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6 Inspirational Animals That Overcame Abuse

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Last month, we brought you the stories of eight disabled animals who overcame the challenges they faced. Today let's take a look at another group of special needs animals –- previously abused pets. These six animals learned to trust and love humans even after they were attacked by cruel-hearted men and women.

1. Wheely Willy

When Willy was only a puppy, he was the victim of severe animal abuse. He was discovered in a cardboard box with a sliced throat and severe spinal injuries. His injuries were treated at the shelter, but his spine was too damaged to be repaired, so he was left a parapalegic. It took a whole year for Willy to get adopted, but when groomer Deborah Turner heard about the poor puppy and learned that the shelter would have him euthanized if no one took him home soon, she stepped in and made him a part of her family.

When she first brought him home, she had to carry him everywhere, but Deborah was convinced that she could find a way for Willy to walk around. She tried tying balloons to him and putting him on a skateboard, but when she saw an ad for a wheelchair made for dogs, she knew she had the right answers. Willy immediately thrived in his new chair and as he started to attract attention from those who saw him, he eventually was featured on Animal Planet and became the star of two children’s books, How Willy Got His Wheels and How Willy Got His Wings. Willy and Deborah worked together to spread disability awareness and made many appearances at hospitals to bring cheer and inspiration to patients and staff members.

Although Willie died in 2009, his books were best-sellers and his memory and message of disability acceptance will live on for years to come.

Image courtesy of Deborah Turner.

2. Oscar

Despite having a boy’s name, Oscar is most certainly a girl. Even if she isn’t the most beautiful cockatoo in the world, she’s got a great personality to make up for it. Oscar was found in a crack house during a drug raid. When she was brought in to the Broward County Humane Society, she was diagnosed with beak and feather disease and vets estimated that she would only live another six months. That was fourteen years ago.

Since that time, Oscar has served as the unofficial mascot of the shelter, showing that the society will do whatever it can to help animals, no matter what their condition. Her condition is uncomfortable, which causes her to rip out her feathers as soon as they grow –ensuring she is permanently bald, with an exception of a small crown on her head. Because the disease is contagious, she can’t be put in contact with other birds, so she stays in the front room of the shelter, where she greets visitors as they enter. Oscar doesn’t let her condition get her down, shelter workers say she is always talkative, happy and quite funny.

3. Susie

Little Susie was discovered in North Carolina with broken bones and burns over 60% of her body. Animal lovers across the nation came together to support the pup and the shelter was flooded with hundreds of applications by people who wanted to give her a new home. Eventually, Donna Laurence was selected to be the Susie’s new owner because the two had something in common. While Susie was victimized by a human, Donna was attacked by a pitbull the year before. Both had to overcome their traumas and learn to love again and the shelter employees saw the pair as a perfect duo. Nowadays, Susie frequently goes to her hair salon, where she brings joy to all of Donna’s customers while becoming socialized to people of all ages.

Donna isn’t content to let Susie cheer her and her customers though, she’s decided to work with the shelter to use Susie as an advocate for animal cruelty prevention and as a therapy dog.

4. Champ

Like Susie, Champ was an abused puppy given a second chance at life. Champ was discovered with acid burns across his entire body. It was so bad that his rescuer couldn’t even tell he was a dog at first. The animal control center called a local rescue organization, Save The Animal Rescue Team, headed by Mike Martin. START is known for helping the most desperate dogs given to animal control and Mike and his wife quickly set about treating the beagle’s wounds and working to get him to trust humans again.

Eventually, Champ made a full physical and emotional recovery and Mike and his wife decided to adopt him as a full-time pet. His inspirational story was soon featured in the The Martha Stewart Show and he was featured in a short story, “The Heart of a Champ,” that was later published in the book The Ultimate Dog Lovers. Since then, Mike has been trained as a therapy dog and makes frequent appearances to hospitals, as well as school visits to teach children about animal abuse.

5. Michael Vick’s Dogs


Most dogs seized from fighting rings are too badly traumatized to recover. They are too aggressive towards humans and other pets to ever make trustworthy pets. When 51 dogs were taken from Michael Vick’s notoriously grizzly operation, prospects looked bleak for the pups. Originally, experts were hopeful that even four or five dogs would make a full recovery. Amazingly, Vick’s dogs triumphed against this grim prospect and a shocking 47 were able to be rehabilitated and many have found permanent homes. Against all odds, many of the dogs have moved on to inspire others. One dog, Johnny is now a therapy dog that helps kids conquer their shyness. Despite their success, many of the animals still face serious challenges on a regular basis as they try to overcome the fear from their earlier lives.

The animals’ amazing tales of redemption were chronicled in the best-selling book, The Lost Dogs.

6. Ellie

Not all abused animals have been physically assaulted. Ellie was kept in a small cage in near darkness until she was rescued by the RSPCA. Her muscles were underdeveloped and she had cataracts in each eye despite the fact that she was only a puppy. The rescue organization is working to save up money to get cataract removal surgery, but in the meantime, she’s in the dark. Fortunately, Ellie has managed to work through her inability to see thanks to her best friend Leo, who works as her seeing eye dog. Leo guards Ellie and helps lead her through their surroundings. "I take them for walks in the park and Leo guides Ellie around. He is so protective and herds the more boisterous dogs away from her," a volunteer at the organization says.

Abused animals sometimes have behavioral issues, but with a little compassion and patience, most can be rehabilitated and become great pets. I’m sure many of you Flossers have stories about loving pets that were once victims of abuse. Let’s hear them in the comments.

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

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iStock
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Why Your iPhone Doesn't Always Show You the 'Decline Call' Button
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iStock

When you get an incoming call to your iPhone, the options that light up your screen aren't always the same. Sometimes you have the option to decline a call, and sometimes you only see a slider that allows you to answer, without an option to send the caller straight to voicemail. Why the difference?

A while back, Business Insider tracked down the answer to this conundrum of modern communication, and the answer turns out to be fairly simple.

If you get a call while your phone is locked, you’ll see the "slide to answer" button. In order to decline the call, you have to double-tap the power button on the top of the phone.

If your phone is unlocked, however, the screen that appears during an incoming call is different. You’ll see the two buttons, "accept" or "decline."

Either way, you get the options to set a reminder to call that person back or to immediately send them a text message. ("Dad, stop calling me at work, it’s 9 a.m.!")

[h/t Business Insider]

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