JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.
News: JoAnna Lou
Bomb sniffing pups are at a premium these days.
March 25 2016
As terrorist attacks sadly become increasingly common, more countries are incorporating detection dogs into their national security plan. Since 9/11, the number of canines deployed to the nation's transportation hubs has surged 400 percent. And with recent events, these pups are often called on to patrol other places, like malls and other popular tourist areas.
Earlier this month, Cynthia Otto, Executive Director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, testified at a Congressional hearing on homeland security canines that the demand for detection pups has increased to the point where the quality of dogs has suffered and the price has increased dramatically.
No agency outside of the United States military employs more bomb-sniffing canines than the Transportation Security Administration. This year, more than $120 million is budgeted for the TSA to place nearly a thousand bomb-sniffing dogs at airports, train stations, and other transportation spots, however they are having a hard time meeting that target since they don't have enough qualified pups. The TSA must replace 100 or more dogs per year because of retirement, health problems, or declining performance. For the first time since 9/11, the agency is seeking to purchase privately trained dogs. Previously all TSA pups were trained by federal employees at their dedicated facility at the Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas (you may remember an article we wrote back in November about this center's adoption program to find homes for dogs that didn't graduate from the program).
Sue Kjellsen of K2 Solutions, a company that supplies and trains IED detection pups for the military says that the demand for high quality Labradors has forced them to start looking abroad for pups. Eastern Europe has been a popular source because dogs there have been historically bred for police and other detection work. In America, dogs tend to be bred for companionship and show, which eliminates many breeders.
According to Sue, the dogs from K2 can search about 200 people per minute. Even technology can't replace these talented canines. TSA explosives detection handler Doug Timerlake says that no machine can detect the presence of explosive materials a way a dog can. While machines can confirm the presence of explosive substances, they can't reason and problem solve to find the source. Dogs can also work off leash to monitor open spaces and large areas more easily.
Most people don't believe going overseas for dogs is a good long term solution. There have been many alternatives proposed, such as expanding the breeds considered for detection work and creating a national breeding program, but it's still a dilemma being worked through.
These dogs play an important and unique role in our security. I just hope these programs don't forget that they're not merely looking at numbers that can be adjusted to find the most cost effective solution. They are living, breathing animals that deserve the best care and decision making around their future in this country.
News: JoAnna Lou
The train line has been developing a program to include pets on trips.
March 24 2016
A year ago, the White House and House of Representatives passed a bill to continue government funding for Amtrak. It also required the train line become pet friendly. While both political sides didn't fully agree, it was thought that the pet-related part of the bill won over many representatives for the bi-partisan vote. The provision was included in the bill by California Representative Jeff Denham who had been advocating for pet friendly trains since he realized several years ago that he couldn't ride Amtrak with his French Bulldog, Lily.
When the bill was passed, Amtrak had already been testing a small pilot program in Illinois, but this legislation gave the train line a year to figure out the parameters of an official program.
They took the time to expand the pilot program to include the popular Northeast Regional and Downeaster routes (from Norfolk, Va. to Brunswick, Me.), which was a success. Animal lovers were thrilled and the $25 pet fee made Amtrak nearly $500,000 in extra revenue. During the October to March pilot period, 4,600 passengers traveled with pets. In that time, Amtrak didn't receive a single piece of negative feedback from customers who shared cars with a furry passenger. Instead passengers wanted Amtrak to include other pets (currently only cats and dogs are allowed) and to increase the current 20-pound limit.
Last month Amtrak announced that the Northeast Regional and Downeaster routes would become permanent pet routes and expanded the program to include longer trips up to seven hours in length (that means the Auto Train from Virginia to Florida wouldn't be included). They also announced a new pilot program on the Acela Express that will run into June.
Because the program limits five pet reservations per car, Amtrak recommends booking pet spots early. Dogs and cats must be at least 8 weeks old and fit in a carrier that can go under the seat (19" x 14" x 10.5" or smaller). For safety reasons, animals must be able to sit and lie down comfortably without touching the sides of the carrier. While riders may not be asked for it, passengers are required to have their pets' vaccination records on hand. Quiet and cafe cars remain humans only.
As Amtrak is phasing in the pet program, they're still working through challenges. For instance, in some regions, passengers may be transported between train stations on buses that aren't pet friendly. Also Amtrak will sometimes arrange lodging for delayed passengers, and finding a pet friendly hotel adds an extra complication. However, Amtrak is committed to expanding the program.
It's always great to have another pet friendly travel option. I hope that Amtrak not only expands the program to other regions and routes, but also finds a way to include larger dogs as well. Pups that don't fit under a passenger seat (by train or by air) are forced to travel essentially as plane cargo. Hpoefully Amtrak can one day provide an alternative.
News: JoAnna Lou
Californian pup survives five weeks after falling off of a fishing boat.
March 18 2016
Last month, Nick Haworth was chartering a small fishing boat two miles off the coast of Southern California when his canine crew member, Luna, fell overboard and disappeared. Nick immediately called for help and started a search for the 1.5 year old German Shepherd/Husky mix. Even Navy crews from nearby San Clemente Island helped by looking for Luna from land and air. Sadly after two days of searching, Luna was still nowhere to be found. Nick was heartbroken.
But five weeks later, Luna miraculously showed up near a naval facility on the island. Crew members found her sitting by the main road, ready to be rescued. As soon as they opened the door and whistled, Luna jumped right in.
Navy wildlife biologist Melissa Booker surmised that Luna was hard to spot because her tan and black coloring blended in with the island's vegetation. They think Luna swam to shore not long after falling from the boat, and survived on her own on the island for over a month. When they found her, she was a bit malnourished, but otherwise healthy. There was evidence that Luna survived by eating small rodents.
Domestic animals are not usually allowed on San Clemente Island, so the Navy members had fun with her during her stay. Naval Air Base Commander Stephen Barnett bestowed a special dog tag on the survivor which read, "For Luna, keep the faith."
Nick was overjoyed to learn that Luna had been found, but her resilience didn't surprise her. "I always knew she was a warrior."
News: JoAnna Lou
New research suggests that canines may have a similar sense to migratory birds.
March 17 2016
On the surface, dogs and birds don't seem like they have much in common. But a group of scientists in Germany may have uncovered an interesting similarity.
Many animals use the Earth's magnetic field for orientation and navigation. The most famous are probably migratory birds, which have been studied extensively, but others with this ability include select insects, fish, reptiles, and mammals.
Scientists attribute birds' magnetic sense to cryptochomes, light-sensitive molecules. Cryptochromes are a class of flavroproteins that are sensitive to blue light. They're involved in the circadian rhythms of plants and animals, and for some species, in the sensing of magnetic fields. Birds have cryptochrome 1a in their eyes' photoreceptors, which are activated by light to react to the magnetic field. But could our pups have this same ability?
Researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research have recently detected cryptochrome 1 (the mammal equivalent to the birds' cryptochrome 1a) in the photoreceptors of several mammal species, making it possible that these animals may also have a magnetic sense that is linked to their visual system. Out of 90 mammal species that they looked at, they only found cryptochrome in a few species from the carnivore and primate groups. This included dog-like carnivores, such as dogs, wolves, bears, foxes, and badgers, but not cat-like carnivores, such as cats, lions, and tigers.
It's possible that the cryptochrome could control other functions, like circadian rhythms or help with color perception, but because of their location the researchers believe that this is unlikely. The cryptochrome is located in the blue- to UV-sensitive cone photoreceptors, just like the birds.
There is other evidence that dogs and other similar species can perceive the Earth's magnetic field. For example, foxes are more successful at catching mice when they pounce on them in a north-east direction.
However, this is not to say that the cryptochrome is the only indicator of sensitivity to the Earth's magnetic field. Rodents and bats react to magnetic fields, but don't contain active cryptochrome.
The scientists hope to further explore this finding and discover if dogs do have the ability to sense the Earth's magnetic field.
News: JoAnna Lou
A dog picks up on health problems within a Scottish family.
March 11 2016
Five year old Mark Cannon and his family's Dogue de Bordeaux, Alfie, have been inseparable since birth. And early on, Alfie has always insisted on walking on Mark's right side. Eventually the family had Mark's eyes checked and found that Alfie knew something was wrong all along. A school optometrist diagnosed Mark with astigmatism in his right eye. It turns out that Mark was almost blind in that eye and his parents think that Alfie stood by Mark's right side to act as a guide. The doctors say that Mark could've gone completely blind in both eyes if they didn't catch the condition when they did. Astigmatism can often be corrected when it's caught before the age of seven.
Since then Mark has been wearing an eye patch on his left eye to help strengthen the right one. His vision is getting stronger, but Alfie still walks on Mark's right side. Even if you try to walk Alfie on the other side, he'll push until he can get to his "spot."
Amazingly, this isn't the only time that Alfie helped with a diagnosis. Last August the family noticed that Alfie would sniff and lick the back legs of their other dog, Cass. When they brought her to the veterinarian, Cass was diagnosed with a tumor in her back leg, exactly where Alfie had been sniffing and licking.
Dogs can be quite perceptive, not getting swept up in the hectic rituals of every day life. We just need to make sure to listen to them! Has your pup ever alerted you to a problem?
News: JoAnna Lou
New sport encourages people and their pups to jump, run, and crawl.
March 9 2016
In recent years we've had a surge in new dog sports, such as rally obedience and nosework. It's great to have so many different ways to spend quality time with your pup. Now there's another activity to try!
You may have seen videos online of people doing parkour, a sport typically practiced in urban areas that involves negotiating a complex environment as efficiently as possible. Originally developed as obstacle course training for the French military, parkour includes running, climbing, vaulting, jumping, and rolling.
When Ohio dog trainer Karin Coyne and veterinarian Abigail Curtis picked up parkour as a hobby in 2011, they realized their dogs would love doing this too! Soon they started training their pups to leap onto surfaces, run around obstacles, and crawl under spaces, and eventually began teaching classes. The duo had a diverse mix of students showing that anyone could participate from puppies to older pups. Many fearful dogs even gained confidence through canine parkour.
People from around the world started contacting Karin and Abigail asking about canine parkour, So they founded the International Dog Parkour Association to build the sport. The organization allows people and their pups to earn titles to commemorate new skills no matter where they live. It's up to individuals to teach the behaviors, practice, and then take a video of their dog confidently and safely navigating the obstacles. For example, at the novice level, dogs have to perform three different skills on a given obstacle.
What's cool about canine parkour is that it encourages people and their dogs to interact with the environment. You can practice and build skill almost anywhere!
News: JoAnna Lou
Vets are seeing an increase in fractured carnassial teeth.
March 3 2016
My dogs love antler chews. When my Border Collie, Scuttle, was a puppy, it was the only way I could get her to chill while I got chores done around the house (besides using her crate). But recently a friend's pup fractured a tooth on an antler, prompting me to do a little research on these beloved treats. According to United Kingdom based DentalVets, veterinarians have been seeing an increase in fractured carnassial teeth from hard chews, some resulting in surgical extraction or root canal therapy. While fractured teeth aren't uncommon, damage to the carnassial teeth at the back of the mouth is.
This shift has caused some shops to stop stocking hard chews, like antlers and bull horns. Three years ago a group of concerned veterinarians and nurses wrote to the Veterinary Times to spread the word about the potential danger. This sparked a multi-year study on the effect of various types of chews on dog teeth, research that has recently concluded and will be submitted for publication soon.
While many dogs use these chews without problems, if you do give your pups these products, it's important to monitor your dogs' teeth and take them to the veterinarian for their annual checkups. Most pets with tooth fractures don't show any signs of pain, so we have to pay close attention to how our pups use these chews. The American Animal Hospital Association has a helpful article on canine tooth fractures.
According to oral veterinary surgeon, Rachel Perry, many people assume bones and antlers are beneficial because dogs in the wild eat these chews. But we shouldn't assume what animals do in the wild is necessarily safe. Rachel cites a study that looked at the skulls of Wild African Dogs. The scientists found that 41 percent had periodontal disease and 48 percent had broken teeth. So we may not want to follow exactly what these pups are doing!
Rachel recommends two simple tests to determine if a chew is too hard. If you can dig your fingernail in it and make an impression, it's safe. If you can whack your knee with it, and it doesn't hurt, it's okay.
If your dog has suffered dental injury from a chew, DentalVets advocates getting a vet report and reporting the damage to the pet store that you bought the product from. This will create greater awareness
Do your pups like antlers and other hard chews?
News: JoAnna Lou
The Diamondbacks up the ante with its Dog Days of Summer promotion.
March 2 2016
As a New York Mets fan, I distinctly remember how excited I was when they announced their first ever Dog Day at Shea Stadium in 2005. It was a relatively new concept at the time, a night where you could bring your pup to watch the baseball game. Even better, part of the profits went to a local animal shelter. Soon it became a regular promotion at ballparks across the country. Last year, 22 of the 33 Major League Baseball teams had at least one game where they welcomed canine fans. The Pittsburgh Pirates were extremely pet friendly, hosting ten Pup Nights.
But this season the Arizona Diamondbacks are taking the concept to a new level. They just announced that they're teaming up with PetSmart to open all 13 of their Sunday home games to fans and their dogs. Dog Days of Summer will feature a specially created area near left center field with tiered seating to accommodate families and dogs of all kinds and an outdoor/indoor dog park for the pups to explore and run around. The outside portion will be themed with a baseball diamond and grassy outfield and the indoor portion will be air conditioned for relief on hot summer days. This customized area is the first of its kind at a ballpark. Special concessions will also be available, such as canine ice cream topped with kibble, and local shelters will be showcasing dogs for adoption.
Not all dogs will enjoy attending a baseball game with its loud noises, crowds, and stadium seating, but for those who do, it's a great way to spend a night sharing a favorite pastime with your pup.
News: JoAnna Lou
Kids gain reading skills while timid dogs acclimatize to people.
February 26 2016
When my Sheltie, Nemo, participated in our local library's reading program, you could see how the kids really opened up in front of the pups. The parents would tell me how these visits helped their children overcome shyness and even fear of dogs. The reading program made the library one of their favorite places!
In December, the Humane Society of Missouri did their own twist on the library programs to help homeless pets. The Shelter Buddies Reading Program lets kids practice reading in a non-judgmental environment, while helping to acclimatize timid or anxious shelter dogs to people.
The program also has an educational aspect. The kids, ages six through 15, go through a training program that teaches them to understand the perspective of pets in a shelter environment and how to read canine body language. The children are then assigned to a dog who they read to and reinforce desired behavior, like giving a treat for coming to the front of the kennel. The kids can bring a book from home or choose one from the shelter's library.
The Humane Society came up with the idea for the program because they wanted to find a way to comfort anxious dogs, while incorporating the many animal loving kids who were looking to volunteer.
Besides making the pups more comfortable, the program has the potential to shorten shelter stays. According to JoEllyn Klepacki, the assistant director of education, dogs that come to the front of the kennel when people walk by are more likely to be adopted. The program has only been in place for two months, but JoEllyn says that the impact has been amazing. Dogs that used to cower in the back of the kennel come up to the front by the end of their reading sessions.
I hope more shelters around the world will implement this mutually beneficial program!
News: JoAnna Lou
Insight into the Queen's canine routine.
February 24 2016
Queen Elizabeth's Corgis are arguably the most beloved members of British royalty. Recently Dr. Roger Mugford, an animal psychologist and behavioral therapist who has worked for years with the royal canines, talked about their cushy lives in an interview celebrating the Queen's 90th birthday.
It turns out the Queen has a very specific mealtime ritual for her four pups, Holly, Willow, Candy, and Vulcan. Each of the dogs are fed individually designed menus of steak, rabbit, or chicken, topped with homeopathic and herbal add-ins. The meals are served on silver or porcelain dishes and brought out by a butler. The dogs patiently sit in a semi-circle around the Queen and they're fed in order of seniority.
This feeding ritual made me think of my own pups' routine. I also feed my dogs in order of seniority, but will flip the order if someone barks (usually one of the impatient Shelties!). Whoever barks gets their food last. This only delays their meal by a minute or so, but those are the rules in our house! Good manners trumps seniority.
While our pets may not eat off of silver platters, we may have more in common with the Queen and her dogs than we think. Dr. Mugford had some interesting insights into the Queen's love of animals. He says she has strong views about how dogs should be cared for and doesn't tolerate unkindness. When the Queen talks about her dogs you see a completely different side to her: she relaxes."
The human canine bond is strong, no matter if we're royalty or not!
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