JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.
News: JoAnna Lou
These pups support their people on and off the 'field.'
May 15 2016
Earlier this month, the second Invictus Games began in Orlando, Florida, an international event where wounded, injured or sick armed services personnel and veterans compete in various sports. The Games were created two years ago by Britain's Prince Harry and was named after the Latin word for “Unconquered, Undefeated.”
Many of the athletes can be seen at the Games with service dogs by their side, during practice, competitions, and medal ceremonies. They are as much a part of the event as their human counterparts.
Retired Special Operations Command Sergeant Leonard Anderson says that he might not be alive today if it weren't for his service pup, Azza, a sentiment echoed by many of the athletes with service dogs. “Everything I do, everything I've ever competed in, everything ever since the injury has mostly been with her,” he says. Azza and Leonard were together when they were stuck by an IED almost four years ago in Afghanistan. They're both retired now, but have stayed together to support each other.
Other competitors are accompanied by dogs who came into their lives after their injury. Air Force Sergeant August O'Neill shattered his femur and right tibia after he sustained gunshot wounds to both legs more than three years ago. 20 surgeries later, August decided to amputate his left leg. His service dog, Kai, provides bracing support when he's fatigued.
During the Games' opening ceremony, August propelled down from a Black Hawk helicopter to where Kai was waiting. Kai also stays courtside as August competes in volleyball, just in case he needs help. “Kai is my best friend,” August says. “He's been with me through the toughest times, and the best of times.”
Although the dogs aren't directly involved in the sports, the athletes see their wins as victories for the pups too.
“When I win a medal or two, it's her earning it too,” says Leonard. During this year's games, he won the gold medal for the 100-meter freestyle and was joined on the podium by Azza.
It's inspiring to see these teams work together to not only survive, but to excel on a global stage.
News: JoAnna Lou
Service dogs' faithfulness can also make them vulnerable.
May 12 2016
Service dogs spend their days dedicated to their people, so intensely focused on their every need. This faithfulness also makes them especially vulnerable.
A study recently published in the journal Veterinary Record found that the number of reported dog attacks on guide dogs in the United Kingdom has risen significantly in the past few years. A total of 629 attacks were reported between 2010 and 2015, an increase from an average of three per month in 2010 to eleven attacks per month in 2015.
The study was a collaboration between researchers from the Guide Dogs charity and the University of Nottingham. They aren't sure if the numbers reflect higher levels of reporting or an actual trend, but nonetheless they want to better understand the problem.
55 percent of the victim dogs were officially working in their harnesses when attacked, but the incidents weren't always unprovoked.
More than a quarter of the attacks were attributed to a lack of control, even though both owners were present in 77 percent of the incidents. This led researchers to believe that many of the attacks could've been prevented if the aggressor dog was put on leash when the owner saw the guide dog in their working harness. While the causes and circumstances of the attacks varied, this seems like a simple solution.
As you can imagine these attacks have a significant effect on the guide dogs and those who rely on them for mobility and independence. Over 40 percent of the attacked pups experienced a negative impact on working ability. And 70 percent of the dog handlers reported an affect on their emotional well being.
In 2014, attacks on guide dogs became an aggravated offense in the U.K., punishable with sentences of up to three years for the attacking dog's owner. Between this new law and awareness, the Guide Dogs and the University of Nottingham hope the numbers will begin to swing in the opposite direction.
News: JoAnna Lou
WestJet allows dogs to sit in the cabin while transporting displaced Fort McMurray residents.
May 7 2016
As wildfires spread in Fort McMurray, Canada, about 88,000 people have left the area after a mandatory evacuation. Calgary based airline WestJet played a key role in getting evacuees out of the oil sands community, running about 70 flights in and out over the last two days. Their participation is part of an existing relationship with Suncor and Shell, so it had the benefit of being privately funded (as opposed to other aspects of the evacuation). These flights have been particularly unique, not only because of the circumstances, but because of the canine passengers. Many of the evacuees left so quickly they didn't bring a kennel for their pups, meaning most four legged passengers couldn't fly in cargo. So WestJet allowed people to travel with their dogs sitting on the floor next to their seat.
Evacuees posted photos of their flying pups on Instagram, and it seems like, despite the cramped conditions, all of the dogs managed to get along. I'm sure having these pups in the cabin was comforting to the many stressed passengers. All of their possessions may be gone, but at least they had their entire family with them--both human and canine.
Not all dogs were as lucky as the WestJet canines. Some pets were stuck at home as their owners were out of town when the evacuation order was put in place or at work while roads were closed off. McMurray Fire Emergency Animal Assistance set up an online form for people to report stranded pets, but there aren't any official rescue plans in place yet. Alberta Animal Rescue Crew Society is coordinating grassroots rescue efforts. To help out, visit their Facebook page.
It seems after every disaster we say there needs to be better planning that involves pets. We know that people will refuse to evacuate or move into a shelter without their pets, so it's extremely important that we put this type of support in place.
News: JoAnna Lou
Study finds both benefits and challenges for homeless youth and their dogs.
May 4 2016
There's no question that having a dog in your life has many benefits. And it's been confirmed again in a new study that looked at homeless youth and their pets. Researchers from Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) found that young people with animals are less likely to engage in potentially harmful behavior, like alcohol abuse and hard drug use, because they don't want to be separated from their pets. They were also less likely to be depressed than their counterparts without animals.
But what was really interesting was that the researchers found many youth are extremely open to discussing their struggles and issues with veterinarians. This is an important connection considering many of them have lost trust in people. I think the unconditional love they've gotten through their pets helps make this relationship possible.
However, amid the benefits, there are also struggles associated with having a pet while homeless. Many shelters don't allow pets, so these people may be limited in where they can sleep. Avoiding homeless shelters also means less access healthcare and addiction treatment services.
Michelle Lem the lead researcher and founder of Community Veterinary Outreach (CVO), a volunteer group providing mobile veterinary services to homeless people in Canada, hopes that this study will highlight the need for pet friendly homeless shelters and show the value pets bring to these marginalized groups.
News: JoAnna Lou
The Supreme Court of Georgia will soon decide if pets are worth more than their 'market value."
April 29 2016
Our pets are cherished family members who share our bed, accompany us on walks, and cheer us up when we're sad. But in the eyes of the law, animals are pretty much considered property. This distinction will soon be up for debate in Georgia.
Back in 2012, Bob and Elizabeth Monyak boarded their two dogs at Atlanta kennel Barking Hound Village while they were on a family vacation in France. When the Monyaks dropped the pups off, they gave special instructions to give Rimadyl to their Labrador Retriever, Callie, for her arthritis. But when they picked the dogs up, it seemed like something went wrong. Their Dachshund mix, Lola, had no appetite and started trembling the next day.
When they took Lola to the veterinarian, she was diagnosed with renal failure, which the vet believed was consistent with an overdose of Rimadyl. Lola received countless treatments from veterinarians in Georgia and Florida, but sadly Lola passed away nine months later.
The Monyaks sued the kennel, accusing them of giving Callie's medication to Lola. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court of Georgia, but the case in question was not whether the kennel caused Lola's death, but what damages the Monyaks are owed, if any.
Barking Hound Village argues that Lola is considered property and that the Monyaks are entitled only to her "market value." Since Lola was adopted, they allege the family is owned nothing. However, the Monyaks want to recover the $67,000 in veterinary expenses they spent on her care. In addition, they also want a jury to be able to consider the emotional value tied to Lola. The little pup was a part of their family for eight years and loosing her, especially under these circumstances, was heartbreaking.
But there's not much precedent for awarding Monyak what they're asking for. David Favre, a law professor at Michigan State University, says that when it comes to damages for the death of a pet, state supreme courts have usually knocked down trial and appellate court decisions tied to emotional or "non-economic" damages. It's not unusual to get some compensation for veterinary costs, but $67,000 is a stretch.
The tide could be changing, but not very fast. In a few states, legislation has given the green light for some recoverable damages. For instance, in Tennessee, people can recover up to $5,000 "for the loss of the reasonable expected society, companionship, love and affection of the pet." David also notes that people can now create trust provisions for their pets, which is an acknowledgement that they aren't the same kind of property as a random object.
But it's also more complicated than it looks on the surface. The American Veterinary Medical Association is not in favor of the Monyaks receiving emotional damages because they believe a ruling in their favor could lead to increase liability for people who care and treat pets. Also, these situations would benefit the wealthy, since they tend to spend more on pet care (though this is not totally true, I have friends who have risked all of their savings to provide care for a sick dog.)
I think Bob Monyak makes a very good rebuttal. He says that "the amount people spend on pets would be irrational if they didn't have a value greater than their market value. No one would spent $1,000 to fix a $10 toaster."
While Barking Hound Village's lawyer, Joel McKie, believes that Lola "has no special training or unique characteristics, other than that of a 'family dog,'" I think we can all agree that a family dog, even one adopted for free, is far from worthless. When I think of my own pups, I know that their value is immeasurable.
News: JoAnna Lou
More companies are providing time off for new U.K. pet parents.
April 26 2016
A new benefit is joining maternity and paternity leave, and it has to do with kids of the four legged variety.
According to pet insurance provider, Petplan, nearly one in 20 new pet owners in the United Kingdom have been offered time off to care for furry family members. Dubbed pawternity leave, this perk ranges from a few hours to up to three weeks of paid time off.
Mars Petcare was one of the first companies to institute a formal policy, which allows employees 10 hours of paid leave when adding a new pet to the family. This allows people to take their pups to a training class or veterinary appointment, or just spend quality time creating a bond. Mars also has a pet friendly office where employees can bring dogs to work, so they clearly already have a progressive attitude in this area.
But it's not only animal related companies who've added this benefit. Manchester based IT company BitSol Solutions gives a generous three weeks paid leave when a pet joins the family. Company owner Greg Buchanan was inspired to put the policy in place after his partner Steph took nine months off work to settle the couple's own dogs. They don't have any human kids of their own, so their pups are their children. This has given Greg a deep understanding of the importance of animals and having the time to develop a solid relationship. Greg believes being flexible with his staff when it comes to their pets makes them loyal and hardworking.
We don't have mandatory paid maternity or paternity leave in the United States, so it may be harder for pawternity leave to catch on here. In the past, I've used vacation days when a new pet joined my family. But it would certainly be cool to have official paid leave time!
We are pleased to note that there are a handful of US companies who offer employee-pet benefits, including Rover who provides paid bereavement leave for employees for the passing of their beloved pet. Now What offers workers "pupternity leave"— one day PTP if getting a new dog. Bomber Industries provides employees time off to deal with pets who are sick.
News: JoAnna Lou
Scientists discover that zinc can triple a dogs' sensitivity to odors.
April 21 2016
Dogs have amazing noses that we rely on for sniffing out everything from explosives to cancer. A new study has shown that we might be able to enhance their sense of smell with tiny particles of zinc. Scientists at Auburn University in Alabama found that spraying nanoparticles of the metal can triple a dogs' sensitivity to odors.
The zinc effect by discovered by chance while researchers were investigating its ability to kill cancer cells. When they isolated the zinc nanoparticles and added them to tissue taken from the noses of rodents, the electrical activity tripled in the presence of an odor.
Setting out to exclusively study this phenomenon, the team put 14 dogs inside magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scanners. For some dogs, they gave them zinc nanoparticles along with an odor to smell. For the control dogs, they gave them the odor only. The smells included cloves, spearmint, and a fruit blend. The outcome confirmed the finding in the rodent experiment--the nanoparticles tripled activity in the dogs' brains (in areas related to smell) when they were given an odor.
According to lead scientist, Vitaly Vodyanoy, it appears that the nanoparticles increase the activity of sensory receptors. This enhancement lasts about ten seconds. After that short period of time, the next sniff of odor (without additional nanoparticles) produces a normal response.
Zinc also seems to work with people too. Vitaly tried it himself and felt it enhanced his sense of smell. They're now starting to work with a fragrance company to conduct tests on humans.
But the dogs weren't just testing the nanoparticles for people. Another researcher on the study, Dr Gopikrishna Deshpande, said they hoped improving dogs' sense of smell would help working pups excel at their jobs. Gopikrishna explained that dogs can miss detection of explosives that are intentionally concealed to not give out odor.
As a next step, scientists will have to figure out how to make the effects last longer than ten seconds! However, the findings are a cool discovery that could potentially help sniffing dogs to be even better at their important work.
News: JoAnna Lou
11 year old Anna Getner forgoes vacations and concerts to create a play space for dogs.
April 15 2016
Most Make-A-Wish foundation wish requests involve traveling to places like Disney World or Paris, or meeting celebrities. But Anna Getner, a sixth grader at Middlebrook School in Wilton, Conn. had a different dream in mind. If anyone deserved a fancy vacation, it was her. The 11-year old recently completed an 821-day long treatment regimen for leukemia.
But when Make-A-Wish Connecticut asked Anna what her one true wish would be, she told them that she wanted to make a puppy playroom at the local animal shelter. Anna had a very specific vision for an indoor/outdoor park for the rescue dogs to feel comfortable and to serve as a nice place to meet potential adopters.
Make-A-Wish worked with local business, volunteers, and other supporters, who were eager to help make the space a reality.
The room, named Anna's Dog Park, was unveiled in February with a party that included Anna, her friends and family, her classmates and teachers, and many other supporters. Norwalk mayor, Harry Rilling, was there to present Anna with a proclamation in her honor to celebrate her generosity and kind spirit.
While the space at PAWS is completely indoors, photo wallpaper and sky blue ceiling tiles make the room look like it's in the middle of a park. There's even a photo of Anna and her rescue pup, Franklin, built into the landscape.
Franklin, who Anna considers like a brother, was a huge factor in her wish choice. Anna wanted to help all animals at PAWS find their forever homes and make families happy the same way that Franklin has brought her joy.
Pam Keogh, the president of Make-A-Wish Connecticut says that Anna's wish was a first. The chapter has fulfilled 2,500 wishes in the last 30 years, but Pam doesn't know of any request quite like Anna's.
Local pet food company, Blue Buffalo, was so inspired by Anna's selfless decision, that they not only helped to fund the project, but they announced that they will donate food to PAWS for life.
Seeing the play room for the first time, Anna looked around and exclaimed, "Oh my god, it's amazing!." Mission accomplished. Happy rescue pups and finally some joy for a girl who has spent way too much time in a hospital.
News: JoAnna Lou
Italian supermarket finds a way to make their stores even more pet friendly.
April 12 2016
Many pet lovers dread having to leave their pups at home while they run errands. Not all dogs would enjoy coming along for the ride, but it would be nice to have the option for well behaved pets. This dilemma even inspired one woman to create Dog Parker last year, a collection of subscription based kennels placed in front of select Brooklyn, New York storefronts, intended to be used by people running into the grocery store or eating at a restaurant.
Ideally more places would be pet friendly, but health laws and irresponsible owners have made this a challenge. So when I learned that a grocery store in Liano, Italy not only welcomes dogs, but recently added pet friendly shopping carts, I was envious! Just being able to bring your dog into a supermarket is already extremely pet friendly, but the specially designed shopping carts really roll out the welcome mat. For anyone who has carted their dog around a store in a regular shopping cart, you know what a big deal that is! I usually put a towel or crate mat at the bottom of the cart to make it more comfortable for dog feet, but these carts have that feature incorporated into their design.
Unes store owner, Gianfranco Galantini, was inspired to create the pet friendly shopping carts after seeing how many dogs were left tied up outside of his stores. So he fitted some of his shopping carts with a special partitioned section in the front that has a solid bottom. Dogs can sit or stand up while looking out of the front. The carts are also cleaned after each use.
This whole venture is made by possible by the fact that small dogs are legally allowed to enter stores in Italy, as long as they're kept under control. So far everyone has been responsible, only bringing in well behaved pups and keeping everything clean, so there haven't been any problems. Unes' new carts have been so popular that the grocery chain is now considering adding them to their other locations.
Do you wish you could take your pups shopping?
News: JoAnna Lou
Gumby runs away from multiple homes until he finds a permanent spot at the shelter.
April 10 2016
Last month, a seven year old hound mix named Gumby escaped yet again from his seventh adoptive home. It was the eleventh time he ended up back at the Charleston Animal Society (CAS) in the last year and a half.
When Gumby came to CAS in September 2014, his first adoption lasted only three days, the first of many short lived homes. The charming pup had no trouble finding new families, despite being warned of his Houdini-like skills, but Gumby always found a way to escape. Everyone loved Gumby, but all of the adopters ultimately returned him fearing he'd be injured on one of his adventures.
After his seventh home reported Gumby escaping three times in less than a month, once busting out of the man's screen door, the shelter decided to stop placing Gumby up for adoption. They also realized that he rarely ever tried to leave while at the shelter. Gumby adored their staff, and seemed to have a special skill--the natural ability to read the emotions of other dogs. Gumby was able to comfort incoming pets, adjusting his behavior in a way that settled fearful and reactive pups.
Donya Satriale, Behavior Team Leader for CAS, likes to say that Gumby kept returning to the shelter because "he knows he has work to do." Now Gumby helps Donya give behavioral demonstrations and acclimate new dogs.
Thanks to the shelter's extreme patience with Gumby, they eventually discovered his incredible gift for helping other dogs. CAS isn't exactly a traditional home, but it's the perfect one for Gumby.
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