JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Facebook Dogs
Increase in animal lovers creating social media accounts for their pets

Although a lot of people complain about Facebook, I don’t know what I’d do without the infamous social networking web site. It lets me connect with busy friends, keep up with family across the world, and stay up-to-date on my dog sport pals’ latest accomplishments. Both of my pups even have their own Facebook profiles, which I use to tag them in photos and post tongue-in-cheek updates about eating Kongs and traveling to agility class.

While pet profiles aren’t technically allowed, I figure, if my friends’ babies can have profiles, why can’t my dogs. After all, they are my children! However, my pups’ online jaunts may soon come to an end. Now that Facebook is publicly traded, the company is cracking down on millions of non-human accounts.

Nonetheless, a study by pet insurer Petplan found that seven percent of British dog people set up a Facebook page for their pups, a 36 percent increase from last year.

The ban doesn’t mean that Facebook is not animal friendly. People can set up pet pages in the form of a fan page, which is what Mark Zuckerberg set up for his Puli, Beast, who is “liked” by over one million Facebook users.

If you want to be proactive about your pets’ profiles, Facebook has instructions on how to convert them to a fan page.

Does your pup have a social media account?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Postponing Their Wedding to Save a Dog
Couple gives up their nuptials to pay for their pup’s medical bills

Recently my Sheltie, Nemo, had to get three emergency surgeries in the span of one week. Needless to say, he is lucky to be alive and I am amazed at the advances in veterinary technology. The operations also left me with quite the veterinary bill. I was fortunate to have the money saved, but it really left me thinking of how important it is to be financially prepared for these kinds of emergency.

So I felt complete sympathy when I heard about a Florida couple who postponed their wedding for a second time to use the money for their dog’s life-saving operation. Melanie Cannon and Eddie Hanna adopted Koda, a Pit Bull mix, just six months ago from the Halifax Humane Society in Volusia County, Florida. But last month they found out that Koda had a liver shunt, the worst their veterinarian had ever seen.

Melanie and Eddie had pet insurance for Koda, but after their claim was rejected, the couple forfeited their wedding deposits and used the money saved to pay for Koda’s medical care. This was actually the second time the couple had to postpone their wedding. Last October, Melanie’s grandmother passed away a week before their wedding date. None of the vendors refunded their money, so Melanie and Eddie were forced to save up for a second time.

When the Halifax Humane Society heard about what Melanie and Eddie did for Koda, they were determined to put on a wedding for the couple. The animal shelter approached local companies and soon had a catering company, reception hall, music, and flowers lined up for the special day.  

Even better, Koda made a full recovery and attended the wedding held earlier this month.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Groupon Helps a Dog in Need
Popular deal web site raises money to buy prosthetic boots for a pup

Deal web site Groupon revolutionized how people save money and find new local businesses to try. I’ve used these vouchers on frozen yogurt, pet supplies, and even a horseback ride. Although people go to Groupon to get more for their money, a new initiative called Groupon Grassroots is getting deal buyers to donate money to a good cause.

One of the latest Grassroots deals raised money to buy Pirelli, a 7-month old Golden Retriever/Labrador mix, a set of prosthetic boots. The poor pup was born without a back left paw and will continue to need new boots as he grows. Eventually the goal is to give Pirelli a surgically implanted prosthesis.

Users were given the opportunity to donate $10 to Pirelli and Canine Assistants with donation matching. Over 340 deals were purchased, raising over $7,000.

Pirelli is training to be the spokesdog for Canine Assistants, which trains and places service dogs. Pirelli will visit schools and teach children about disabilities. I’m always inspired by the enthusiasm animals have, living life to the fullest no matter what comes their way. Pirelli will surely have a positive impact on every kid he meets.  

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Dies on United Flight
A Golden Retriever succumbs to heatstroke en route to S.F.

Maggie Rizer, best known for gracing the covers of Elle, Vogue, and Harper’s Bazaar, has made it her mission to get the word out on the dangers of flying pets.

Two weeks ago, Maggie was traveling from New York to San Francisco with her two dogs. Tragically, Bea, her two-year old Golden Retriever, did not make it through the flight, despite Maggie taking every possible precaution. She chose United Airlines for their Pet Safe program, got the necessary pre-flight health clearances, bought special kennels, and even drove six hours from their vacation home to New York City so the dogs wouldn’t have to make a connecting flight.

According to Maggie, the United employees showed little compassion for Bea’s death and even lied to her about the whereabouts of Bea’s body while they figured out how to handle the liability. United’s internal investigation claims that they did nothing wrong since none of the other pets on board died. Maggie’s veterinarian claims otherwise. He performed an autopsy and concluded that Bea died of heatstroke—a horrible and preventable death.

Flying with pets makes me very nervous and hearing about Bea is heartbreaking. This story also comes at a time when many of my friends are flying with their dogs to agility nationals in Colorado. Some people are able to drive, but many live too far and can’t take the days off from work to be able to do so.

Maggie took every precaution that I would have taken to ensure her pets’ safety. I’ve heard good things about the Pet Safe program, which was adopted by United Airlines when they merged with Continental. This tragic story just shows that no matter how good an airline’s pet program is, flying animals in cargo will never be 100 percent safe. It’s a shame that there isn’t a safer alternative to travel with pets on major airlines (specialized companies like Pet Airways don’t cover all areas of the country). I know that there are challenges for accommodating pets on planes, but I hope one day that airlines will figure out a way where pets can fly safely.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Developing Superior Noses
UPenn to find out what makes up a superstar sniffer dog

Working canines use their amazing noses to help us do everything from finding explosives to detecting cancer. Raising and training these dogs takes a lot of time and money, so people are always looking for ways to increase the likelihood of successful dogs.

In Korea, the Customs Service started cloning star drug detection dogs due to their costly breeding program. Only 10-15 percent of puppies pass the behavior test just to quality for training, and only 30 percent of those dogs graduate from the program.

In the United States, the University of Pennsylvania’s Vet Working Dog Center is now setting out to study genetics and behavior in a program designed to develop superior scent dogs.

Seven puppies were donated by breeders-- two Chocolate Labradors, Thunder and Papa Bear; three Yellow Labradors, Socks, Sirius and Morgan; a Golden Retriever, Bretagne, and a female Dutch Shepherd, Kaiserin. They’re all named after brave 9/11 search dogs and will live with foster families when they’re not at the Center.

For the next two years, researchers will collect and analyze genetic, behavioral, and physical data to understand what makes a successful scent dog. The information will be used to build a breeding program to produce superstars--better search and rescue canines, better drug sniffing pups, and even better cancer detection dogs!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Pets Poisoned in New York
Four dogs died in a two-day span after walking in the park

My Sheltie, Nemo, is always on the hunt for a snack, so I’m always worried that he’ll eat something bad. I take all sorts of precautions, like checking hotel room floors for abandoned medication and watching Nemo like a hawk when we’re on walks. But it’s impossible to see everything that goes into his mouth.

When I lived in Manhattan, I was always worried about rat poison left to control the rodent population. So I was horrified to learn that four dogs died in my old Upper West Side neighborhood from a toxin, possibly left to intentionally harm them. A dog lover’s worst nightmare.

During a two-day span in July, a Chihuahua, terrier mix, French Bulldog mix, and Shih Tzu starting seizing, vomiting, and frothing at the mouth after walking in Riverside Park. One of the dogs died on the way to the animal hospital and the other three at the veterinarian.

After ruling out a number of possibilities, all of the vets came to the same conclusion—all four dogs ingested a toxic substance. Then, an anonymous call came in from a man claiming that the poison was left intentionally. The caller said that a local building superintendent admitted to placing poison in the park because he was tired of people not picking up after their dogs.

Devastated, Kim Heismann, whose dog Charlie passed away, started posting warning signs in the area and reported the pattern of poisonings to the ASPCA. The neighborhood began rallying for action and the ASPCA is now investigating the case. PETA is also offering a $2,500 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone found to be responsible.

Many of the Upper West Side residents have been walking in Riverside Park with their dogs and children for years. This tragedy has made everyone question the safety of the neighborhood. I hope that they find out who did this soon and that no other dogs are hurt.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
New Regulations for Pet Stores
N.Y. signs a law protecting doggies in the window

The journey began almost ten years ago in Long Island, N.Y. with a story that’s sadly all too common. When Lorianne LaMarca-Pegano visited a pet store in 2003, she fell in love with a Brussels Griffon that she brought home and named Charlemagne. Within six months, the poor pup was diagnosed with parasites, a corneal ulcer, and eventually kidney disease, high blood pressure, and a heart murmur. By the age of three, Lorianne was forced to euthanize Charlemagne.

The fluffy Brussels Griffon came to the pet store from a puppy mill in Kansas. So in Charlemagne's honor, Lorianne made it her mission to put a stop to the cruel breeding operations. After years of lobbying, some progress has finally been made in Lorianne’s home state. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed Charlemagne’s Law this year, which goes into effect on January 14, 2013. 

Under the legislation, any licensed pet dealer must follow new requirements, such as hiring a veterinarian, giving mandatory vaccinations, increasing regular exercise, and creating a quarantine area to separate sick animals. Stores must also create a program to respond to diseases and designate an employee to monitor health. Businesses in violation of the new law could lose their license.

The horrors of puppy mills have gotten a lot of media attention in recent years, but people continue to buy dogs from pet stores. It frustrates me to no end.  No responsible breeder would ever sell one of their puppies to a pet store.

I’m happy to see that New York is taking action to improve the conditions in pet stores. But it’s not going to solve the root of the problem. The animals in pet stores are bred in horrific conditions with no regard for genetic health. Even if the dogs in the window look healthy at the store, these puppies are prone to developing problems later on since their parents were not tested for genetic diseases at the puppy mill.

I hope that one day New York will replace this law with a complete ban on selling pets in stores, like West Hollywood and South Lake Tahoe have put in place. But for now Charlemagne’s Law is a step in the right direction.   

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
N.Y. Hero Named K-9 of the Year
SAR dog ignores his handler in order to save a missing man

A New York police dog was named K-9 of the Year on Saturday by the Suffolk County SPCA. Last week, Chase, a 4-year old German Shepherd, located a missing Long Island man after unfruitful efforts by human rescuers.

Jerome Nadler, a 76-year old doctor and Vietnam War veteran, disappeared on Labor Day after going fly-fishing. Rescuers used divers, off-road vehicles, and a helicopter in an unsuccessful three-day search before asking Suffolk County’s K-9 Search and Rescue team to join the effort.

It wasn’t long before Chase found Jerome in a thick wooded area that rescuers were already veering away from. The man was dehydrated and covered in bug bites, but thanks to Chase's skill and perseverence, Jerome is now recovering in the hospital.

Chase, who is trained to stay with a found person, waited by Jerome’s side even when he was being called back by his handler, Sam Barreto. Chase didn’t move until Sam and the other officers caught up.

I’d love to know what was going through Chase’s brain. We know he’s is an extremely obedient dog, but he was also smart enough to distinguish between a more important behavior, staying with Jerome, and what his handler was asking, to return to the group.

We’ll probably never know what Chase was thinking, but it’s very impressive that the heroic pup is able to negotiate priorities. The possibilities of the human-canine bond certainly seem limitless!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Dog Parking at Ikea
The trendy home store creates a hangout area for pets

Since I spend so much time at work during the week, I like to take my dogs shopping on the weekends, when it makes sense. They love meeting new people, so it’s fun for them to come along. Stores also make great places to socialize friendly puppies after they’re housebroken. Now that most American families have a pet, companies are starting to realize the importance of being pet friendly. I’ve definitely noticed more stores rolling out the welcome mat to dogs.

I see small dogs in the trendy home store, Ikea, from time to time, although they’re not technically allowed. Ikea stores in Germany are now catering to pet lovers who don’t want to leave their furry family members at home.  The company recently unveiled “Dog Parking,” a covered outdoor area with individual patches of astro-turf, with tie outs and water bowls, and small kennels shaped like dog houses.

The idea was inspired by Ikea’s in-store childcare, which is available at Ikea locations worldwide, and Manland, an entertainment area for husbands that some Australian Ikea stores tested for a few days last year.

I’m happy to see that Ikea is trying to accommodate families with pets, but I’d never leave my crew in the “Dog Parking.” The pets are left unattended, so there’s no stopping someone from stealing a dog or feeding the pups something they shouldn’t have. Insurance reasons alone will probably prevent the “Dog Parking,” idea from coming to our side of the pond, but I do like the idea of Ikea stores becoming more pet friendly. I don’t think that there’s a need for doggie daycare, but perhaps they can start with more pet products. I love Ikea’s funky designs, but I was always surprised that they don’t make more items for animals.

Is your favorite store pet friendly?

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Post-Katrina Overpopulation Problem
New Orleans is still struggling to recover from the destruction

Hurricane Issac's recent flooding and destruction brought back painful memories of Katrina. Thankfully, this time changes were implemented to keep families and pets together. Animals were brought to a local church (and then to a shelter up North when the church flooded) to ride out Issac until they could be reunited with their families.

The new rescue programs aren't perfect, but they're a big improvement from having no plan back in 2005. These measures are particularly essential in light of the stray pet population that continues to plague the area. I was shocked to learn how the problem has grown.

It's been seven years since Katrina, and New Orleans' hardest hit areas are still recovering. In addition to the destroyed buildings and displaced families, over 600,000 animals were killed or stranded because of the disaster. According to the local SPCA, the abandoned pets turned into a significant stray pet problem. In the areas that haven't been rebuilt, homeless animals freely roam the streets and reproduce in empty houses.

Due to the increased crime levels, many of the remaining residents got watch dogs and most are tied outside to guard the land. Few are spayed or neutered, which further perpetuates the overpopulation problem.

Today, the SPCA is still fighting for FEMA assistance, like many other organizations. When their old headquarters was destroyed by six feet of water during Katrina, people all over the country (no doubt including many Bark readers) donated money for a new building. But the SPCA is overwhelmed by the current stray animal situation and desperately needs funding. They're hoping a combination of outreach and education programs, free spay/neuter services, and increased kennel capacity will help rein in the stray pet population for good.

Visit the Louisiana SPCA web site to donate to their fund.