others, I assume that my loved ones know how I feel about animals. It’s unbelievable to me that Leona’s trustees would ignore her seemingly obvious intentions and has made me think about how specific you have to be, no matter how much you trust those around you.

Hopefully with the attention this case has received, more people will be careful about how they draft their wills and trusts.

For more information on creating a pet trust, see Rebecca Wallick’s article and HSUS’ online resources on the topic.

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?

Pages