JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.
Dog's Life: Lifestyle
A girl and her pup share a disability and, more importantly, a special bond.
January 23 2017
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 man runs into a burning house to save a stranger's dog.
January 20 2017
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
A cellist gives homeless pets a private concert.
January 15 2017
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
London man attaches a GoPro to his service pup.
January 13 2017
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
Jeff Kramer builds a ramp for an elderly pup on his mail route.
January 10 2017
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
A Rolling Stone reporter takes a look at the horrors of the commercial breeding business.
January 6 2017
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
A South Carolina firefighter adopts his canine counterpart.
December 29 2016
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
A Sacramento woman facilitates over 700 adoptions in one month.
December 25 2016
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
New York City pilots a program to bring dogs into schools.
December 23 2016
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
A search and rescue pup to be finds her calling in a different place.
December 21 2016
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.
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