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JoAnna Lou

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

News: JoAnna Lou
Quiet Fireworks
An Italian town considers banning loud pyrotechnics in consideration of animals.
While most people are thrilled by fireworks, dog families often brace themselves around holidays like Forth of July because many pets are afraid of the loud noises. Not only are these sounds out of the ordinary, they're extremely deafening, especially for sensitive animal ears. Every year, there are always stories about dogs who ran away from home after being startled by fireworks.

Domestic pets aren't the only animals to be affected. Researchers at the University of Guelph and Acadia University found that fireworks can disorient flying birds, even causing some to abandon their nests. Scientists also discovered that the day after fireworks, hens show extremely low egg production with an increase in malformed eggs.

The town of Collecchio, in the province of Parma, Italy, was concerned enough by these effects that their local government introduced legislation to mandate the use of quiet fireworks as a way of respecting animals and reducing stress. As crazy as it sounds, these fireworks do exist! The Italian company Setti is just one company that sells products to create a light show without the loud noises.

  I hope that the use of quiet fireworks becomes more popular around the world!
News: JoAnna Lou
The Working Pup is New York's State Dog
The Empire State designates a progressive choice as their official dog.
Not many states have an official state dog. Until recently, there were only eleven. But as of December 23rd, New York is joining that small group after Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation naming the "working dog" as New York's state canine. While other states are represented by a single breed, the Empire State is celebrating all breeds, from the Belgian Malinois patrolling the streets of Manhattan to the Labrador Retriever helping a visually impaired person cross a busy intersection.

The inspiration for this bill came from Bari, the dog of Assemblyman Matthew Titone (D-Staten Island), who is trained as a therapy dog. Together they've worked with preschool autistic children and homeless young adults. Seeing Bari in action, Matthew wanted to sponsor this bill in order to honor pups like Bari.

This wasn't the first time that New York tried to designate a progressive choice as their state pup. In 2011, State Assemblyman Micah Kellner, Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, and Senator Joseph Robach co-sponsored a bill to designate "the rescue dog" as the state pup. Although that attempt was unsuccessful, I'm glad my home state finally has its own official canine that also honors the work hard they do for us each day!

 
News: JoAnna Lou
A Times Square Performance for Dogs
Laurie Anderson performs a music show designed for canines.
Last night hundreds of people and dogs braved the 17 degree weather to attend a special performance in Times Square. Unlike the many other artists who have visited New York City, this concert, performed by Laurie Anderson, was designed specifically for dogs. The musician-performance artist played low-frequency music for the pups, while their humans listened along on wireless headphones.

The event took place at 11:30 p.m. as part of the Times Square Alliance's Midnight Moment series, which features billboards transformed into digital art pieces. For Laurie's event, the screens featured a three-minute clip of her Oscar shortlisted documentary, Heart of a Dog, a film that reflects on life and death, particularly through the loss of her dog, Lolabelle, and the passage through bardo, the Tibetan concept of transitioning into the afterlife.

Performing for dogs has long been a dream for Laurie. She tells the story of being backstage with cellist Yo-Yo Ma eight years ago. Laurie turned to him and said, "I have this fantasy where I look out, and the whole audience is dogs." He replied, "Are you kidding? I have the same fantasy." And it certainly took a unique person to make that vision a reality. Yoko Ono said that a silent concert for dogs is something "only Laurie can get away with."

But the late night performance wasn't Laurie's first canine gig.  In 2010, she held a concert for hundreds of pups outside the Sydney Opera House, with music also emitted at a low frequency. Laurie describes seeing the dogs' reactions, barking along, as one of the happiest moments of her life.

  Hopefully there are plans for more canine concerts in the future! To check out last night's performance, visit this web page for videos and more photos.
News: JoAnna Lou
Prosociality in Canines
Dogs may show co-species cooperation in a similar way as humans and primates.
Many scientists consider cooperation to be a unique aspect of human cognition and culture. Voluntary actions that benefit others, also known as prosocial behavior, had only been previously observed in humans and primates. But new research suggests that canines are also capable of prosocial behavior.

Researchers at the University of Vienna were interested in studying prosociality and dogs because of their high level of sociability and the presence of cooperative behaviors in puppy rearing, joint territorial defense, and group hunting. Also, since domestic dogs have been selected for social skills, that could also make them more likely to show pro-social behaviors.

In this study, dogs had the choice to pull one of two levers. One delivered a tray of food to a second dog and the other delivered an empty tray. The experiment was run with both strange and familiar pups (from the same household). As a control, the researchers also performed the test where the the receiver dogs were too far away to actually access the food or the receiver enclosure was empty.

The scientists found that the dogs were more likely to pull the lever for the food tray when they were paired with a familiar receiver. The dogs pulled the lever less when the receivers were too far away to access the food and they hardly ever pulled the empty tray.

According to lead researcher Friederike Ranger, this prosociality between dogs has never been experimentally demonstrated before. The team was most interested in how the degree of familiarity among the dogs influenced the behavior.

I'm curious to know how my dogs would respond to this experiment. If it were a decision between giving a treat or getting a treat, I know they would be much more selfish! What do you think your pups would do?

News: JoAnna Lou
Can Dogs Improve Your Sleep?
Studies are conflicted on the benefit or disadvantage of sharing a bed with pets.
Many animal lovers sleep with their dogs by their side despite the fact that past studies have found the habit may not be healthy. One 2011 study claimed that allowing pets in bed could put people at risk for certain diseases, such as meningitis or parasites. A 2014 Mayo Clinic study found that more than half of the patients at their Center for Sleep Medicine were people who claimed that their pets disrupted their sleep.

However, a new survey from the Mayo Clinic indicates that there are at least a few benefits to our furry sleep buddies. In a sampling of 150 sleep center patients, 56 percent of the pet households (about half of the 150 surveyed) allowed their pets to sleep with them at night. Of the co-sleepers, 41 percent reported that their pet ether did not disrupt their sleep or actually helped improve sleep by providing warmth, contentment, or relaxation. Only 20% said that their pets had a negative effect on their sleep. Some also noted that having their dog in bed made them feel a sense of companionship when sleeping alone due to a lack of partner or a travelling partner.

These benefits probably come as no surprise to pet lovers, but it's nice to have some positive studies added to the literature.  

Does your dog disrupt your sleep at night?

   
News: JoAnna Lou
Toxic Christmas Ornaments
A homemade salt dough ornament causes neurological damage.
When I was a kid, each Christmas we would make homemade ornaments made of salt dough. We'd use cookie cutters to create star and tree shapes, paint them red and green, and bake them in the oven to harden. It's a simple craft that remains popular with families today.

But it turns out that these ornaments are potentially dangerous, a lesson that a Pennsylvania family learned the hard way. Earlier this month the Pospisil family's dog, Lexi, snuck downstairs before everyone was awake and ate one of the salt dough ornaments on the Christmas tree. The couple had made them earlier in the season with their daughter, Alice.

The two year old pup was okay at first, but later started shaking uncontrollably and foaming at the mouth. The Pospisils immediately brought Lexi to the veterinarian, but it was too late. The high salt content of the ornament caused irreversible neurological damage and raised Lexi's body temperature to a dangerous 107 degrees. The poor pup had to be euthanized.

Heartbroken, the Pospisils took to Facebook to share their story and warn others about the danger of salt dough ornaments. So far their post has been shared over 80,000 times.

Some of my salt dough ornaments are well over 20 years old and are quite sentimental. Fortunately, we keep our Christmas tree behind an exercise pen, safe from the dogs and cat. However, I did move the salt dough ornaments to spots high up on the tree just in case. And for future crafts, I plan on switching to a clay recipe without salt.

Do you have salt dough ornaments on your tree?

 
News: JoAnna Lou
Comforting Stressed Passengers
United Airlines employs comfort dogs during the hectic holiday travel.
The holidays are one of the most stressful times to travel, especially if you're going by air. However, if you were traveling through one of United Airlines' hub airports this week, you may have found a furry friend ready to make your day a little brighter.

For the last three years, United Airlines has been providing comfort dogs during peak travel times through their United Paws program. The pups have been so popular that they expanded this year's holiday program to seven airports. Over the last three days, comfort dogs have been greeting passengers at the boarding gates in the Chicago, Cleveland, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Newark, and Washington/Dulles airports.

According to veterinarian Dr. Walter Woolf, petting a dog releases oxytocin, the hormone associated with bonding and affection. It decreases stress levels, helps us breathe easier, and lowers our blood pressure. This probably comes as no surprise to animal lovers!

United works with comfort dog organizations in each community to provide the pups. About 60 dogs cycled through the United terminal in Denver International Airport alone this week, provided by Denver Pet Partners. To make the experience even more interactive, when travelers posted their photos on Instagram or Twitter with the hashtag #UnitedPaws, the airline donated one dollar for each picture to the local comfort dogs' organization.

What a cool program!

News: JoAnna Lou
Canine Drinking Techniques
Dogs lap water in a precise way to maximize intake.
I wouldn't use the word efficient to describe the way my dogs drink. It's always a noisy and messy process, with liquid splashing outside of the bowl. But researchers at Virginia Tech College of Engineering have discovered that the technique is far from random. They found that dogs drink in a way that maximizes the amount of water per lap.

Dogs lap water because they have incomplete cheeks and can't create the suction we use to drink liquids. This means that they have to use their tongues to raise water upwards. But they aren't the only animals that need to do this. Cats also have incomplete cheeks, but are much neater when they drink.

To explore this mystery, the researchers used photography and laboratory simulations with 19 dogs. They showed that the pups plunge their tongues into the water and curl them down towards their lower jaws. Then they quickly retract them, forming a column of water up towards their mouths, while creating a ladle with their tongue. The dog bites down at precisely the right moment to swallow, then immediately repeats the process.

In comparison, cats lightly touch the surface of the water without fully immersing it. The messiness of the dogs' style comes from the backward curl of the tongue, which increases the size of the water column, enabling dogs to drink more per lap than with a straight tongue.

While measuring tongue motion, recording water volumes, and observing lapping techniques, the researchers ended up creating a physical model of the tongue's interaction with the air-fluid interface, giving the team a tangible way to explore the method, and finally ending the mystery of why dogs are such messy drinkers.

News: JoAnna Lou
Illegally Insulting the Royal Dog
A Thai man could face 37 years in prison for a sarcastic comment about the king's beloved pup.
Earlier this week, Thanakorn Siripaiboon was charged in Thai military court for making a sarcastic internet post about the king's dog. His social media comments, which also include insults about the king and allegations of military corruption, could earn him 37 years in prison.

The royal pup in question is Tongdaeng, or Copper, who is somewhat of a celebrity in Thailand. King Bhumibol Adulyadej rescued Tongdaeng from an alley and later wrote a best-selling book about her. Thai news media use the polite word "khun" to refer to Tongdaeng, which roughly translates to ma'am.

From a cultural perspective, it's certainly interesting to see the king's pet receive similar protection as the humans in the family. The law technically applies to anyone who specifically defames the king, the queen, the heir apparent or the regent. However, the rule has gotten somewhat out of hand lately.

According to Thanakorn's lawyer, Anon Numpa, the boundaries of what has been considered lèse-majesté (royal insults) has expanded drastically. Last year Thai military seized power in a coup and has since cracked down on challenges to its power, detaining journalists, academics, politicians and students for “attitude adjustment” sessions at military camps.

The list of people who have been investigated include a prominent scholar accused of insulting a king who died 400 years ago and an American ambassador who gave a speech to foreign correspondents praising the current king, but criticizing the lengthy prison sentences from lèse-majesté charges.

It will be interesting to see the outcome of these cases, and the implication for social media and other avenues of speech and communication in Thailand. 

News: JoAnna Lou
First Dogs Born by In Vitro
Cornell hopes the 'test tube' pups will lead to advances in protecting endangered species and eliminating genetic diseases.


















A litter of adorable puppies born at Cornell University this year represent not only a scientific achievement, but hope for protecting endangered species and eliminating genetic diseases. These pups were the first to be brought into this world by in vitro fertilization.

As part of the study, researchers transferred nineteen embryos to the host female dog, who later gave birth to seven healthy puppies, two from a Beagle mother and a Cocker Spaniel father, and five from two Beagle couples. For successful in vitro fertilization, researchers must fertilize a mature egg with a sperm in a lab, to produce an embryo. Then they have to return the embryo to a host female at the right time in her reproductive cycle, which only occurs once or twice a year.

The researchers encountered numerous challenges along the way, such as getting the timing right for collecting the mature eggs, simulating what the female tract does naturally to prepare sperm for fertilization, and properly freezing the embryos. They eventually achieved success with fertilization rates of 80 to 90 percent.

According to Cornell professor, Alex Travis, scientists have been trying to do in vitro fertilization in a dog since the mid-1970s, but all attempts have been unsuccessful. They hope that this study will lead to advances in conserving the genetics of endangered species, using in vitro to introduce certain genes back into the gene pool of captive populations, and even preserving rare breeds of show and working dogs. 


The researchers also hope that one day in vitro, combined with with new genome editing techniques, could allow them to remove genetic diseases and traits from embryos, eliminating heritable diseases. Dogs share more than 350 similar genetic disorders and traits with humans, almost twice the number as any other species, so it makes the work in this area doubly compelling.

It will be interesting to see what developments come from this work, and the ethical implications. While in vitro is used by zoos and conservation organizations to increase birth rates in captive animals, it's not exactly clear how it can be used to conserve the genetics of endangered species in their natural habitat. It sounds great that this technique could be used to preserve rare dog breeds, but it also has the potential to be abused. This also raises a larger ethical question of how the "host dog" is chosen and used. If a breeder repeatedly uses in vitro, could certain dogs become perpetual surrogates, similar to female breeding pups in puppy mills?

I'm happy to see that Cornell achieved this breakthrough, several decades in the making, but I hope that the dog world treads carefully as it navagtes how this technique is used.

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