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JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Humane
Rainy Weather Hampers Adoptions
Bad weather keeps potential forever homes away in Southern California.
After years of drought, Southern California is finally getting some rain. Unfortunately it's also putting a damper on pet adoptions.

According to the Pasadena Humane Society, bad weather can cut adoption numbers in half, or even more. On one recent rainy Sunday, only 18 dogs were adopted, compared to 65 on the same day last year. This is largely due to less people venturing out in the rain. After all wet weather is usually uncommon in the area, so even a drizzle can cause traffic and confusion. But another contributing factor is the closure of the outdoor kennels during downpours, meaning less animals are available for adoption.

The dogs have heated enclosures to escape the rain, but this is done for safety reasons. The Humane Society doesn't want visitors to slip and the enthusiastic dogs are more likely to run through the rain in an unsafe manner when someone is walking by their kennel. This problem is somewhat unique to Southern California since their dry, warm weather allows them to have so many outdoor enclosures.

Fortunately most of the rain has occurred in the winter months when fewer dogs are brought to the shelter. The Humane Society's busiest time is during breeding season from the end of March through August. The Pasadena Humane Society takes in about 12,000 animals a year and offers any extra space to other shelters that reach capacity. The reduced adoptions can really make a difference in limiting room for new dogs in need of help.

While bad weather also generally means less calls to Animal Control Services, the Humane Society does find that rain and lightening can spook pets and cause them to run away from home. Some end up at the shelter since it's open rain or shine. While the Humane Society is always happy to help, they urge people to keep their pets safe and sound indoors during storms.

The rain can really be problematic and it's interesting to see how it effects human behavior patterns! But if you're in Southern California and looking to adopt a pet, as long as it's safe, don't let a little rain stop you from finding your next furry friend!

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Canine Delivered Valentines
Prison trained service dogs raise money for their organization this February.
I don't care about Valentine's Day flowers, but this delivery from Indiana Canine Assistant Network (ICAN) is one I'd like to get!

This week, a group of service dogs in training delivered almost 650 Valentine's Day gift boxes throughout Indianapolis as part of Puppy Love Valentine 2017, an annual fundraiser for ICAN, a local service dog organization. ICAN trains pups in three area prisons to help people with disabilities like PTSD and autism.

The dogs arrived with gift boxes that included goodies such as cookies, canine designed artwork, candles, scarves, and greeting dogs featuring the ICAN service pups. Many of the items are made by the prison inmates. This year, Pendleton Correctional Facility's culinary arts program baked cookies in the shape of paw prints, while others made heart-shaped candle holders. The inmates involved in the service dog program also helped the pups create the artwork, which involves having the dogs step in paint and touch the canvas with their paws, noses and tails.

Puppy Love Valentine 2017 raised more than $30,000 for the organization.

Valentine's Day marks an important date for ICAN. The organization began working with local inmates on that holiday in 2002. ICAN founder, Dr. Sally Irvin, saw the program as an opportunity to rehabilitate inmates while providing training to the dogs. They began at juvenile detention facilities, but because of high turnover, ICAN shifted to maximum security prisons because the inmates are there longer, providing more stability for the pups. Now ICAN has about 50 dogs in training at any given time across the three prisons they work with.

“What we challenge everybody here on is that the easiest and most positive way to turn something around is to give back,” said Pendleton Correctional Facility Assistant Superintendent of Reentry Andrew Cole. “To know that these dogs, after all your hard work, are going to help somebody for the rest of that dog’s life, it’s an amazing thing.”

Training the dogs gives inmates a sense of freedom and purpose, while also developing a new skill.

The inmates go through a rigorous interview process to participate, ultimately earning credits for an animal trainer apprenticeship. Out of 1,750 inmates, a group of 15 dog handlers and six alternates are involved in the program. The pups in training live with their trainers in a special housing unit, spending 24/7 together. ICAN staff comes to the prison weekly for a formal training session.

“We serve two under-served populations, prisoners and the people with disabilities who the dogs will serve," says ICAN Director of Development and Outreach Denise Sierp. “It’s the dogs that bridge it all together.”

Dog's Life: Humane
DNA Testing Saves a Dog from Death Row
A routine human test provides a pup’s innocence.

A young Belgian Malinois from Detroit already had an incredible story when he went from homeless pup to service dog. But just months after his rescue, a misunderstanding threatened his new life. It would take a test usually reserved for humans to prove his innocence.

Jeb was barely a year old when he was found chained inside a shed last January. His owner had passed away and no one else in the family wanted him. When Jeb was taken in by a local dog rescue, volunteer Kandie Morrison thought he’d make the perfect service dog for her father, Kenneth Job.

Kenneth, a 79-year old Air Force veteran struggling with a neurodegenerative disease, took an instant liking to Jeb. So neighbor and veterinarian Dr. Karen Pidick trained Jeb to help Kenneth stay steady and assist in helping him get up if he fell.

Kenneth and Jeb came to rely on each other, but eight months later everything changed in an instant.

One August morning, the Jobs’ neighbor of 30 years, Christopher Sawa, looked out his kitchen window and saw Jeb standing over the lifeless body of his Pomeranian, Vlad. Christopher ran outside and tried to give Vlad mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, but it was too late. With 90-pound Jeb towering over 14-pound Sawa, you can see why Christopher might blame Kenneth’s dog.

Animal control took Jeb into custody and the case went to trial.

The Jobs were horrified. Jeb lived peacefully with their three other dogs, seven cats, and a coopful of chickens. "We've never had any children," Kenneth would later testify. "The dog was like a child to us."

Kenneth had been outside with his dogs that morning when all four pups ran off toward a favorite swimming hole.

Despite the fact there was a lack of physical evidence linking Jeb to Vlad’s death, and there were reports of other possible culprits, the judge ruled that Jeb met the legal definition of a dangerous animal. Jeb would have to be euthanized.

The Jobs were desperate and came up with the idea to have testing done to compare the DNA in Vlad’s wound with Jeb’s DNA. Samples were taken and sent to the Maples Center for Forensic Medicine at the University of Florida. They determined that the DNA did not match, proving Jeb wasn’t the dog that killed Vlad.

After the test, Jeb was allowed to go home, but nine weeks in animal control turned him in a different dog. Jeb lost 15 pounds and his social skills. He was also afraid to go outside.

Nonetheless, the family was relieved to have Jeb back home. However, the Jobs wondered why they had to come up with the idea of DNA analysis. Why didn’t the court do it before sentencing Jeb to death?

The test was under $500, but canine cases are handled differently in our judicial system.

"In a criminal prosecution, where you're putting a person in jail, we have the highest level of protection," explains law professor David Favre. "Dogs have no rights. They're property.”

I don’t think courts will make DNA analysis automatic anytime soon, but the Jobs hope their story will make more people aware that this tool can save lives.

Good Dog: Studies & Research
The Calming Effect of Audiobooks
Study finds dogs exhibit resting behavior when listening to books on tape.

Last month I wrote about the Sarasota Orchestra cellist who played for dogs at her local animal shelter. There’s been a lot of research about the impact of music on animals, particularly the calming effect of classical music. As a result, animal shelters and boarding facilities not lucky enough to have their own live performance, often play the tunes of Mozart and Bach throughout their kennels.

But is this calming effect exclusive to classical music or could it extend to other audio with a pleasing cadence? Hartpury College in the United Kingdom set out to explore different sound types and the effect on canine behavior. Their researchers looked at the effect of regular kennel sounds (the control), classical music, pop music, psychoacoustically designed canine music (tunes specifically designed to be pleasing to a dog), and an audiobook. The tracks were played for two hours a day, skipping some days so the dogs wouldn’t become habituated to the noise.

Not surprisingly, they found that pop music resulted in the highest rate of barking. But it wasn’t classical music or the psychoacoustically designed canine music that was associated with the most calm behaviors. It was the audiobook that resulted in the dogs spending more time resting and less time displaying vigilant behaviors.

The book used in the experiment was The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe performed by Michael York. Given the calming effect of the audiobook, it would be interesting to do a follow-up study comparing the effect of different audiobooks and voices, as well as other speaking tracks, like the news.

While shelter staff and potential adopters may find the audiobooks strange, the results of this study on the dogs seems worth experimenting with a few titles.

Do you think you’ll try playing an audiobook for your pup?

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Six Year Old Rescues Stray Dog
After two months on the run, a young girl is the only one to earn a dog's trust.

Last year a Shepherd mix named Daisy was adopted from a Northern California animal shelter, but escaped from their backyard just two days later. Members of the Hollister Animal Lost and Found Facebook group recorded sightings and organized searches, but Daisy was in "fight or flight mode" and no one could capture her. Local animal rescuer Deanna Barth compared Daisy's skill at eluding capture with that of a coyote.

After two months without success, Deanna knew they needed a different strategy and decided they needed to find someone that Daisy trusted. Deanna found out that that prior to her adoption, Daisy was with a foster family and had become attached to a little girl there. Deanna managed to track the family down and enlisted the help of six year old Meghan Topping.

Meghan may be six, but she has a lot of experience fostering and training dogs. In fact, 75 homeless pups passed through her family's home in the last year alone.

So in December, Meghan and her mom drove to one of Daisy's usual spots, an empty field. From there, Meghan says that Daisy told her what to do.

"She told me, because you can talk to dogs in your brain, if Mom stayed in the truck she would come to me and I believed it," recalls Meghan.

Meghan got out of the truck, walked to the middle of the field, and sat down patiently. She also got on her tummy in an army crawl. This made Daisy curious and she eventually crept closer to Meghan and began wagging her tail. Daisy finally let Meghan pet her and clip on a leash.

"I used all my experience with dogs," explained Meghan. "We earn their trust--play with them, trust, love."

The adults were all left in awe. You can hear Meghan's mom, Karen, in the background of the video saying how proud she is of her daughter.

Meghan and Daisy's bond is apparent, but the Toppings didn't end up adopting the Daisy. Instead they wanted to continue their focus on helping the thousands of other dogs in need of fostering and training. However, Daisy is in great hands.

She's been adopted by the nearby Craft family. Their daughter Ava missed the therapy dogs she encountered while spending time in the hospital several years ago, and Daisy was the perfect fit. Now Ava wants to train Daisy to become a therapy dog and help other kids.

  Watch the video to see Meghan work her magic!
Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Special Needs Stars of the Puppy Bowl
This year’s canine event will include a diverse group of dogs.

For those of us who don’t care about football, there’s another event we look forward to on Super Bowl Sunday—the Puppy Bowl. This year, 78 young dogs will be “competing,” representing 34 rescue organizations across 22 states. Animal Planet will be organizing this event for the 13th time this year and this Sunday’s “game” features the largest representation of dogs with disabilities to date. Among the canine players will be Lucky, an amputee, Doobert, a deaf pup, and Winston a visually and hearing impaired double merle Australian Shepherd.

15-week old Lucky was found on the side of the road with her brother, Ricky, and had to have her right front leg amputated after it was slammed in a crate door. Because of her past, Lucky has a little more anxiety than the other dogs, but was able to participate comfortably with her brother running on the field alongside her.

“We would've liked to have seen a little more action, maybe for her to score touchdowns or get involved in some plays,” said Puppy Bowl referee Dan Schachner during a film break, ”but just the fact that Lucky was on the field was a success.”

Doobert came to the Puppy Bowl filming with his new family, Tom and Dianne Ireton, who adopted him from Green Dogs Unleashed in Troy, Virginia. Since Doobert is deaf, the Iretons are in the process of training him to understand hand signals around the house.

“Doobert is very visually focused, always looking to us and the other dogs for cues," said Dianne. "We just want to give Dobbert the best opportunities that we can, because he deserves it. Other than not hearing, everything else is normal.”

Winston has learned to live with both a visual and hearing impairment. He traveled to the Puppy Bowl from a sanctuary for special needs dogs called Double J Dog Ranch in Hauser Lake, Idaho and requires special monitoring by handlers due to his dual disability. According to Double J founder Christine Justus, Winston gets around very well even though he mainly relies on his nose. She believes he will smell the toys and score many touchdowns during the Puppy Bowl.

To see these three amazing and adorable puppies, tune into Animal Planet this Sunday, February 5th at 2 p.m. ET.

News: Guest Posts
Engineering Students Build a Custom Wheelchair
Aggie Innovation Space finds a way to enable a canine cancer survivor to run again.

Last year, when 17-year old Kita lost her right hind leg to bone cancer, he adjusted quickly to getting around on three legs. But relying on one less limb meant Kita got tired more easily and wasn’t able to complete the long walks he always enjoyed. Unfortunately, standard pet wheelchairs didn’t work for Kita.

His owner, Michelle Lebsock, was determined to find a solution. She found lots of ideas online about using 3-D printers to create custom dog wheelchairs, but had no experience in this area. So Michelle contacted the Aggie Innovation Space (AIS) lab at New Mexico State University for advice on how to embark on the do-it-yourself project.

When she first spoke to engineering students Natalie Perez, Abdiel Jimenez, and Arturo Dominguez, they were not only eager help Michelle, but wanted to take on the project as their own. It became a semester long project that far surpassed Michelle’s ideas of what was possible.

“The students worked all semester to create a functional and ergonomic device that was custom-built for Kita,” recalls Michelle. “Even though the idea of 3-D printing brought me to the lab, the final product used traditional materials, and the students worked tirelessly to make sure each piece was exactly right."

Throughout the fall, Natalie, Abdiel, and Arturo met with Kita and Michelle many times to determine the correct height, comfort, and restraint requirements of the device. They also wanted to make the wheelchair was easy to put together so it would be portable and user friendly.

One of the challenges was in adjusting the device while making sure it was still supportive and comfortable.

“As we adjusted the saddle mechanism in the device,” explained Arturo, “we had to be sure not to pinch or irritate the underbelly and other sensitive areas of the dog."

As you can imagine, it took many versions to get to the perfect wheelchair.

The team’s first design allowed Kita to move around freely, but the students wanted to further adjust the wheelchair to make it even more comfortable and functional. With each version they would study and evaluate Kita’s movement in the wheelchair to make changes.

During the final test, Kita was able to run for the first time since her surgery and move much more naturally. That made their months of hard work worth it.

"This project reminded us how engineers can enhance quality of life and made us realize that our duty as engineers is not just for people and the environment, but for our furry friends that make our lives happier,” said Natalie.

This project allowed the students to apply their engineering skills to a real life project that directly benefited a dog and her family. What an amazing win-win!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
City Bus Tour for Dogs
Pet insurance company creates a tour of canine history and parks around London.

Earlier this month pet insurance company More Th>n put on free canine bus tours of London to mark the launch of their new monthly box subscription called Doggyssenti>ls. You might remember them, earlier this year they hosted a an art exhibit for dogs.

They called it the world’s first city bus tour designed for dogs. Being a native New Yorker, I’ve never had any interest in touristy hop-on/hop-off bus tours, but this ride sounds like it would be right up my alley!

The bus ran tours three times a day, with 60 pups and their people participating on the first day.

The tour featured commentary on London spots connected to the city’s canine history and opportunities to get off at popular parks. Participants were also given a map of dog-friendly restaurants and pubs.

While passing spots like 10 Downing Street, Kensington Palace, and the Houses of Parliament, the lucky dogs and their people learned about London’s lone dog cemetery, canine-related legislature, Europe’s largest collection of dog paintings, and famous pups like Queen Elizabeth’s Corgis and Winston Churchill’s Poodle, Rufus.

The dogs were probably more interested in the stops to walk and play at places like Hyde Park, Kensington Palace Gardens, and Green Park.

While More Th>n’s canine bus tours only lasted for four days, I hope other companies might be inspired to do something similar. This seems like a great way to explore a city from a canine perspective!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Rescuer or Stick Stealer?
Viral video keeps people wondering about a dog’s intent.

Rafael Franciulli and his two Labrador Retrievers take frequent hikes in the gorgeous Argentinian outdoors. One day Rafael was videoing the game of fetch he was playing with the dogs when he caught an interesting clip that has since gone viral.

In the video, his Black Labrador fetches a branch, but slips and gets caught in a fast moving current. Slipping down an incline, his friend, a Yellow Labrador, is seen coming over to the water and grabbing the other end of the stick. Maintaining an impressive grip he's able to pull the other dog to safety.

Once the black dog is back on the rocks, the yellow pup takes the branch and goes off camera.

The question on everyone’s minds is, did the yellow dog rescue the black dog? Or was he simply trying to steal the stick? (Also, on a side note, I’m not sure why Rafael doesn’t appear to help his dog, unless it looked more dangerous than it really was. Rafael said that they go to this area often and know the hike well.)

If the yellow dog was trying to help the black dog, he showed both strength and problem solving skills. It seems entirely possible this could be the case since there have been many other stories of dogs showing loyalty to their fellow canine friends. And studies have shown dogs can solve complex problems.

Take a look at the video. What do you think?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Heartwarming Story of a Deaf Shelter Pup and His Soulmate
A girl and her pup share a disability and, more importantly, a special bond.
In case you're in need of an uplifting video, check out the story of Julia and Walter who are now celebrating their first amazing year together. Walter, a mixed breed puppy born with hearing loss, was at a California shelter when a girl came in with with her mother to look for a furry addition to the family. The girl, Julia, was also born deaf, just like Walter.

“When I first held Julia, since she couldn’t really hear my voice she would smell my neck,” her mother Chrissy says. “When I first held Walter, he did almost the same exact thing. I remember just looking at him and I knew he was meant to be ours.”

Julia and Walter have since developed an incredible relationship and understanding of each other. Each day Walter waits for Julia to finish her homework, and then they go out and play. Julia has even taught Walter words in sign language, such as sit, food, and water.

Chrissy says that Julia has learned a whole other kind of love. “I never let her feel any different because of her hearing loss and it’s amazing how she is doing the same with Walter."

Watching the video, you can see the sheer joy that Julia and Walter bring each other. It's such a heart warming example of the human canine bond. The Pasadena Humane Society and SPCA in California put this clip together to capture Julia and Walter's special relationship and hope that it will inspire others to look for their soul mate at their local animal shelter.

“Hopefully our story will encourage others to adopt and love their pets a little more," explains Chrissy. "These two are my loves and they have taught me that love defines all.”

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