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JoAnna Lou

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

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":

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Heroic Pups Up for HSUS Dogs of Valor Award
Your vote determines which courageous canine will win the People’s Hero award.

The Humane Society of the United States created the annual Dogs of Valor Awards last year to honor dogs who have performed an extraordinary act of courage to help a person in need. 

A panel of celebrity judges will choose the Valor Dog of the Year, but the finalist who receives the most online votes will be named the People’s Hero winner. The polls close on Friday, May 15th at 5 p.m. EST and the winners will be announced on May 17th.

Each story is amazing in its own way and it’s hard to vote for just one finalist. I was in awe of how persistent each dog was in his or her pursuit to help the humans in their story. In some cases, those individuals were people they had never met before.

The two stories I found most remarkable were D-Boy from Oklahoma City, Okla., who defended his family from a robber, despite being shot three times, and Jake from Omaha, Neb., who jumped in a river to save a downing child. These canines didn’t think twice before putting themselves directly in the line of danger.

If you know of a heroic pup, nominations are being accepted until January 2010 for next year’s Dogs of Valor Awards on the HSUS’ website.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
World’s Oldest Dog Turns 21
Shelter pup is presented with a world record title and a party in her honor.

Last week, Chanel, a Dachshund from Long Island, N.Y., celebrated her 21st birthday at the New York Dog Spa and Hotel in Manhattan. Guinness World Records was on hand to present Chanel with a certificate for holding the title of world’s oldest living dog, a designation that she’s held since a 28-year old Beagle from Virginia passed away last spring.  

While Chanel spends most of her time these days relaxing at home eating carefully prepared meals, the short-legged dog used to run three miles a day in her youth with her owner, Denice Shaughnessy. Chanel also now sports a full coat of white fur and goggles to protect her cataracts. 

Chanel is a living testament to how a loving environment, ample exercise and a good diet can promote longevity. The Dachshund has lived in her current home since Shaughnessy adopted Chanel as a puppy from a Virginia animal shelter. 

As I plan my dogs’ birthday party this week (Western-themed celebration on Saturday!), I’m hoping that I’ll be lucky enough to share 17 more birthdays with my pups.

Check out this video to see Chanel at her party:

 

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Stopping Puppy Mills One Store at A Time
Best Friends’ Puppies Aren’t Products campaign comes to New York City.

While puppy mills have long been a hot topic within the dog community, the subject has only recently garnered mainstream attention with specials on Oprah and ABC’s Nightline. (See also “Busted” in The Bark, May 2009.) Even Cesar Millan is using his star power to do a puppy mill exposé that airs tonight (May 8) on National Geographic. While the increased exposure has certainly had an impact, millions of Americans still unknowingly support puppy mills.

Last year Utah-based Best Friends Animal Society decided to target pet stores, puppy mills’ main source of income. The animal advocate group launched Puppies Aren’t Products, a campaign that stages weekly peaceful protests in front of stores that sell puppy mill dogs, a tactic that hurts sales and educates the public. Best Friend’s efforts began in Los Angeles, Calif., a state where they estimate euthanized shelter pets have cost taxpayers over $250,000,000 to date.

Puppies Aren’t Products demonstrations have already resulted in the closing of Pet Love, a 15-year-old pet store in Beverly Hills, and the replacement of Pets of Bel Air with Woof Worx, a store that showcases rescue dogs for adoption. 

The success of the Los Angeles chapter has inspired campaigns in Las Vegas, Nev., and, most recently, New York City. Last week Best Friends volunteers began a new protest location in front of Manhattan’s American Kennels. Participants reported that many people were unaware that the pets inside were mass-produced in deplorable conditions.  

Puppy mills are hard to regulate through the government so I do believe that change must come through education. I admire the persistence of the Puppies Aren’t Products volunteers and am excited to see the impact they’ll have in the New York area and beyond.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pack Mentality?
New reality show features a family on a search for the perfect dog.

I don’t usually watch reality television, but when I heard about HGTV’s Leader of the Pack, I felt compelled to check it out. The show features the Reckseit family on a quest to find the perfect dog. They start out with eight rescues and vote off one per episode until they’re left with their new family member. The eliminated dogs are shown getting adopted by other people at the end of each episode.

Leader of the Pack has all antics you’d expect -- a family new to dogs suddenly living with eight of them, a clueless first night with overfeeding and accidents, and silly games to win immunity for favorite dogs. HGTV’s show isn’t perfect, and I do worry about pets being seen as disposible, but overall the show isn’t as bad as I expected, given the track record of reality television. 

Positive training and general care tips are dispersed throughout each episode, although I do think that they miss many potential learning opportunities. For instance, I wish that they flashed up a tip about crate training or ignoring bad behavior when the dogs were running amok around the house. They do have advice posted on the show’s website, but I would’ve liked to see more information built into the show.

So far my favorite part was the challenge for the kids to puppy-proof their bedrooms in order to earn a “puppy sleepover.” It was great to see the family turn a chore into a fun activity they could do together.

Leader of the Pack shows the importance of making the puppy picking process a family activity, as the Reckseits decide on criteria, reflect on which dog would be best for their situation and activity level, and learn about dog care. Although it would’ve been much better if they had done this preparation before letting the puppies into their home, I think that this reality show brings attention to important issues, such as the responsibility of pet ownership and the benefits of adopting a shelter dog.

Leader of the Pack airs on HGTV on Sundays, 8/7c.

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