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JoAnna Lou

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

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.

 

Dog's Life: Humane
The Story Behind the Calendar
A South Carolina firefighter adopts his canine counterpart.
The combination of hot guys and cute puppies has become a popular calendar fundraiser for animal welfare organizations across the country.

Last year South Carolina firefighter Rob Tackett was posing for the Charleston Animal Society's 2017 calendar. He was shirtless and holding a puppy named Kimber. The German Shepherd's family warned "Mr. March" that she didn't normally like men, but as soon as Kimber met Rob, she curled up in his arms.

"It was an instant connection," remembers Rob. "She felt safe with me."

Kimber was a special dog. Found malnourished and suffering from two different skin conditions, the poor pup was brought to the Charleston Animal Society where she recovered and was adopted by Marine veteran Steve Hall. Steve suffers from post traumatic stress disorder having served three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fortunately he found that his symptoms were alleviated with the help of his dog, Scout. But when Scout passed away, he adopted Kimber and she became his new source of support.

Steve and his family became good friends with Rob following the photo shoot. When Steve became sick and required several surgeries, Rob took care of Kimber during the hospital stay. Unfortunately Steve's health didn't improve, so he asked Rob to adopt Kimber. Steve was heartbroken, but it was in Kimber's best interest.

Rob knew what a hard decision it was, but didn't hesitate.

“I love that dog,” said Rob. “Kimber is an incredibly special dog, I’ve never been around a dog like her. Just being around her makes everything easier.”

Inspired by Steve, Rob has been training Kimber to be a therapy dog and hopes he can one day bring her to visit veterans to share the joy she brings to everyone around her.

“She’s skittish around other people at first,” explains Rob. “But when she gets comfortable she is the most loving dog in the world.”

Who knew there was such a heartwarming story behind the Charleston Animal Society's March calendar spread. All proceeds from the calendar go to their medical fund, which saves thousands of abused and abandoned animals each year. To purchase a copy, visit their web site.

 

 

News: Guest Posts
The Ultimate Holiday Gift
A Sacramento woman facilitates over 700 adoptions in one month.
Kim Pacini-Hauch had been a long supporter of Front Street Animal Shelter in Sacramento, Calif. In the past, Kim donated money and spearheaded a drive to buy the animals beds. But in November, when she met with the shelter's director, Gina Knepp, found that their current predicament was dire. Front Street had around 300 cats and dogs at the shelter, and nearly 700 in foster care.

“I truly was shocked,” said Kim. “Think of putting almost 1,000 animals in one spot, looking at 2,000 eyeballs, and tell me how you would feel if you saw that all in one location. That’s what was going through my mind."

Kim decided she wanted to give the animals the greatest holiday present of all--forever homes.

Kim told Gina that she would cover the cost of all Front Street adoptions through the end of the year, typically $65 per cat and $85 per dog, although the shelter offers a discounted rate of $20 during the holidays. This fee includes spaying or neutering, vaccinations, and microchipping.

When Kim and Gina were taking photos to promote the "Home for the Pawlidays" campaign, someone took a quick 38-second video for the Front Street Facebook page. The clip went viral, with more than two million people watching in 24 hours. The next day the shelter looked like Black Friday at an electronics store. A line extended around the block waiting to get in, with some people even camping out.

Front Street normally does 10-20 adoptions a day, but on the first day of the Home for the Pawlidays campaign, 60 pets were adopted. As of mid-December, the shelter finalized more than 700 adoptions, all paid for by Kim. The promotion was so successful, Front Street took animals from six other Northern California shelters that needed help finding adopters.

Kim's holiday generosity also inspired similar acts. Across the country in Florida, a local resident pledged $2,000 to Tampa Bay's Pet Resource Center to cover 100 adoptions. The anonymous donor mentioned being influenced by Kim's story. Even cooler, some of the patrons paid it forward by covering the adoption fee for another pet. By the time the "Secret Santa's" donation ran out, 126 pets had been adopted.

Shelters often offer adoption deals during the holidays, but it's the generosity of animal lovers that turns this into a social collaboration that encourages others to get involved.

“When someone steps up like the Sacramento donor," said Humane Society of the United States Shelter Outreach Director Kim Alboum, "it does spark the generosity of other donors, especially around the holidays. There are people who never thought of adopting who are now considering it. So this donor has done even more than they realize.”

Reducing or waiving adoption fees can be controversial. As any pet lovers knows, the initial cost of a pet pales in comparison to the long term financial commitment. But I think that these promotions are about more than just the money. These social movements inspire others to get involved, encouraging those who were thinking of buying a dog to consider adoption. As long as shelters are still diligent in the vetting process, I think these campaigns have great potential.

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Pets in the Classroom
New York City pilots a program to bring dogs into schools.
Growing up with a pet helps kids develop compassion, while providing a unique friendship and source of stress relief. This is especially important in today's world where kids have to increasingly navigate uncertainty and anxiety. Unfortunately not every family is able to welcome a pet, but the New York City school district wanted to make sure every child could benefit from the therapeutic benefits of dogs.

Last week New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña joined students, teachers and service dogs at Education Department headquarters to kick off the city’s Comfort Dog pilot program. Through this initiative, participating schools will get at least one dog assigned to a specific teacher or staff member. They'll incorporate the pups into regular lessons and breaks throughout the school day.

“This is something that brings new opportunities to students,” explained Carmen. "When they’re having a bad day, just to pat a dog can make them feel better. This isn’t a fancy idea, the research shows it to be true.”

All of the dogs came from local animal shelters and they're finding homes quickly. Queens Public School 209 teacher Melissa Cerasuolo adopted Jesse, a terrier that had already been visiting her school.

“The kids are falling in love with her,” said Melissa, whose class also includes special needs students. "If kids have behavioral issues, just having the dog around will help them stay calm and control their emotions.”

School can be an incredibly stressful environment and I can see the potential of this program to complement lessons on empathy, anti-bullying, and other important issues. I hope that the comfort dogs are successful. If the city sees an improvement in the test schools' environment, they plan to expand the program. 

 

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Ex-Shelter Dog Discovers Her Special Purpose
A search and rescue pup to be finds her calling in a different place.
German Shepherd mix Saki's story was already an incredible one. She was found wandering the streets of Sacramento, California, but ended up being chosen as a potential search and rescue dog. Saki was waiting to begin a six-month training program with the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation when she discovered a different calling.

One day Saki escaped from her foster family's home and went to visit their neighbors. Across the street lived Danny, a five-year old boy diagnosed with developmental delays. Danny was behind in his motor skills and could only speak in fragmented sentences. The Morgan family had adopted Danny despite the extra challenges and showered him and his siblings with everything they wanted--except a pet. The parents weren't dog people and didn't think the kids were ready for the responsibility.

So when Saki showed up at their door, Danny's mother, Dixie, didn't know what to expect. But it turned out to be a day she'd never forget. The kids were scared at first, but Danny went up to Saki and hugged the pup. Danny's sister recalls Saki had an immediate effect on her brother. "He turned into a different person," she says. Danny took Saki's head in his hands, looked her in the eye, and talked to her.

Saki's foster family began bringing Saki over for regular visits, and she would always seek Danny out. Soon the boy began making huge leaps in his development. About a week after Saki first came over, Dixie remembers Danny was standing in the kitchen and said, with a stutter, "I am Saki's dad." Dixie was floored. It was the first of many advances in his language and motor skills. Soon Danny began talking in full sentences. Previously he couldn't throw a ball straight, but he quickly learned how to play fetch with Saki. Even potty training, which they had been struggling with, came along too.

"When one has confidence a lot of things come together," says Dixie. "As teachers we know that learning takes place most easily and most effectively when there's a high level of emotional involvement. I believe that Danny was very involved with Saki, which contributed to the development of his motor skills and speech. Now his stages of development are most closer to a normal five year old."

Dixie knew that Saki had to stay, but the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation was reluctant to let the dog go. After all, volunteers often test 40-50 pups before choosing one for their program. However, once representatives from the organization came to visit, they knew Saki's place was with Danny.

It's amazing the effect our dogs can have on us, in ways that we can't explain.

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
NFL Quarterback Supports Police Dogs
Ben Roethlisberger's foundation funds working pups in the communities his team plays in.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been playing in the NFL for 12 years, but football isn't the only thing that's important to him. Ten years ago Ben started the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation to support police and fire departments across the country with an emphasis on support for K-9 units and service dogs.

“My Dad instilled in me a love and respect for animals," said Ben. "This is a good way to combine that passion with a desire to support the police and fire departments, which deserve all the appropriate resources needed to protect our cities and neighborhoods, and allow these brave men and women to arrive home safely.”

The foundation distributes grants in the Steelers' hometown of Pittsburgh, as well as the communities of each regular season away game the Steelers play. Those cities include Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Miami, Baltimore, Cleveland, Indianapolis, Buffalo and Cincinnati.

The most recent grants were to the Erlanger Police Department to add a new canine officer to their team, and to the Northern Kentucky University Police to install a temperature monitor in their designated K-9 police cruiser. The school's police dog, Arritt, responds to bomb threats and unattended packages in and around campus, as well as assisting other agencies in the region.

The foundation distributed more than $170,000 in grants to K-9 units around the country during the 2015 NFL season and has distributed in excess of $1.5 million since 2007.

“We’re very fortunate to be in the position that we are able to help these K-9 units." explained Ben. "The work that is performed by the dogs and their handlers as well as the bond that is formed is incredible. We’re just thrilled to do our small part.”

We agree, what a wonderful way to help communities around the country and the dog that support them.

To learn more about the Ben Roethlisberger Foundation, or to submit a grant application, visit their web site.

   
Good Dog: Studies & Research
Tibetan Mastiffs Thrive at High Altitude
Study finds that dogs and humans adapted to mountain living in a similar way.

Sherpas from Nepal and Tibet are known for their unique ability to thrive in high-altitudes, most famously Mount Everest. Scientists believe that this adaptation was acquired over time by interbreeding with the now extinct humans known as Denisovans. A new study from the Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences believes that Tibetan Mastiffs may have followed a similar path.

Like their human counterparts, Tibetan Mastiffs can also live in regions most others can’t—in the thin mountain air above 4,000 meters. The lead researcher and geneticist, Zhen Wang, believes that similar to people, this ability was acquired by interbreeding with gray wolves that already lived at high altitudes more than 20,000 years ago.

This breeding allowed the mastiffs to produce less hemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen in red blood cells. This helps the dogs avoid clots and stokes that can arise when the body produces additional red blood cells in an effort to acquire more oxygen at high altitude. Scientists believe the gene responsible for the adaptation is called EPAS1, which regulates the production of hemoglobin, but weren’t sure how the mastiffs acquired it.

Zhen and his team suspected that the source was gray wolves since they had the EPAS1 gene and had lived on the Tibetan Plateau for some time. So they analyzed segments of DNA containing the gene from 29 canines, including Chinese highland and lowland gray wolves, Tibetan Mastiffs, Chinese lowland village dogs, and a golden jackal. As it turns out, Tibetan Mastiffs are much more closely related to other Chinese dogs than than gray wolves, but they found two genetic areas in the mastiffs that had signs of interbreeding with the Tibetan gray wolf. While the mastiffs got a useful adaptation out of the deal, there’s no genetic evidence that the wolves got anything beneficial in return.

Either way, it’s very cool to see dogs and humans adapt in a similar way!

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Four Legged Employee Goes Viral
A Texas Lowes gains attention for hiring a service dog and her human.

Recently a Lowes in Abilene, Texas has gotten a lot of attention for hiring an employee who looks a little different than the average worker with her fur and four legs. A couple shopping at the home improvement store spotted the Golden Retriever named Charlotte and found out she was a service dog that was hired along with Clay Luthy, a disabled Air Force veteran. They were so impressed that they posted a photo on Facebook, which went viral.

Clay’s multiple Air Force deployments resulted in countless surgeries. He credits Charlotte with allowing him to avoid medications and live independently. Still it wasn’t wasn’t easy to find a job. But when he and Charlotte showed up to the interview at Lowes, they assured him that it wouldn’t be a problem to bring Charlotte to work every day. In fact Lowes already allows well behaved pets in their stores.

A few weeks later Lowes extended a job offer and Clay made Charlotte her own employee vest out of an old Lowe’s apron.

At ten years old, Charlotte will have to retire soon. Clay has been training a seven-month old puppy named Lola to take her place, but Charlotte has left a lasting impression.

Not only has Charlotte helped Clay maintain a job, but she has become an ambassador at the store, entertaining kids while their parents shop and putting smiles on people’s faces.

Finding and holding a job is just one of the challenges that people with disabilities have to deal with every day. After seeing stories like Lisa McComb’s difficulty flying home with her service dog, it’s refreshing to see a company with a more accommodating view. Hopefully more will follow suit!

Dog's Life: Events
A Wedding Becomes a True Family Affair
Maid of honor makes sure her sister's dog makes it down the aisle.
Our pets are our family, so it's only natural to want to include them in all of our important life events. When veterinarians Kelly O'Connell and James Garvin were planning their wedding in Denver, Colorado, they knew all of their dogs had to be a part of the ceremony, including their sick Labrador Retriever Charlie Bear.

At 15 years old, Charlie had been battling a brain tumor since April. On the wedding day earlier this fall, Charlie was weak but started walking down the aisle with Kelly's sister and maid of honor, Katie Lloyd. But even the aisle proved to be too far for Charlie. So without hesitation, Katie picked up the 80-pound pup and carried him to the alter to be with Kelly. It was an emotional day for the couple and all of the guests.

“Both of us just dropped to our knees and started crying,” said Kelly. “To see him be carried a few feet, it kind of solidified for me that it’s not the Charlie he liked to be. He was aging, and it hit me knowing that he lost a lot.”

Kelly's friend and photographer, Jen Dziuvenis, was there taking photographs. She was in tears but knew it was important to capture Charlie at Kelly and James' special day.

“When your beloved dog who is at the end of his life can’t make it back up the aisle and your sister scoops him up and carries him... THAT is love,” Jen wrote on Facebook. “There isn’t enough mascara in the world for these moments. Dog people are the best people.”

The wedding turned out to be one of Charlie's last days. Later that week, he passed away.

I'm sure that Kelly and James couldn't imagine their wedding without Charlie, so I'm glad that they were able to create one last memory together. 

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