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JoAnna Lou

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

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.”

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A Random Act of Heroism
A man runs into a burning house to save a stranger's dog.

Early Saturday morning, Michael Petenaude was driving back from a friend’s house in Dracut, Mass. when he spotted a house on fire. It didn't look like help was on the way, so Michael called 911 and got out of the car to assess the situation. As he approached the home, Michael saw an elderly woman running down the driveway with a dog in her arms. Her other pup was still inside.

Without a second thought, Michael immediately ran in the house, pulling his sweatshirt over his face to get through the thick back smoke. Michael was afraid, it was hard to breathe and there were bright orange flames were everywhere, but he persisted.

As if the situation wasn't challenging enough, the frightened Yorkie kept darting away when Michael came near. Finally he followed the dog into another room, closer to the flames, and grabbed the pup so they could both escape to safety.

Although Michael put his life on the line for a stranger's dog, he would do it again in a heartbeat. 

“When you put it that way, it sounds a little crazy," admits Michael. "But if you see a 76-year-old lady with just her two dogs, it's like her kids almost. If my dogs were in here, I'd want somebody to grab them."

The 20-year old is thinking of becoming a firefighter one day and has already proven he has the bravery needed for the job. There's no doubt that Michael is a hero in the eyes of one grateful woman and her two pups.

Elaine Buote had lived in that house for over 60 years, since she was 10, but she's just glad that her dogs are safe, thanks to Michael. What an inspiring act of selflessness!

Dog's Life: Humane
Musical Treat at a Florida Shelter
A cellist gives homeless pets a private concert.

Animal shelters can be a stressful environment, but recently the dogs at Florida’s Humane Society of Sarasota County (HSSC) were treated to a special musical break.

While Natalie Helm, Principal Cellist with the Sarasota Orchestra, was visiting her local shelter, she came up with the idea to perform for the animals.

“I know it’s very cliché, but music is a language that everyone appreciates and understands,” she explained. Natalie felt it was a way she could use her talent to make a different in the lives of these animals. She was right.

“I could really sense they were enjoying it,” remembers Natalie. “There was a great feeling of peacefulness that spread quickly through the kennels.”

Classical music has many benefits for both humans and animals, and has long been used as a tool to calm animals in shelters. Studies have shown that dogs’ stress levels decrease after music is played in their kennels. HSSC plays music in the shelter, but nothing can come close a live performance. Fortunately Natalie plans to continue playing for the animals on a regular basis.

I hope this story inspires other musicians to consider volunteering at their local animal shelter. It’s a special gift that can give the animals a moment of calm amid a time of transition and stress.

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Through a Guide Dog’s Eyes
London man attaches a GoPro to his service pup.

Living with a disability is not easy and can make people feel invisible. For those of us who are fortunate not to struggle with one, it’s hard to understand what it’s like to walk a day in their shoes. A man in London decided to show exactly that—what it’s like to see through his guide dog’s eyes.

Amit Patel worked as a doctor in London until he started losing his sight three years ago. Diagnosed with keratoconus, a disease that changes the shape of the cornea, Amit is now completely blind in his right eye, and has lost nearly all sight in his left eye.

Fortunately Amit has his guide dog, Kika, to help him navigate the streets and trains of London, which he travels through almost every day. As if getting around wasn’t hard enough, sadly Amit and Kika face daily abuse by fellow commuters and transit employees. People hit Kika or step over her to get by, and often don’t extend the common courtesy of making a seat available to Amit on the train.

“Kika always sits to my left hand side so we often block the escalator and people will hit her with bags and umbrellas to get her to move out of the way,” explains Amit.

To help others understand what they go through, Amit has been attaching a GoPro camera to Kika’s harness. His wife, Seema, views each day’s footage and posts selections to Twitter.

And it’s not just physical abuse. Amit and Zika endure many unbelievable interactions on a daily basis.

“One lady even said I should apologize to the people behind her for holding them up. I asked her if I should apologize for being blind and she said, ‘yes.’” remembers Amit. “Sometimes I wonder who is the blind person when there are people glued to their mobile phones.”

Amit says losing his sight makes him feel very lonely, especially when people he encounters aren’t friendly. However, Amit is grateful to have Kika, who is one of only five percent of guide dogs trained to navigate an escalator. Kika even saved Amit’s life once from a car that ran a red light.

“Kika saw the car, got in front of me and took the hit—the car grazed her nose,” says Amit. “It was three days before she could work again.”

Amit hopes that his video footage will encourage people to think twice the next time they see someone with their guide dog. A little courtesy goes a long way.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Col. Mailman Befriends a Neighborhood Dog
Jeff Kramer builds a ramp for an elderly pup on his mail route.

Dogs and mailmen have a reputation for being enemies, but there are of course plenty of exceptions. In fact, the guy who delivers my mail happens to be beloved by the neighborhood canines because they know he carries treats. But Boulder, Colorado mailman Jeff Kramer and Tashi the Black Labrador take being friends to the next level.

A few years ago, Jeff was on his mail route when he was greeted by an enthusiastic pup outside a home on Bluebell Avenue. "As fast as Tashi could — which was not very fast — he ran up to me tail wagging, first day I met him," remembers Jeff. "He's just a really friendly dog. And I am a dog person, and they can tell." Jeff and Tashi became instant friends and Jeff always made sure to stop at Tashi's house to say hi. Tashi's owner, Karen Dimetrosky, says that Tashi waits outside on the porch and gets so excited when Jeff comes by. If he's on leash, Tashi will try and pull Karen towards the mail truck.

But at 14 years old, Tashi soon became unable to walk up and down the steps of the porch. Karen started carrying him, but at 70 pounds it was no easy feat.

Jeff couldn't bear to watch his friend struggle so he ended up building a ramp that allows Tashi to easily go in and out of the house. Jeff used the wood from a ramp he built years ago for his own elderly dog, Odie. Since Odie passed away, the ramp had been sitting in Jeff's backyard, so he repurposed it and installed the ramp at Karen's house on one of his days off. Karen says it has really improved Tashi's quality of life, allowing him to remain mobile and independent.

Karen calls Jeff and Tashi's bond amazing. "Jeff will come knock on the door and Tashi will get up off his bed and walk out to greet him." Jeff even recently attended Tashi's 14th birthday party.

According to Jeff, the dogs versus mailmen myth just isn't true. "I've got about 30 or 40 that enthusiastically greet me," he says, but admits that he's "got three or four that enthusiastically want to eat me."

However, Tashi will always be special. "He's just so happy with life," explains Jeff. I'm sure Tashi's joy is due in part to his relationship with Jeff... and vice versa!

Dog's Life: Humane
Exposing Puppy Mills
A Rolling Stone reporter takes a look at the horrors of the commercial breeding business.
Sometimes I wonder how puppy mills still exist. A quick internet search uncovers endless information about how you should avoid buying dogs from pet stores or backyard breeders. At the same time, there's been a lot of media attention promoting adoption in recent years. Yet stores continue to sell puppies and kittens, while millions of shelter animals are euthanized each year. It's easy to feel disheartened, but we can't loose sight of the fact that education is the key to this fight. So I was encouraged to see Rolling Stone's incredibly thorough and moving investigative report on puppy mills.

Reporter Paul Solotaroff did a great job sharing stories from the front lines of commercial dog breeding. Paul began his investigation by shadowing Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) workers and the Cabarrus County sheriffs office on a mission to seize dogs from an operation near Charlotte, North Carolina. The breeder, Patricia Yates, had been selling puppies on multiple web sites without a license and had many buyer complaints against her. But even with evidence, busting an illegal kennel is no east feat. As the author notes, "the HSUS is unique in that it has the money and equipment to house and treat puppy mill rescues. When you close an illegal kennel, you're suddenly swamped with sick dogs, often double what had been reported."  

In this case it was 105 dogs, many pregnant or in heat. Paul knew the situation would be bad, but wrote "nothing can prepare you for the house caked in pet fur and waste, damp laundry draped across every flat surface, maze of crates and garbage, and dozens of puppies in dust-cloaked cages." He describes the dogs as "so matted and excrement-mottled it was hard to tell which from which." Despite the horrid conditions, most of these puppies would be destined for pet stores across the country to be sold for top dollar.

As if the puppies weren't bad enough, the older breeding dogs were "in desperate shape: blinded by cataracts and corneal ulcers; their jaws half-gone or missing entirely after their teeth had rotted away. Some were so feeble they couldn't stand erect; their paws were urine-scalded and their wrists were deformed from squatting on wire their entire lives." These pups had spent their whole lives in slavery, never knowing what it was like to bask in the sun or romp in the grass.

As Patricia Yates was arrested, she yelled, "These dogs are the love of my life!" I'm not sure if she's lying or is just blinded by the real situation.

"Most every pup sold in stores in America comes from this kind of suffering – or worse," explains John Goodwin, the director of the puppy-mills campaign for HSUS. "If you buy a puppy from a pet store, this is what you're paying for and nothing else: a dog raised in puppy-mill evil."

Only a fraction of the 10,000 puppy mills in America are licensed by the USDA or individual states, meaning they're flying completely under the radar. But even a license means very little considering low legal standards and short staffing. The internet has only made the problem worse. The HSUS estimates that half of the two million pups bred in puppy mills are sold online, which is almost impossible to regulate.

Paul's next stop was a dog auction in Missouri where he watched 300 pups bid on and sold, many who looked battered and sick after years of producing. Paul describes the unbearable stench that came from the back room every time they opened the door to bring a new dog into the auction room.

It was here that Paul met Wes Eden, a man devoted to rescuing dogs by the controversial method of buying them at auction. Wes talks about seeing dogs with stomach hernia, bleeding rectums, and ears rotted off from hematomas. It's absolutely heartbreaking.

On that day Wes spent $60,000 buying 21 dogs, which would later require thousands of dollars in veterinary procedures. After they recover, Wes helps them adjust to their new life, teaching them how to walk and climb stairs, and eventually finds homes for them. Most rescue groups believe that Wes' methods just puts more money in the hands of puppy mills, but he can't resist helping these poor pups. Who can blame him.

So how can we change the landscape? Putting pressure on pet stores has helped, but it's also driven sales online. Strengthening laws is one tactic, but can be extremely hard to accomplish.

John believes that the answer lies with the buyers. "The only way you end it is choke its blood supply: stop buying purebred dogs, and adopt one instead." He encourages people to look at Petfinder.com, where you can search through thousands of adoptable dogs. "You can find any breed you like. The difference is these dogs are healthy and you won't spend thousands in vet bills"

The raid that Paul shadowed cost at least $100,000, mostly due to medical costs. As you can imagine, it's not realistic to eliminate the problem this way. We need to get to the root of the issue--the millions of buyers that keep these operations in business.

Read Paul's full report to learn more about the history behind puppy mills, the attempts to regulate them and improve conditions, and the stories he uncovered.

 

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