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JoAnna Lou participates in agility, rally obedience and therapy work with her Shetland Sheepdogs. She supports her canine hobby with a career in professional training and development at a New York financial firm. JoAnna has a diverse background working with animals that includes researching birds at the Bronx Zoo and helping a friend run a rat rescue group (yes, rats!). Her writing has appeared in The Bark, DogSport, New York Tails and New York Resident.

Dog Saves Puppies in Forest Fire
A canine miracle lifts the spirits of displaced residents in Chile.

As a forest fire ripped through Valparaiso, Chile earlier this month, thousands of residents were told to evacuate. However, one mother seemed to know there was no chance of escaping to safety with her babies and came up with an alternate plan. The mixed breed dog was seen leading her 2-week old puppies away from flames, digging a hole under a large metal container, and burying them inside. The mama then stood watch in a protective corner.

After the fire was contained, paramedics and volunteers dug out the puppies and named the hero mom Negita ("Blacky"). It took nearly an hour to recover all of the pups from the deep hole. Mom and babies were all healthy and are now being cared for by volunteers. Thankfully, with all the media attention they've been getting, I'm sure they'll find forever homes soon.

Negita's brave actions brought uplifting news to displaced residents who saw the story as a miracle amid the destruction and loss. The fire was believed to have started in an illegal landfill, and has killed one person and seriously injured five firefighters. Fortunately the fire is now contained and Valparaiso can begin recovering.

Right to Post Negative Reviews
Defamation lawsuit served for a negative experience at obedience school.

Online reviews have become a large part of how we choose restaurants, hotels, and other businesses to patronize. For small mom and pop shops, these testimonials can make or break their success. Positive reviews build a loyal fan base, while just one negative review can turn off countless potential customers. It's become a powerful way to give a voice to consumers.

When Jennifer Ujimori was dissatisfied with her puppy, Yuki's, obedience class in Virginia she took to Yelp and Angie's List to document her experience with Burke's Dog Tranquility. She said that the services delivered were not as advertised and that the owner refused a refund. Jennifer thought she'd never have to deal with the company again--until she was served a $65,000 defamation lawsuit. The company's owner, Colleen Dermott, claims that Jennifer's statements were false and damaged her small business, which had great reviews until that point.

While it would be easier for Jennifer to delete her review, she's standing by her decision to make a point. Lawsuits over negative reviews have risen in recent years and it can be difficult and expensive for defendants to fight as individuals coming up against a business. Virginia legislators are currently sitting on an anti-SLAPP law (strategic lawsuits against public participation) that would allow for the quick dismissal of cases a judge deems to be targeting First Amendment rights. Washington D.C. and more than half of the states have a similar law in place and Jennifer hopes her case will spark public attention to pressure lawmakers to pass the bill.

While online reviews are extremely subjective, and must be taken with a grain of salt, it's important to protect our right to post them.

Do you use online reviews to choose which businesses to visit with your dogs?

Social App for Dogs
Connecting NYC pups through technology.

In a city of over half a million dogs, it might seem crazy that finding compatible canine playmates would be a problem. But for my Sheltie, Nemo, making friends wasn't easy in Manhattan. There was a dog run right down the street from our old apartment, but Nemo always seemed to get picked on by the other pups. Every weekend I'd search the internet and the local newspapers for any events like canine walk-a-thons, shelter fundraisers, and pet fairs to meet fellow animal lovers and their pups. Eventually Nemo did make a few furry pals in the neighborhood.  

Now with an app for everything, a new iPhone program called Dogways aims to solve this dilemma by connecting dogs around New York City through more casual gatherings. The app allows users to attend and create events, like group walks, meetups, and play dates, as well as the ability to add friends in a canine Facebook-like way. The events can be marked as public, friends only, or private, and can be limited by breed or size. An interactive map makes it easy to find nearby events and view which dogs are attending.  

Similar to my situation with Nemo, founder, Andy Simon, came up with the idea for Dogways after being frustrated that his Westie, Marley, couldn't find any playmates at the park. He then decided to create an app that would equip dog lovers with a tool to socialize and exercise their pups.

For now the app is only available in New York City on iOS, but there are plans for a national roll out and an expansion to Android later in the year.

Have you used technology to find playmates for your pups?

Custom Cart for an Ailing Pup
California Home Depot builds a wagon for a cancer stricken dog.






















When Risa Feldman's 15-year old dog, Ike, was diagnosed with bone cancer, she wanted him to be able to enjoy their last few months together. Ike's illness made it painful to move, even with his special wheelchair or harness that Risa uses to help him walk. So she decided to build Ike a cart that would allow him to continue their favorite outings along California's Manhattan Beach.

Risa went to Home Depot asking for help in modifying an existing wagon and got much more than just advice. When employee Ernesto Moran heard Risa's dilemma, he teamed up with co-worker Justin Wadman to create a solution. Not only did they build a custom cart, complete with a small ramp, they also committed to building a ramp for Risa's car to help Ike get in.

Ernesto said that Home Depot allows them to give back to the customers, so he and Justin chose this project to help out Risa and Ike. Their manager didn't hesitate to approve the venture. Risa was incredibly touched by their generosity and now Ike can continue to people watch and bask in the sun from his new cart.  

Check out Ernesto demo the creative ramp feature in this video.

Dog Training on the Streets
N.H. police "click and treat" law abiding citizens.





















In dog training, we often say, "what you click is what you get," meaning the behavior you reward will be repeated again. This is true in humans and canines, yet people typically rely on punishment to control behavior in every day life. It may be unrealistic to eliminate giving tickets to speeders or time outs to rowdy kids, but what if we could use successful principles from reinforcement based dog training to increase desirable behaviors in people? One town in New Hampshire is doing an experiment to explore just that.

This winter, the Farmington, N.H. police department, began an experiment to increase desirable habits, like people walking their dogs on leash and using crosswalks. The officers began randomly handing out gift cards for free pizza and fries to people abiding by the rules.  

Police Chief Jay Drury came up with the idea after watching a man make his way to a crosswalk despite this winter's heavy snow. He wanted to reward the man for his perseverance, but didn't quite know how. That's when he teamed up with local convenience store Crowley's Variety & Grill and began the gift card program.

So far the initiative has been well received and they even gained a second sponsor, Holy Rosary Credit Union. By recognizing good behavior, the officers are building a new level of trust with the community, while getting citizens to think twice before breaking the law.

We can get so stuck focusing on bad behavior that it can be good to push ourselves to notice the good!

Simpsons Creative Force Donates Royalties to Charity
Sam Simon has created a lasting legacy of helping animals and people

Editor’s note: Sam Simon died at his home in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles on Sunday, March 8, 2015. He will be remembered for his creative spirit, generosity and love of animals.

Nine-time Emmy winner Sam Simon is famous for his work on the Simpsons television show, but to the countless people and animals he's helped through his charity work, Sam is best known for his dedication to helping others. While many celebrities make donations to their favorite causes, you can tell that Sam's philanthropy has become an important part of his life.

Tragically, Sam was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer earlier this year. He since announced plans to donate nearly all of his Simpsons royalties to charity, thought to be in the tens of millions of dollars annually. Sam says that everyone in his family is taken care of and he loves to be able to use his money to make a difference.

While Sam's decision got a lot of media buzz, this final gift is only part of the legacy that he will leave behind. Over the last decade, Sam has been tireless in his dedication to helping people and animals.  

In 2002, he created the Sam Simon Foundation which runs pet visitation programs at nursing homes, trains shelter pups to be service dogs, and funds a mobile veterinary truck that offers free non-orthopedic surgeries. The organization even runs a vegan food bank for human families in need.  

Sam has also been a longtime supporter of PETA, Save the Children, and the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society. His support of the latter recently funded four ships now being used to hinder whaling and illegal fishing.  

Sam first got involved with animal rights initiatives after trying to change a greyhound racing episode of The Drew Carey Show. Since he couldn't get the writer to edit the script, Sam decided to donate the money he earned from the episode to PETA in order to make a statement about dog racing. Sam teamed up with PETA again after his diagnosis to buy out zoos and circuses. His dream was to see these animals walk on grass for the first time.

Sam will be missed for both his talent and compassion for others, but he will live on through the philanthropic initiatives he's put in place. We certainly need more celebrities like Sam in the world!

Amtrak to Welcome Dogs and Cats
Recent legislation mandates Amtrak to become pet friendly.
Rep. Jeff Denham with Lily, the inspiration for the pet friendly legislation.

The White House and Republican-controlled House of Representatives don't agree on much these days, however, in a rare bipartisan vote, a bill was passed this week that will continue funding to Amtrak and make the train line pet friendly. While the White House didn't fully agree with the legislation, it's believed that support on both sides was won over by the pet-related part of the bill. Amtrak will now be mandated to create a pilot program that welcomes dogs and cats system wide.

The provision was included in the bill by California Representative Jeff Denham who has been advocating for pet friendly trains since he realized several years ago that he couldn't ride Amtrak with his French Bulldog, Lily.

The bill specifically directs Amtrak to figure out parameters of the program within one year of its passing, which will need to include a designated pet car on each train. Traveling animals will ride in a kennel and be subject to a to fee (amount to be determined).

For now, pet kennels must fit within Amtrak's carry-on luggage size limits, 28" x 22" x 14". That's bad news for big dogs, but it is larger than the standard in-cabin size for pets traveling by plane.

Hopefully it won't take long for Amtrak to finalize the parameters since they've already been running pet friendly trains in a pilot program on two lines in Illinois since last spring. 145 dogs and cats have ridden the train since the initiative began.

It's always great to see more pet friendly travel options, particularly alternatives to air travel. I hope to see the kennel size increased in the future to make Amtrak accessible to more dogs.

Trigger for Bone Cancer Identified
Scientists have possibly found the protein behind osteosarcoma.
UW-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine intern Kathleen Tsimbas checks on Yurtie, a canine cancer patient, in the UW Veterinary Care oncology ward.

With so many dogs I know affected by cancer, I'm always excited to learn about new breakthroughs in the search for a cure. The latest research out of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine is an important one, as they may have identified the biological mechanism that gives some cancer cells the ability to form tumors in dogs.

Scientists at the school were interested in why only some cells generate tumors. What they found was a connection between the increased expression of a particular gene in tumor cells and canine bone cancer.

The study looked at cell lines generated from dogs with osteosarcoma, a common bone cancer that also affects people. After removing tumors from the canine participants, the cells were grown in a lab and transplanted into mice. The researchers then looked to see which lines developed tumors and which did not, and the differences between them.

The scientists identified several hundred genes that expressed differently between the tumor-forming and nontumor-forming cell lines. One protein in particular, called frizzled-6, was present at levels eight times higher in cells that formed tumors. Proteins and RNA, like frizzled-6, are responsible for many vital cellular functions, like receiving information and activating pathways that regulate growth. When these pathways go awry, they may contribute to the development of tumors.

Though a preliminary association has been made, it's not clear what role frizzled-6 plays. It's possible that the frizzled-6 expression may be inhibiting a signaling pathway that contributes to the formation of tumor-initiating cells.

Next the researchers want to better understand the findings. Does frizzled-6 serve as a marker of a more aggressive disease? Will identifying the protein improve the accuracy of prognoses? The veterinary school plans to continue the study in order to answer these questions, in addition to expanding the research to human cancer patients. They'd like to confirm that frizzled-6 is truly what gives these cells the ability to form new tumors, or if it's possible that it's part of a combination of multiple genes that lead to tumor formation.

If they can prove that frizzled-6 is behind the tumor-forming cells, the protein may provide oncologists with another target for therapy which would improve outcomes for cancer patients, both canine and human.

Pit Bull Service Dogs
Organizations specialize in helping people and reversing stigma.

Pit Bull lovers are constantly battling the breed's negative reputation. It can be heartbreaking to see someone cross the street to avoid your pup or usher their kids away at the park, but it happens every day to bully breeds. Every friendly, well socialized Pit Bull is an advocate for the breed, but it can be slow to shift mainstream perception.

Two organizations are on a mission to change that stigma by recruiting rescue Pit Bulls to help people. The Animal Farm Foundation's Assistance Dog Training Program in New York trains shelter Pit Bulls to push wheelchairs or help people regain their mobility and avoid falls. It's believed to be the only American training school that exclusively trains shelter Pit Bulls to be service dogs.

Another group in Chicago, Pits for Patriots, trains rescued Pit Bulls as comfort, therapy, and support dogs for veterans, police officers, and firefighters. The organization's co-founder, Kelly Yearwood, says that veterans and first responders identify with bully breeds because they've both seen a lot of trauma.

For former Marine, Joe Bonfiglio, his Pit Bull service dog, Zen, has been a life saver. Joe was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after returning from Afghanistan and struggled to get his life back to normal. Now he can hang out with friends, shop at the mall, and has even started to take classes at a local college.

Not everyone agrees that Pit Bulls should be trained as service dogs, but if the right evaluation and training protocols are in place, it seems like a win-win. Pit Bulls make up the overwhelming majority of my local animal shelter, so this is a great way to give them a loving home and a purpose.

Reading Human Emotions
Study shows that dogs can discriminate between our expressions.

I don't think that we need a study to know our pups can tell when we're happy or sad, but it's still fun to see formal research explore our dogs' abilities and inner thinking. With all of the canine cognition labs cropping up at colleges around the world, there's been a lot of research showing that dogs can read human emotions. However a new study coming out of the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna claims to represent the first solid evidence that an animal other than humans can discriminate between emotional expressions in another species.

In this study, the researchers set up an experiment that they believed could only be solved by applying knowledge of human emotional expressions to unfamiliar pictures. The dogs were trained to discriminate between images of the same person making either a happy or angry face. In each case, the canine participants were only shown the upper or lower half of the face. After training on 15 picture pairs, the dogs' abilities were tested in four situations where they were shown (1) new faces (but the same half as in the training), (2) the other half of the faces used in training, (3) the other half of the new faces, and (4) the left half of the faces used in the training.

They found that the dogs were able to select the correct facial expression more often than would be expected by random chance in every case. Not only could the dogs learn to identify facial expressions, but they were able to transfer their learnings to people they'd never seen before.

Interestingly the researchers also discovered that it was harder to get the dogs to associate a reward with an angry face, suggesting that prior experience had taught them to stay away from a person that looks mad. From my own experience, dogs learn this very quickly!

Next, the scientists hope to study how dogs express emotions and how those emotions are influenced by people.