JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New York becomes the latest state to allow people and pets to be buried alongside each other.
September 30 2016
To dog lovers, our pups are our family. So it's no surprise that a growing number of people want to be close to their pets after they pass away. Most states don't make it easy, but New York just joined the growing trend to accommodate pet lovers by revisiting burial laws.
Earlier this week, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law allowing New Yorkers to be buried with the cremated remains of their pet. Cemeteries can still opt out since some would be prohibited to do so for religious reasons.
"This legislation will roll back unnecessary regulation and give cemeteries the option to honor the last wishes of pet lovers across New York," said the Governor.
Before this new law, New Yorkers could have their ashes buried with their pups in a pet cemetery. But even that was threatened in 2011 when the state's Division of Cemeteries banned the practice. However they reversed the decision months later after a public outcry and potential lawsuit. At Hartsdale Pet Cemetery in Westchester County, New York, there are over 500 people's ashes buried alongside their pets, clearly demonstrating the need for a change in the law.
Now that pets have been becoming an established part of the family, more states are changing their laws. In 2014, Virginia passed legislation that permits pets and people to be buried side by side, as long as they're not in the same grave or coffin. And last year, Massachusetts introduced a bill that would allow the state's cemeteries to designate land for people and pets to be buried alongside each other. Other states with existing pet-human burial laws include Pennsylvania and Florida.
Admittedly I haven't given much thought to my own burial plans, but I do think the trend in these laws is a good thing. Burials are important to many people for cultural, spiritual, or religious reasons. It only makes sense that in a country where we're so close to our pets, we are allowed to be buried together.
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Congressman Jim McGovern makes a push to provide funding to help veterans.
September 24 2016
Earlier this month Massachusetts Democrat Jim McGovern was on Capitol Hill to garner support for the Wounded Warrior Service Dog Act. The bill, which he introduced last year, would give five million dollars annually in federal grants to nonprofit organizations that train service dogs for members of the Armed Forces and disabled veterans. The congressman was joined by retired Marine Corps Sgt. Michael Garvey, his service dog, Liberty, and Gloria Gilbert Stoga, the founder of Puppies Behind Bars, a program where prison inmates train Labrador Retrievers for veterans, people with disabilities, and law enforcement agencies.
The funding would not only help make dogs available, but would also provide assistance with expenses. Under Veterans Affairs rules, service members seeking animals to help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) don't quality for the benefits available to those with visual, hearing, or mobility impairment, who get help with veterinary care and travel benefits associated with obtaining and training a dog.
According to an article in Time magazine, 40,000 troops have been physically wounded in Afghanistan and Iraq, but 10 times as many exhibit symptoms of PTSD. As you can imagine, the need for service dogs has been steadily growing in recent years.
These pups help veterans live more independent lives, increasing mobility and social interactions, while reducing stress and panic. They can be trained to perform functions specific to those with PTSD or traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). For instance, if a dog sees their partner is having a flashback or nightmare, they will initiate a calming behavior, like putting their head in the person's lap or licking their face.
Organizations that place dogs with veterans have seen significant gains. One man became an avid traveler after being too afraid to leave his house for months. Another was able to reduce his pill intake from 30 to two different medications.
For Michael, no one needs to tell him the statistics to know how invaluable Liberty has become in his life. "Liberty is my grounding rod, he calms me down so quickly," Michael says. "If I ever get disoriented, he is like my little rock."
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Study finds that many pups prefer praise over treats.
September 17 2016
A recent study out of Emory University found that many dogs prefer praise over treats. It all began when neuroscientist Gregory Berns was interested in what dogs "really care about." He wondered if it was all about food, or if social rewards were potentially more valuable.
15 dogs, trained to lie still for 30 minutes in an MRI, went through three experiments. The first looked at brain activity when presented with different objects--a hairbrush, a toy car, and a toy horse--paired with a hot dog, praise, or nothing. For 13 of the 15 dogs, their brains were stimulated by the praise just as much, if not more than, the food.
In the second test, Gregory wanted to replicate the first experiment, but this time a subset wouldn't get praised. The researchers found that the dogs who responded more strongly to praise in the first experiment seemed to be more disappointed than the other pups when they didn't get it this time around.
The third experiment took place outside of the MRI, in a maze where the pups had to choose between finding a bowl of food and getting praise from their owner. Researchers found that the outcomes of the first two tests were a strong predictor of the dogs' choice. The 13 dogs whose brains were stimulated by the praise, chose to head straight to their person instead of to the treats.
Gregory believes that the research shows dogs are primarily motivated by praise, which could have a great impact on training strategy. He also thinks that these findings can help identify which idividuals might be most successful as service dogs.
“A dog with high preference for social reward might be best suited for certain therapeutic or assistance jobs,” Gregory notes in the study, “while a dog with less of a neural preference for social reward might be better suited for tasks that require more independence from humans, like search-and-rescue dogs or hearing-assistance dogs.”
As for our own pets, I think this study reinforces how social we know dogs to be. However, I'm not completely sure all of my dogs would pick me over a tasty treat!
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
A university looks at animal-assisted therapy's effect on homesickness and retention.
September 16 2016
When I first went away to college, I remember how homesick I felt, especially since I had to leave my pets behind. One of my first good friendships began over a conversation about our guinea pigs. Not only do animals have the ability to make us feel better, but they can also help bring people together.
New research from the University of British Columbia shows that animal-assisted therapy can help students combat homesickness and could have a positive effect on retention. The transition from high school to university can be challenging, and students who are homesick are more likely to drop out.
In the study, 44 first-year university students who self-identified as homesick were given a survey to measure levels of homesickness, satisfaction with life, and connectedness with campus. Half of the students completed eight weeks of pet therapy, while the other half were informed that their sessions would begin in eight weeks. The therapy included 45-minute weekly small group interactions with the dogs, their handlers, and the other participating students. Following the eight weeks, participants in both the treatment group and the non-treatment group completed the survey again.
Participants who completed the eight week program experienced significant reductions in homesickness and a greater increase in satisfaction with life. One student reported that the sessions "felt like they were at home chatting with friends who brought their puppies." The non-treatment group reported an increase in their feelings of homesickness.
According to Professor John Tyler Binfet., homesick students are three times more likely than those who manage their homesickness to disengage and drop out of university.
UBC student Varenka Kim says that moving to a new city to attend university caused her to feel very homesick and depressed. "I was mainly secluded in my dorm and didn't feel like I belonged here. Coming to animal assisted therapy sessions every Friday gave me a sense of purpose and kept me enthusiastic about life."
Have time with the puppies is certainly beneficial, but more importantly these sessions gave participants a way to meet and interact with each other, forming lasting relationships that went beyond the therapy program.
Dog's Life: Humane
September 13 2016
Most Make-A-Wish Foundation 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.
The 11-year-old, who completed an 821-day long treatment regimen for leukemia earlier this year, told Make- A-Wish Connecticut that she wanted to create a puppy playroom at PAWS, her local animal shelter. She had a very specific vision: a place where dogs would feel comfortable and could meet potential adopters in a pleasant setting. Make-A-Wish worked with local business, volunteers and other supporters eager to help make the space a reality.
Anna’s Dog Park was unveiled in February with a party that included Anna, her friends and family, classmates, teachers, and many others. Norwalk mayor Harry Rilling issued a proclamation celebrating Anna’s generosity and kind spirit.
According to Anna, her rescue pup, Franklin, played a big role in her choice of wishes. She wanted all animals at PAWS to find their forever homes and give others as much joy as Franklin has given her.
Pam Keogh, president of Make-A-Wish Connecticut, says that Anna’s request was a first. The chapter has fulfilled 2,500 wishes in the last 30 years, but Keogh doesn’t know of any quite like Anna’s. Local pet food company Blue Buffalo was so inspired by Anna’s selfless decision that it not only helped fund the project, but also announced that it will donate food to PAWS for life.
Mission accomplished: happy rescue pups and, finally, some joy for a girl who has spent way too much time in a hospital.
Wellness: Healthy Living
Researchers try to better understand the condition nicknamed swimmers tail.
September 10 2016
From time to time I hear about friends' dogs who have developed “swimmers tail,” a condition many believe is caused by spending too much time playing in the water. Limber tail as professionals call it, mostly affects larger working dog breeds, such as Labrador Retrievers, and results in the tail becoming limp and painful.
A team at the University of Edinburgh wanted to study cases of limber tail in order to understand the habits and lifestyles that might explain why some dogs are affected and others are not. The researchers confirmed that the condition is more likely to show up in working dogs. But not all of the affected dogs had been swimming prior to the onset of symptoms. They did find that dogs with limber tail were more likely to live in northern areas, lending support to anecdotal reports that the condition is associated with exposure to the cold.
Interestingly, Labradors that suffered limber tail were more likely to be related to each other than unaffected dogs, which may indicate an underlying genetic risk.
This was the first large scale study of limber tail. Researchers hope that further studies will look to identify genes associated with the condition, which could help breeders identify animals that are likely to be affected. Overtime, this could help reduce the disease prevalence.
Thankfully limber tail isn't a life threatening condition, but this often causes it to be overlooked and underestimated. Limber tail isn't always reported to veterinarians since symptoms usually resolve themselves within a few days or weeks. However, it's thought to be very painful and distressing for affected pups, so more research is certainly welcome in this area.
Has one of your pups ever been affected by limber tail?
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
A Golden Retriever is rescued nine days after being trapped by an earthquake.
September 8 2016
Two weeks ago, a 6.2 magnitude earthquake devastated parts of Italy, claiming almost 300 lives and leaving thousands without homes. A family in San Lorenzo a Flaviano managed to escape, but couldn't find their Golden Retriever, Romeo. When the earthquake struck, they were sleeping on the second floor of the house and Romeo was downstairs. The family searched for him all day, but assumed the worst after they couldn't locate him. No human survivors have been found since those that were rescued the first day.
Last Friday--nine days later--Romeo's family got quite the surprise. When they came back to their damaged home to retrieve belongings, rescuers heard Romeo barking from under the rubble.
Romeo was a trooper, keeping calm while firefighters worked to free him and then patiently waited while they checked him over. Amazingly Romero was unscathed. Rescuers believe he was saved from being crushed by structural beams above where he was found.
In addition to being saved, there have also been dogs helping with the rescue efforts, such as a Black Labrador named Leo who located an four-year old girl in Pescara del Tronto and a German Shepherd named Sarotti who helped find a ten-year old girl in Amatrice. Leo even got to shake paws with the Pope on Saturday in a meeting with rescue crews.
It's always nice to hear some of the positive stories amid tragedies like these.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Leaving the air conditioner on isn't the magic solution for leaving pets in the car.
September 3 2016
People leaving dogs (and kids) in hot cars has been a heated topic this summer. For those traveling, making the car a comfortable place for pets is a necessity. I've seen lots of solutions, from leaving the air conditioner on to using aluminum shade blankets to deflect the sun. There are also thermometers that monitor a car's temperature from your phone. With all of the media attention on pets in cars, some people that keep the air conditioning on have resorted to posting a sign on their car so well meaning animal lovers don't automatically smash their windows open.
But keeping temperatures cool isn't foolproof. Earlier in the summer an Indiana kennel had 14 dogs die after their truck's air conditioning set-up malfunctioned. And last month, in a more unusual chain of events that were thankfully less tragic, a woman in West Virginia learned that keeping your vehicle on can be problematic. She left her two pups in the car with the engine and air conditioning running while she ran an errand. Meanwhile, the dogs managed to crash the car into a Walmart store. It happened at a slow rate of speed so no people or pups were hurt, and there was minimal damage to the car and building.
It's probably best to leave your pups at home while you're running errands or eating at a restaurant, but for those who don't have a choice, make sure you have a solid plan for keeping your pets cool. And if you leave the engine on, remember to put your car in park!
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Study finds that pets are beneficial to families with autistic kids.
August 31 2016
Animal assisted therapy has helped kids with a range of disabilities, but a new study has been looking at the effect of pet dogs on the whole family. A collaboration between researchers at the University of Lincoln and the Human Animal Bond Research Initiative (HABRI) Foundation has been looking at interactions between parents and children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). The study found that families with dogs experienced improved functioning among their ASD children and a reduction in the number of dysfunctional interactions between the parents and children.
The lead researcher, Professor Daniel Mills, says that while there's growing evidence that animal-assisted therapy can aid in the treatment of children with ASD, this is the first study to explore the effects of dog ownership. The team's work is also unique because the research looks at the effects on the family unit, as opposed to only looking at the ASD kids.
"We found a significant, positive relationship between parenting stress of the child's main caregiver and their attachment to the family dog," says Professor Mills. "This highlights the importance of the bond between the carer and their dog in the benefits they gain." The reduction in stress was not seen in families without a dog.
I can only imagine the anxiety and stress that parents of children with autism feel, but it's heartening to see the important role dogs play in our lives.
According to HABRI Executive Director Steven Feldman, "We have strong scientific evidence to show that pets can have positive effects on these quality-of-life issues. Families with an autistic child should consider pet ownership as a way to improve family harmony."
Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Detection dogs who didn't make the grade are looking for new homes
August 28 2016
It has long been common practice for service dog organizations to adopt out the pups that didn't meet their high standards, but now the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is instituting a similar program to rehome explosives detection dogs.
The TSA is looking for forever homes for the pups who have either retired or didn't make it through their training program. The dogs typically range in age from two to 10 years old and are usually German Shorthaired Pointers, Labrador Retrievers, German Shepherds, or Belgian Malinois.
These explosives detection pups will likely be well trained, but will come with unique challenges. As you can imagine, these working dogs need homes that can continue to provide an active lifestyle. In addition, unlike service dog school drop outs, explosives detection pups aren't used to a home environment because the TSA's dogs live in kennels. There is sure to be a considerable adjustment period, so I hope that the TSA plans on providing some support and guidance during the transition.
There's no adoption fee, but all prospective families must fill out an application and be approved. If applicants meet the requirements, photos and information on the available dogs will be sent and the Adoption Coordinator will help match families with the best pup for their home.
If you're interested in adopting an ex-TSA dog, contact the Adoption Coordinator at AdoptaTSAcanine@OLE.tsa.dhs.gov. This seems like a great program to ensure that these hard working pups live out their retirement days with a loving family.
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