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JoAnna Lou

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

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Hundreds Join a Pup on His Last Walk
The canine community comes together to support a man and his dog in their final days together.
Last week Mark Woods faced a hard day ahead when he planned to bring his pup, Walnut, on one last walk before having to put him to sleep. Mark knew it would be an emotional day, so he posted his plans on Facebook, hoping a few friends and family would join him. Instead, over 19,000 people reacted to Mark's Facebook post and hundreds joined the pair on Saturday at one of Walnut's favorite places--Porth Beach in Cornwall, England. And many more joined in spirit from around the world, taking their dogs on a walk at the same time.
    Mark's post read:

“Walk with Walnut. Sadly I am having to have Walnut euthanised on Saturday 12th November and so we will be having a last walk together on his beloved Porth Beach at 9.30am. I would love it if dog lovers/owners and friends would join us for a celebration of Walnut on his favourite Porth Beach. He has had an incredible life and having reached the grand age of 18 is ready for his final sleep. Hope to see you on Saturday.”

  But his plight united dog-lovers the world over – and he was inundated with thousands of messages of support. ‘It’s been overwhelming,’ he said. ‘I’ve had no children and Walnut has been my child over all these years. The walk was part of my effort to make Walnut’s last day as normal as possible.’
Mark was humbled by the outpouring of support received from all over the world and was reminded “just how lucky we are to be alive and to share in the wonderful world that our pets give us.” He has since been interviewed by radio stations from around the world as the story spread, said: ‘This really celebrates the special relationship I have had with Walnut. In human years he’s well over 100.

‘He helped me survive a very serious illness – though I think he’s also cost me relationships. I’m on my second marriage and I’ve been engaged three times. I think it was often a problem with my girlfriends that I always put Walnut first.’

It's always inspiring when the canine community comes together to support each other. Not only do we enjoy a special bond with our pups, but our pets also form the basis for a special relationship we share with our fellow dog lovers!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Mood Harness for Dogs
Japanese biologist develops an algorithm to decode your pup's feelings.
Remember mood rings from when you were a kid? Now dogs have their own version--a mood harness.

As a pet lover I always want to better understand what my pups are thinking. Alhough these mood harnesses seem fun, I'm not sure they'll actually help you decode your pup.

The harness, called Inupathy ("inu" means dog in Japanese), was invented by biologist Joji Yamaguchi. It measures the dog's heart rate and uses an algorithm to indicate different moods through a colored LED light. Red means excited or anxious, blue for relaxed, white for focused, and rainbow for happy.

Joji also developed an app to help you interact with your pup based on the colors. For instance, if you want to try and turn your dog's harness rainbow colored, you can launch a "Let's Play" app on your smartphone, which will suggest games to play with your dog. It can also track "average happiness" and provide a daily, weekly, and monthly analysis of your dog's emotional state over time. They also plan on making their software development kit available so developers can make their own fun apps to interact with the data.

While I see how the harness can tell if your dog is excited or calm, based on heart rate, measuring happiness seems more subjective. Inupathy certainly sounds entertaining, but I think there are much better ways to understand your dog. Observing your pets' body language and habits will give you much more insight into your pup's moods.

Inupathy is expected to be available in December. What do you think about a mood harness?

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Dog Agility Championships Livestream
The Cynosport World Games will be accessible for free online.
One of the most competitive dog agility events in the country is happening this week at WestWorld in Scottsdale, Arizona. But if you can't make it to the Cynosport World Games, the United Stated Dog Agility Association (USDAA) is providing a free livestream of the event on their web site.

Wednesday through Friday, handlers and their dogs will be competing in the quarter- and semi-finals in Grand Prix, a class that features technical courses, and Steeplechase, a class that features courses focused on speed and accuracy, vying for a spot in the finals on Friday through Sunday.

They'll also be competing in a teams of two or three in an event that accumulates points from five different courses. The mix features a Standard and Jumpers course, two games (Snooker and Gamblers), and culminates in a team relay--complete with a baton handoff! Visit this USDAA page to learn more about what these class names mean.

The regular competition rounds will be shown on the livestream from 9am-5pm MST and the finals will be shown at 6:30pm MST. Performance Grand Prix Finals are on Friday. Team Relay, the Junior Handler Showcase, and Steeplechase Finals are on Saturday. And Grand Prix Finals are on Sunday. The nighttime finals will feature the fastest and most coordinated agility teams. It's inspiring to see these people and their pups communicating so seamlessly at high speed.

Although agility is the main focus, there will be other events going on such as dock jumping, lure coursing, herding instinct tests, and rally. Some of the proceeds raised from those activities will go to Aussie and Friends rescue, the National Canine Cancer Foundation, and the United States Association of Cynological Sports.

Cynosport will be a fun filled week for dog lovers, even if you're stuck at home behind the computer!

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
From Homeless Pup to Instagram Star
A California dog finds a forever home and a social media run.
Two years ago, Ivy Diep found a matted, skinny dog wandering the streets of Los Angeles. There was something about him that stuck with her, so she named him Popeye and gave him a forever home. Little did Ivy know that one day Popeye would have over 177,000 Instagram followers!

At the time, Ivy regularly visited new restaurants in Los Angeles with a friend and posted photos of their meals on Instagram. She started bringing Popeye to the pet friendly places and found he was a natural around food and was happy to stay still for photos.

So Popeye started making more appearances on Ivy's Instagram page, but she soon realized that Popeye was the real star. So Ivy created a new Instagram account called Popeye the Foodie Dog. The page features photos of the fluffy pup, often wearing themed costumes, posing with various delicious meals. The plates may look full, but Ivy only gives Popeye a few bites of anything that's safe for him. Otherwise she always has dog treats on hand so Popeye always has something to munch on. In truth, Ivy says "he's usually not really into the food anyway. He just likes to be out and about--people watching to bark at any other dog that walks by."

It's always great to see a happy ending for a rescue dog. I hope Ivy might consider dropping by the local animal shelter to bring a homeless pup along for a guest appearance, similar to the Puppuccino Pals program we wrote about in August. Social media is a really powerful tool for finding homes for rescue dogs, so I love seeing creative ways to bring attention to these deserving pups.

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
Veteran Barred from Flying with Her Service Dog
A retired Army captain goes through a harrowing two days at the airport.
Last year Army veteran Lisa McCombs was waiting with her service dog Jake to board an American Airlines flight home, something she'd done many times before. Lisa suffers from PTSD and Jake is able to calm her anxiety and panic before it overwhelms her. However, this time an airline agent approached her in the boarding area and asked "in a condescending tone, 'ummm, are you going to fly with that?" He began repeatedly interrogating her, believing that she was faking a disability. The agent wouldn't accept her email as proof that Jake was a service animal. He said that Lisa could pay $125 to have Jake shipped in cargo or could resubmit her documentation and book a flight two days later. The agents' tone was so harsh that strangers started scolding the agents and comforting her. Humiliated and stressed, Lisa was ultimately not allowed on the flight with Jake.

To make the situation worse, when Lisa cursed in frustration, the agent called the police to arrest her. Since American Airlines wouldn't compensate her for lodging, the officers offered to take Lisa to a shelter.

The next day Lisa booked a new flight with an American Airlines agent who assured her that she'd be able to fly home that day with Jake.  The agent noted in the airline computer system that Lisa would be traveling with a service animal. This time Lisa also printed out her documentation that confirmed that Jake's status.

However, the nightmare wasn't over. When Lisa arrived at the airport, she was met with more hostility from another American Airlines agent. He claimed that her paperwork couldn't be confirmed because the doctor's letter was missing a date and Jake's graduation certificate had to be dated within the previous year, both which are not actual requirements to fly with a service dog. Lisa was forced to miss yet another flight.

Desperate, Lisa was about to turn to a different airline when a woman from American Airlines' corporate offices booked her on a new flight and assured her that traveling with Jake would not be a problem. Finally Lisa was able to board, but during the layover in Dallas she says, "an entourage of American Airlines representatives came onto the bridge pushing a wheelchair, while loudly calling out so that all could hear, 'we have a disabled veteran, excuse me, a disabled veteran, we are looking for Lisa McCombs, a disabled veteran." Again Lisa was embarrassed and mortified. She didn't need a wheelchair, though the representatives insisted on escorting her through the airport in one. She finally arrived back at home two days later.

American Airlines' Military and Veterans Programs has since tried to rectify the situation, but this was such a harrowing ordeal for Lisa. I can't imagine that she could ever forget.

She is now filing a lawsuit against American Airlines, and their regional subsidiary, Envoy Air, for their breach of contract and violation of the American with Disabilities Act and disregard of her rights. She's asking for the airline to compensate her tickets, legal fees, and medical treatment.

Lisa developed PTSD after her four years in the Army, touring in Iraq and Afghanistan. When she was honorably discharged in 2009, she had reached the rank of captain, and had received multiple awards for service including the Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, the NATO Afghanistan Service Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

Not only is this a serious issue for Lisa, but also for countless others struggling with this illness. Unfortunately there are many people trying to pass off their pups as service dogs to get them on planes, but that's no excuse for airline employees to treat people disrespectfully. The Department of Veterans Affairs has estimated that PTSD afflicts 11 percent of veterans of the war in Afghanistan and 20 percent of the veterans of the war in Iraq. Those numbers are astronomical. Many people with service animals are not in favor of a registry that would prove status, but with growing numbers of service dogs, airlines need to be sensitive while working under the current laws in place. I hope no one else has to go through a situation like Lisa's.

Dog's Life: Lifestyle
Bachelor Party Turned Puppy Rescue
A Michigan man's pre-marital celebration becomes an unforgettable event.
While most bachelor parties are infamous for debauchery, Mitchel Craddock's pre-marital celebration in the Tennessee woods was memorable thanks to his love of dogs. One morning, Mitchel and his seven friends were cooking breakfast when a dog appeared at the front door of their cabin. She wouldn't come inside and looked dehydrated and malnourished. Mitchel could tell she recently had puppies. The guys gave her food and water, slowly gaining her trust. She then started producing milk again.

Soon after, they noticed that the dog was protecting a certain area of the woods, leading the guys to discover seven puppies in a big hole.

“We set each pup down in front of her, and she nuzzled their faces," said Mitchel. "To the person holding them, she gave the look of ‘It’s okay, I trust you.’”

Although the mom was in rough shape, the puppies appeared to be healthy. “Every single one had a big fat belly on them," described Mitchel. "The mom had given the pups literally everything she had.”

The guys knew they couldn't leave these dogs behind. So they gave the puppies a bath and used the bachelor party beer fund to buy kibble. Between the groom, his groomsmen, and their relatives, all eight dogs, including the mom, were adopted. Even cooler, all of the new homes are within a five mile radius, meaning the puppies and their mom will be able to grow up alongside each other.

Mitchel's wife, Kristen, was excited bout their new addition. Given the couple's history, it's no wonder that Mitchel's bachelor party turned into a rescue mission.

“I proposed to Kristen with our Chocolate Labrador," explained Mitchel. "Now it’s our joke that for any of our big life events, we’ll get a dog."

What a heartwarming story! 

Dog's Life: Work of Dogs
UTI Detection Pups
Study trains dogs to sniff out bacteria from urine samples.



















What if service dogs could do double duty, helping people with limited mobility, while monitoring them for possible infection? Many people with assistance dogs have injuries that make them especially prone to frequent and complicated urinary tract infections (UTIs). These infections aren't just uncomfortable, they can spread quickly to the kidney and blood stream, causing sepsis that can result in death. Early detection is important, but difficult for this population. So Assistance Dogs of Hawaii teamed up with Pine Street Foundation and the Kapiolani Medical Canter of Women and Children to explore how their talented pups could help.

In their study, five Labrador and Golden Retrievers were clicker trained to identify urine samples that were culture-positive for bacteria, including E. coli. They had no previous scent training. After eight weeks, their new skills were put to the test with 687 new urine samples. 456 were from subjects with negative urine cultures (the control group) and 231 were from subjects with positive urine cultures for bacteria.

The dogs detected positive samples with a 90 to 94 percent accuracy. Also, sensitivity was not affected when E.coli urine was diluted with distilled water. The study showed that canine scent detection is a feasible method for the detection of bacteria. The scientists hope that future research can teach dogs to identify other infections, such as MRSA and C-Diff, or distinguish between bacterial and viral infections. At the moment they're conducting research in hospitals, where UTIs are the most common acquired infection in all patients.

A month after the study was completed, one of the dogs spontaneously alerted the staff to a person visiting the training center. They had been feeling ill, but hadn't suspected a UTI. Afterwards the person went to the doctor who made a UTI diagnosis.

There is really no limit to what our amazing dogs can do!

Good Dog: Activities & Sports
Ultramarathon Pup Finally Comes Home
Competitive runner befriends a stray dog who sticks with him for 80 miles in the desert.

This summer, Australian ultramarathoner Dion Leonard was running through China's infamous Gobi desert when a stray pup started following him. The scruffy little dog turned out to be one tough cookie, joining Dion for four of the six day-long stages of the race, an astonishing 80 miles! Dion named the dog Gobi and they became inseparable. The pair slept together in camp and Dion started carrying Gobi over river crossings. They even won the third stage together, beating many top athletes.

After the race was over, Dion knew that this special dog could not be left behind. He made plans to bring Gobi back home to Edinburgh, Scotland, but just before she was due to travel to Beijing to enter quarantine, Gobi slipped out of the home she was staying at in Urumqi.  Dion flew back to China where volunteers helped him search for Gobi from dawn to midnight. They put up posters, asked taxi drivers and fruit vendors, and visited parks and animal shelters. The local television station interviewed Dion and residents even stopped him in the street to say they too were keeping an eye open.

However, Dion was afraid the search was wouldn't be successful, it was like looking for a needle in a haystack. There was a good chance that Gobi may have run back to the countryside.

“I needed to come and do it, just to be sure in my own mind I had done it," said Dion. “But realistically, I was dreading having to go back home next week without her.”

Then a man called saying he and his son had brought a stray dog home from the park and thought she might be Gobi. Dion was skeptical after a few false alarms, but when he walked into the man's house, Gobi immediately recognized Dion. She ran over, jumping on Dion and squealing with joy. Gobi has barely left Dion's side since.

Dion says that losing Gobi was one of the worst days of his life, but that being reunited with her was one of the best.

"It was just mind-blowing to think that we had found her," said Dion, "It was a miracle."

There are not many people or dogs that can run 80 miles, which makes it even more amazing that these two found each other!

 

Good Dog: Behavior & Training
Metabolic Research Associates Abnormalities with Hyperactivity in Dogs
Three organizations in Finland team up to understand root causes of dog behavioral issues.

A research group from the University of Helsinki and the Folkhälsan Research Centre recently teamed up with the LC-MS Metabolomics Centre of Biocentre Kuopio to study the blood count of hyperactive and impulsive dogs--another successful collaboration between canine and human scientists. The three organizations decided to embark on this study to understand the most common behavioral problems in dogs--fearfulness, sensitivity to noise, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. Since these issues can have a negative impact on the wellbeing of both canines and humans, the scientists wanted to uncover root causes. Part of their work is also helping to test a new metabolomics technology which could speed up future genetic research, particularly as it relates to behavioral research.

"Behavior and behavioral disorders often develop as a combination of hereditary and environmental factors, which makes studying them challenging," explains lead scientist Hannes Lohi. "Metabolomics, or the study of the metabolism, provides us with new clues on the biological issues underpinning behavioral disorders while promoting genetic research. At the moment, metabolomics research in dogs is rare, and the purpose of this pilot study was to examine new approaches and attain information on any metabolic abnormalities associated with hyperactivity in dogs."

Looking at blood metabolites showed a significant link between hyperactivity and lower blood phospholipid levels. It wasn't surprising because several studies in humans have shown lower blood lipid and fatty acid levels in ADHD patients. This also tied in with their earlier research that showed blood count differences between fearful and fearless pups.

Another interesting finding was the negative correlation between hyperactive behavior and the levels of metabolites of tryptophan, an amino acid that's produced in the gut when intestinal bacteria processes food. This difference in the gut bacteria of hyperactive and normally behaved dogs supports previous research in humans that found a connection between the intestines and the creation of neurotransmitters that regulate mood and behavior in the brain. It was also found to work in the opposite way. A stress reaction in the brain can have an adverse effect on the gut microbiota.

However, the causal relationship for these findings isn't clear, so more research is needed. The hope is that this work could eventually better our understanding of these behavioral issues in both dogs and people.

Anyone who has worked with an extremely fearful dog knows how painful and frustrating it can be to both the animal and the people who love them. So I'm excited to see research that might help improve the lives of those affected. However, I hope that people won't think these biological findings mean they should give up on a solid training plan. While the cause of these fearful or hyperactive behaviors may be somewhat innate, we can still help dogs cope and even thrive with training. No doubt it takes a lot of dedication and patience, but I hope that this research will only help us make gains with these affected pups. 

News: Guest Posts
Saving Pennies for a Service Dog
A Vermont boy gets help in his quest for a diabetes pup.
When Aiden Heath was diagnosed with type one diabetes four years ago, the eight-year old learned that dogs could be trained to help monitor glucose levels. While the canine nose isn't going to replace a blood meter entirely, these amazing animals can sense problems 20 to 30 minutes before the electronic tool. But at $15,000, a service dog wasn't in the Heath's budget. So Aiden's mother, Jenni, encouraged him to start saving, one penny at a time.

And the Waitsfield, Vermont boy did just that, collecting coins that he stored in a little red wagon he called "Brinks." Aiden slowly accumulated $6,000 when news coverage of his effort went viral in April. Almost overnight, donations came in from across the country, helping Aiden raise more than $20,000. Finally Jenni and Aiden were able to put a deposit on a Chocolate Labrador named Angel from Nevada. Aiden waited patiently while the pup was trained, following her progress through videos and photos.

This week Aiden finally got to meet Angel, and is learning to work together with the help of a trainer.

Jenni says that Aiden is "over the moon" about finally having Angel at home and gaining some independence. And he won't be the only one to benefit. Angel will give Jenni peace of mind, especially at night, when it comes to testing Aiden's sugar levels.

"We have been so amazed by the outpouring of support," Jenni said. "Aiden is feeling the love. There are no words."

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