JoAnna Lou participates in agility, rally obedience and therapy work with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She supports her canine hobby with a career in professional training and development at a New York financial firm. JoAnna has a diverse background working with animals that includes researching birds at the Bronx Zoo and helping a friend run a rat rescue group (yes, rats!). Her writing has appeared in The Bark, DogSport, New York Tails and New York Resident.

Toxic Mushroom Kills The Rock's Puppy
The Rock's was unable to save his French Bulldog for the second time.

Actor Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson made the news last month when he saved his new puppy, Brutus, from drowning in his family's pool. The young French Bulldog was running in his new backyard for the first time when he made a beeline towards the pool. Not knowing how to swim, Brutus began to sink to the bottom. The Rock immediately jumped in, fully clothed, and pulled the pup to safety. But this month it was another backyard hazard that ultimately took Brutus' life. The Rock has been committed to sharing his tragic story.

Earlier this week Brutus was outside playing with his brother, Hobbs, another French Bulldog, when Brutus ate a mushroom. It happened to be poisonous and within hours the toxins were destroying his liver and immune system. On Monday The Rock was forced to take Brutus off life support. Hoping to prevent this from happening to other families, The Rock took to Instagram with a warning. Alongside a photo of Brutus, he said, “I encourage all of you out there to be mindful of mushrooms in your yards, parks or anywhere outside your dogs play. What looks innocent, can be deadly to your lil’ family members.” The message was capped with the hashtag #WishICouldveSavedYouOneMoreTime.

The Rock's message is an important reminder to check the plants that are in your backyard and any other outdoor spaces your dogs play in. In my yard, mushrooms will often pop up overnight. The ASPCA has a searchable database of plants toxic to pets, with photos, if you find anything you don't recognize. 

Dog Sledding and Pediatric Cancer Patients
Study uses adapted activity to improve physical and psychological health.

Pediatric cancer patients have so much of their childhood stolen from them, and attempts to protect them can sometimes do more harm in this area. Often caretakers with good intentions will shield these kids from physical activities. However, a new study has shown that some pediatric cancer patients can actually benefit from a little more adventure in their lives, on both a physical and psychological level. Given that the activity studied was dog sledding, and what we know about the positive effects of therapy dogs, I think that the pups may have had a lot to do with the outcome as well!

Researchers followed eleven children, aged 10 to 18 years old, on an expedition organized by Sourire à la Vie, a French non-profit that supports the use of adapted physical activity for young cancer patients. The kids received training and exercises in preparation for the excursion, then traveled with doctors and nurses to race dog sleds in Northern Canada. They also participated in the pups' care while they were there.

The study found that not only can most pediatric cancer patients participate in adapted physical activities, even during treatment, they showed an improvement in both physical and psychological health. Laurent Grélot, professor at Aix Marseille University, explained that the activity had many benefits. "It avoids cardiovascular and muscular deconditioning, can decrease treatment induced fatigue, and can help in maintaining social integration."

No doubt the canines had an impact on the result as well. "One of the main reasons why we chose dog sledding was to create a unique sportive experience based on change of scenery and building a strong relationship with animals," explains Frédéric Sotteau, founder of Sourire à la Vie.

As a next step, the researchers are planning to do a randomized trial to further evaluate the benefits of adapted physical activities for children with cancer. However, you don't need to look at the data to see the positive effects.

"Before my cancer diagnosis, I used to do a lot of sport, but then I lost self-confidence and my body was not able to cope with physical efforts," says Merwan, an 18-year-old patient. "This trip in Canada transformed me. I am in shape again, and now I know I am able to practice sport again."

This program seems like a wonderful way to combine physical activity with the healing properties of the human-canine bond!

Dogs' Fur Dyed in Theft
Microchip proved useful in the case of a stolen Seattle pup.

I'm a huge advocate for microchips because collars and identification tags can easily fall off, but they can also be useful in other situations. Recently a family in Seattle had to rely on a microchip to prove ownership when their pup was stolen and disguised with hair dye.

Earlier this month, Robert Lucier went to the supermarket and tied his Cairn Terrier, Waffle's leash to a post while he ran inside. When he returned, the pup was gone. Over the next four days, Robert received multiple calls from people who saw Waffles with a homeless woman, and one who saw a woman washing paint out of a dog's coat in a public restroom. Using the information, Robert rode his bike downtown, called police, and located the woman with Waffles. Robert almost didn't reorganize his beloved pet as Waffle's fur had been dyed black.

For a second Robert thought that he may be harassing the wrong person, but the smell of chemical dye erased any doubt in his mind. The woman argued with him about whose dog it was, but a veterinarian scanned Waffles' microchip to confirm the truth. Thankfully Waffles is now back home with his family. While this story shows how valuable a microchip can be, it's also an important lesson to not leave your dog tied outside!

Pets Amid the Refugee Crisis
A boy treks over 300 miles to Greece with his beloved puppy.

There have been so many heartbreaking stories that have emerged from the Syrian refugee crisis. But one video posted by the UN Refugee Agency's Facebook page this weekend had a rare glimmer of hope and love amid the difficult journey that millions are undertaking.

In the clip, 17-year old Syrian refugee, Aslan, talks about traveling all the way from Damascus to Lesbos, Greece with his puppy, Rose. The Husky mix even has her own passport. Aslan believes that they walked over 310 miles together during their trek, much of it with Aslan carrying Rose in a plastic carrier.

Many people have questioned his choice to bring along his puppy, but Aslan says, "I love my dog. I need him." He also says that he has enough food and water for both of them. Given the stressful experience, they're lucky to have each other. For more stories like Aslan's check out the Help for Refugees with Pets Facebook page to learn about others who could not bear to leave any part of their family behind.

If you'd like to help Aslan and others involved in the crisis, contact the UN Refugee Agency.

Honoring the Newtown Comfort Dogs
A child's tribute to the comfort pups that helped heal a school.

When Guy Bacon returned to school following the December 2012 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school, it was an emotional day. Guy had just lost his sister Charlotte, one of the 26 victims. But during that difficult day, the now 11-year old distinctly remembers the moment a dog named Drago walked into the classroom. The Spinone Italiano was the first of ten pups Guy met that helped him feel calm and relaxed when he pet their fluffy fur and received licks in return.  

Guy's fifth-grade teacher, Karen King, remembers how excited the kids were to see pets in school, on a day when they were all experiencing sadness, fear, and confusion. Guy spent his first few days back lying next to the dogs with his notebook open, interviewing each of the canine volunteers and capturing them through drawings.

With Karen's help Guy decided to embark on a project called The Dogs of Newtown, "a book about the special therapy dogs that visited me and my friends at school and helped wipe the tears from our faces." The book will be dedicated to Charlotte.

Guy has spent the last two years collecting his vignettes, illustrations, and photos, many from the comfort dogs' handlers. Rounding out the project are pictures taken by New York City photographer, Mary Bloom.

This was a special project for Guy and he was involved in every aspect. Guy worked with a graphic designer on the layout and assisted Mary on the four photo shoots. It was apparent throughout the project that Guy had a special bond with these dogs. "They gave him a special gift when he needed it most and writing this book was his way of giving back to them," Mary explains.

The Dogs of Newtown is a wonderful dedication to the human-canine bond and a way to honor everyone involved in the Sandy Hook tragedy.

Tomorrow the book will be introduced nationally at the annual Charlotte's Litter Awareness Day in West Haven, Conn and will be available on Amazon on October 1.

Lost Pup Recognizes Her Family on Television
Tabitha finds her way back home in an unusual way.

I don't think that my dogs can recognize my voice over Skype or the phone, despite the number of times I've tried to talk to them while traveling. So this story of a lost pup recognizing her family on television was even more incredible to me.

Earlier this month, Kelly Schaefer's husband, Alfred, wandered off with their Bichon Poodle mix, Tabitha in Kansas City, Missouri. Alfred suffers from Alzheimer's, so as soon as Kelly noticed the two missing, she started searching the neighborhood. After finding Alfred, Kelly was unable to find Tabitha.

Kelly posted nearly 300 fliers around the neighborhood and was afraid that someone may have found the friendly pup and kept her.

As it turns out, a woman did find Tabitha and was actively looking for her rightful home. The woman happened to be watching the local news when Fox 4 reporter, Judy Le, interviewed the Schaefers about their efforts to find the five year old pup. Apparently Tabitha immediately perked up and started wagging her tail when Kelly and Alfred appeared in the story, particularly when they said Tabitha's name. The woman then knew she had Tabitha and immediately called the featured phone number. That same day Tabitha was back home with her family.

Kelly says that Tabitha loves watching television, so she wasn't surprised to hear what happened. What a cool happy ending to the story!

Hero Dog Ends Up Homeless
Brave pup is overlooked despite his past.

Back in 2012, Kiko was featured all over the news for saving his owner during a home invasion. When a man dressed as a UPS delivery driver tried to break into Kiko's former home in Staten Island, New York, he rushed in to protect his owner and ended up taking a bullet to the head. Miraculously, the bullet ricocheted off of his skull and the 11-year old dog made a full recovery. All was well until two years later when his owner came upon financial difficulty and was forced to move to a location where dogs weren't allowed.

Thankfully, Mighty Mutts, a New York no-kill rescue organization, placed Kiko in one of their foster homes. From the beginning they noticed that Kiko seemed very confused, which isn't unusual for an animal in his position, but they soon discovered the real reason--Kiko was completely deaf. They're not sure if he was always deaf or if the condition was a result of the bullet, but it doesn't make him any less lovable.

However, it's been almost a year and a half since Kiko came into Might Mutts' care and he's still looking for his forever home. Because of his age, laid back personality, and deafness, he is usually overlooked at adoption drives. But cuddly pup remains is a volunteer favorite. Now 14-years old, Kiko is looking for a quiet home without other pets or children. A one-story house would be ideal because stairs are not easy at his age.

Kiko's story is a sad one, but he's lucky to have crossed paths with Mighty Mutts. It's also a reminder of a few challenges in the dog world, such as the difficulty of finding affordable pet friendly housing and how hard it is to find forever homes for older dogs. I hope that Kiko finds his perfect home soon!

A Special Day for an Incredible Pup
BarkPost celebrates the birthday of the last known living 9/11 SAR dog.

As we come upon the 14th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, I wanted to highlight Bretagne, the last known living search and rescue dog who worked at Ground Zero.  The Golden Retriever and her handler, Denise Corliss, were members of Texas Task Force 1 and joined nearly 100 other search and rescue dogs to find people trapped in the rubble of the World Trade Center. Even more amazing, the incredibly difficult job was Bretagne's first search and rescue deployment.

Last month, when BarkPost learned that Bretagne's 16th birthday was coming up, they decided to fly Bretagne and Denise back to New York to honor the special team. The day started with Bretagne and Denise checking into a luxurious suite provided by 1 Hotel Central Park and dining on some yummy room service burgers. Then they toured Manhattan in style in a vintage taxi, where they stopped to see a happy birthday message with Bretagne's photo up on a billboard in Times Square.

Next stop was Hudson River Park where Bretagne was presented with the "Bone to the Dog Park," the canine equivalent to the "Key to the City," Then they headed back to the hotel to end the day with a party overflowing with dog toys and a cake provided by Bubba Rose Biscuit Company and District Dog. Bretagne and Denise were also presented with a cobblestone at the 9/11 Museum and a $1,000 donation in Bretagne's honor to Texas Task Force 1.

The trip was a great way to honor Bretagne and Desnise's service, but also an opportunity to invite them back for a more relaxing visit to the Big Apple. Today Bretagne is retired, but spends her time visiting kids with special needs. What a special day for an incredible duo!

Service Dogs for Farmers with Disabilities
Missouri non-profit trains pups to help out on farms.

Service dogs play a key role in helping people keep their dignity, independence, and livelihood. But for those who work physically demanding jobs, like farmers, the needs for a working pup are unique.

That's what inspired Jackie Allenbrand to create P.H.A.R.M. Dog USA (Pets Helping Agriculture in Rural Missouri) in 2009. Her goal was to make life easier for farmers with disabilities, whether it be physical, cognitive, or illness related.

The dogs are trained by Jackie and other volunteers to do farm specific tasks, like retrieving dropped tools, opening latch gates, carrying buckets, and managing livestock. The pups are donated or adopted from shelters. The training process is a long one, and it takes about a year just to determine if the dog has the intelligence and temperament to be a service dog.

Thought to be the only one of it's kind in the United States, the small non-profit has placed ten dogs so far, with two more in training. Jackie receives requests from across the country, but is limited by P.H.A.R.M.'s shoestring budget and resources. However, the impact the group has made is immeasurable.

Alda Owen struggled her whole life with being legally blind. She managed her 260-acre Missouri farm as best she could, only being able to see blurry shapes and very close objects. Alda was making due, but after a bull knocked a gate into her, Alda's daughter decided she could use a helping hand. P.H.A.R.M matched Alda with Sweet Baby Jo, a Border Collie that she credits with helping her remain productive and keep the life her family has built.

Sweet Baby Jo not only helps with the chores, but provides key emotional support as well. Alda's disability kept her in her small comfort zone for most of her life, but since Sweet Baby Jo entered the picture, Alda has started traveling and speaking at panels about farmers with disabilities. Alda says she not has her self-esteem and pride.

It's simply amazing what can be achieved through the human-canine bond. 

Dogs and Kids Bond Over Shared Experiences
Best Friends Bash unites pets and children overcoming health challenges.

Kids often struggle with feeling different, so you can imagine the additional challenges of growing up with a craniofacial disorder. To help these children feel less isolated, the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and Penn Vet teamed up to introduce these kids to therapy dogs who have similar health challenges. Best Friends Bash has been so successful that this is the event's third year.

This year's canine attendees included, Cyrus, a mixed breed pup born without front legs, Bosco, a Rottweiler with a skull deformity who has also undergone four leg operations, and Jasmine, a Shetland Sheepdog who had surgery to remove a craniofacial tumor.

Many of the kids are shy and reserved, but they instantly light up when they meet the dogs. "Receiving unconditional love and attention is an essential part of the healing process," says Dr. Alexander Reiter, a professor at Penn Vet. The benefits that the children have gained from this event are countless.

Not only do the dogs provide comfort and an instant way to bond, the event also brings families together that are going through similar challenges, in various stages of the journey. Many friendships and support networks have grown out of the Best Friends Bash.

Learn more about this amazing program at the Penn Vet web site.