Original image

7 Shelter Dogs That Saved Lives

Original image

Did you know October is National Adopt-A-Shelter-Dog Month? While the month-long celebration of adopted critters is nearly over, it’s never too late to take home a wonderful new dog from your local animal shelter. And if companionship and unquestionable love aren’t good enough reasons to adopt a new best friend, these pups show that taking in a shelter dog might even save your life.

1. Pearl

This black lab hasn’t just saved one person’s life—Pearl has saved many lives through her work as a search and rescue dog. Her heroic story started when she was surrendered to an animal shelter when she was 4 years old. Pearl was soon adopted by volunteers from the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, who helped train and get her certified as a search dog. Soon, she was partnered with her new owner and handler, Ron Horetski.

As part of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, Pearl almost certainly had some notable adventures in her first two years on the job. But she was also on the scene after a massive earthquake struck Haiti in 2010. Pearl and six other search and rescue dogs spent hours each day looking for victims trapped under the rubble—some buried up to four stories under the surface. The team managed to bring 12 people to safety.

After returning to the states, Pearl was celebrated as a hero and became the subject of a new book called A New Job for Pearl, written by teaching volunteer Allyn Lee and illustrated by second grade students at Rancho Romero Elementary. While there were plenty of heroic rescue dogs working in Haiti, Pearl was picked as the subject of the book because she came from an animal shelter and could have easily been euthanized instead of rescued. Proceeds from the $10 book were used to cover the cost of training new rescue dogs, which costs $10,000 per animal.

2. Rocky

This yellow lab had every reason not to trust humans—when members of an animal shelter finally caught the timid stray, they discovered he was malnourished and wounded by buckshot. Since his psychological issues meant he wasn’t a candidate for adoption, Lassen County Animal Shelter workers had two options: put him down, or enroll him in their Pups on Parole program. Hoping the abused dog might still be able to come out of his shell, he was enrolled in the program that pairs prison inmates with shelter dogs, allowing both to build confidence and trust.

Rocky was one of the many dogs to have his life turned around through the program. He came out of the experience relaxed and trusting of people. He had such a remarkable story that when one prison employee heard the tale, she immediately decided the dog would be a perfect addition to her family.

Dawn Tibbets knew her husband, Floyd, could use some company on his rock hunting trips in the local canyons. Only a month after Rocky’s adoption, he and Floyd were out in a remote canyon when Floyd's heart began to beat irregularly, which caused him to collapse and go in and out of consciousness. Every time he passed out, Rocky licked his hand until he woke up. Finally, Floyd was conscious enough to try to find his way out of the canyon, but he was disoriented and started walking in the wrong direction. But Rocky kept going the other way, and Floyd followed him. Eventually, the two made it back to the car, all thanks to Rocky’s sense of direction and dedication to the family who brought him home.

3. Duke

In the 6 years since the Brousseaus adopted the exceptionally well-behaved Duke, he had never jumped on the bed—which is exactly why they knew something was wrong when the mutt jumped on their bed in the middle of the night, trembling.

The new parents—their little girl had just been born 9 weeks before—immediately rushed into the child’s room to check on her, only to discover she was not breathing. The parents called 911 and emergency workers were able to rush her to the hospital in time to save her life.

Jenna Brousseau says Duke is the sole reason their baby survived; if he hadn’t woken them up in such a panic, they would have gone back to sleep. The couple is hoping that Duke’s story will inspire others to adopt shelter pets.

4. Bear

Like many large dogs, the aptly named Bear, a 100-pound Shiloh Shepherd, had a hard time finding a new owner when he was in a shelter four years ago. Eventually, though, Texan Debbie Zeisler fell in love with the massive pup and took him home.

Debbie’s decision may have saved her life. Since a bad horse riding accident at 18, Debbie had experienced seizures almost daily—and Bear, it seemed, could predict when they were going to happen, despite having no formal training whatsoever. Bear now leans on Debbie’s legs to warn her when an attack is coming so his master will have time to take her medication. While she has failed to heed the dog’s warnings a few times and fallen as a result, Debbie has been able to handle her condition much better since Bear has been in her life.

Last May, Debbie had a seizure and fell down on the front steps of her home, hitting her head and losing consciousness. Bear ran to neighboring homes and scratched on their doors. While no neighbors answered, an animal control officer spotted the dog and pulled over. As soon as she opened her door, the dog jumped in. The officer read Bear’s tags and saw that he was a seizure alert dog, so she followed him to his home, where she found Debbie semi-conscious and confused. The animal control officer called the paramedics and Bear accompanied Debbie in the ambulance to the hospital.

Bear was later honored with the Annual National Hero Dog Award from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Los Angeles. "This just goes to show how amazing shelter dogs can be," said SPCALA President Madeline Bernstein. "If Debbie had not adopted Bear, where would she and Bear be today? The bond between an animal and his human companion is powerful and life-saving."

5. Queen Sheba

This beautiful pup was passed over time and time again at the Indianapolis Humane Society, but eventually, John Green and his father fell in love with her and brought her home. Only a few months after the family adopted Queen Sheba, John had a heart attack and was unable to call out to his father for help or reach a phone to call paramedics. Fortunately, Sheba noticed that something was wrong and quickly sprang into action, licking John’s dad’s face to get his attention and lead him to the room John was in. Doctors said that John likely wouldn’t have made it to the hospital in time if it weren’t for Queen Sheba.

6. Lilly

Boston Police Officer David Lanteigne knew his mother, Christine Spain, could use a therapy dog to help her deal with alcoholism, depression, and anxiety. So he adopted a pit bull named Lilly from the local shelter, and sure enough, the more Christine focused her energy and attention on Lilly, the better she felt and the less she drank. That alone could have saved Christine’s life, but years after her adoption, Lilly saved her owner’s life and sacrificed a part of herself in the process.

Three years after the dog's adoption, Christine was walking Lilly when she collapsed in the worst possible place—on railroad tracks. Fortunately, Lilly sprang into action and started to pull her off of the tracks, and continued working to save her master, even as a train approached at full speed. When the engineer saw the woman and her dog, he tried to stop, but it was too late: The train ran over the dog’s front right leg.

Christine survived the accident only because of Lilly’s actions and while the pup was hurt—her leg had to be amputated—she pulled through and has since been reunited with her family. Christine has since been charged with obstruction and danger on a railroad track, walking on a railroad track, and animal cruelty, but even if she does serve time, Christine’s son, David, will be happy to take care of the animal that saved his mother’s life, and Lilly will certainly be happy to see her master when she is released.

"We saved Lilly, and Lilly saved my mom's life," David said. "My hope is that this story is going to get out and show what pit bulls are truly about. I hope by Lilly going through this, it's going to get other dogs homes."

7. Mabeline

A 17-year-old volunteer at the Friends of Strays animal shelter was walking Mabeline on a path behind the building one day when a registered sex offender chased the girl down, grabbed her by the hair and then pinned her to the ground. While the girl struggled to get free, the 40 pound Rhodesian ridgeback took matters into her own paws, attacking the villain and scaring him off so the girl could escape.

While plenty of dogs have been known to step in to protect their owners, Mabeline’s actions are particularly impressive since the girl was only one of many volunteers at the shelter that helped care for the pup. Still, the ordinarily loving and sweet dog knew her friend was in danger and knew she had to protect her. The attacker has since been arrested.

While the victim of the attack couldn’t take Mabeline home because one of her family members has a severe allergy to dogs, the dog was soon adopted out anyway. Surprisingly, her new owner, Mary Callahan, had no idea that her pup was a hero until a news crew told her about the incident.

Are any of you Flossers the proud owners of dogs that once lived in an animal shelter? If so, have they ever done anything heroic to save you? Tell us in the comments!

Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
Original image
iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

Original image
Live Smarter
Working Nights Could Keep Your Body from Healing
Original image

The world we know today relies on millions of people getting up at sundown to go put in a shift on the highway, at the factory, or in the hospital. But the human body was not designed for nocturnal living. Scientists writing in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine say working nights could even prevent our bodies from healing damaged DNA.

It’s not as though anybody’s arguing that working in the dark and sleeping during the day is good for us. Previous studies have linked night work and rotating shifts to increased risks for heart disease, diabetes, weight gain, and car accidents. In 2007, the World Health Organization declared night work “probably or possibly carcinogenic.”

So while we know that flipping our natural sleep/wake schedule on its head can be harmful, we don’t completely know why. Some scientists, including the authors of the current paper, think hormones have something to do with it. They’ve been exploring the physiological effects of shift work on the body for years.

For one previous study, they measured workers’ levels of 8-OH-dG, which is a chemical byproduct of the DNA repair process. (All day long, we bruise and ding our DNA. At night, it should fix itself.) They found that people who slept at night had higher levels of 8-OH-dG in their urine than day sleepers, which suggests that their bodies were healing more damage.

The researchers wondered if the differing 8-OH-dG levels could be somehow related to the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate our body clocks. They went back to the archived urine from the first study and identified 50 workers whose melatonin levels differed drastically between night-sleeping and day-sleeping days. They then tested those workers’ samples for 8-OH-dG.

The difference between the two sleeping periods was dramatic. During sleep on the day before working a night shift, workers produced only 20 percent as much 8-OH-dG as they did when sleeping at night.

"This likely reflects a reduced capacity to repair oxidative DNA damage due to insufficient levels of melatonin,” the authors write, “and may result in cells harbouring higher levels of DNA damage."

DNA damage is considered one of the most fundamental causes of cancer.

Lead author Parveen Bhatti says it’s possible that taking melatonin supplements could help, but it’s still too soon to tell. This was a very small study, the participants were all white, and the researchers didn't control for lifestyle-related variables like what the workers ate.

“In the meantime,” Bhatti told Mental Floss, “shift workers should remain vigilant about following current health guidelines, such as not smoking, eating a balanced diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise.”