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5 Fascinating Animals That Served in the Military

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We’ve already told you the story of Sir Nils Olav and about 10 other animals that have received military-style honors, but few of those critters actually served in the military. Now it’s time to take a look at some of the bravest and most celebrated critters that have ever served their countries.

1. Judy

A liver and white pointer born in 1937, Judy, became the mascot of the British Royal Navy at a young age. In 1942, her ship was attacked by bombers and forced to beach on a nearby island that had little food and no apparent water sources. Judy disappeared for two days; when she reappeared, she immediately started digging on the coastline and uncovered a fresh water spring—saving the lives of her shipwrecked crewmates.

Eventually, Judy and the rest of the crew were rescued by a Chinese junk and were taken to Sumatra. During their attempt to reach Padang, they were taken as prisoners by the Japanese. The entire crew was sent to the war camp in Medan, making Judy the only dog registered as a Prisoner of War during WWII.

At the camp, Leading Aircraftman Frank Williams adopted Judy and shared his small daily ration of rice with the dog. Judy helped the prisoners by distracting the guards while they were administering punishments and warning her fellow inmates when snakes or scorpions were around. Williams helped save the dog by making an agreement with the camp’s Commandant that he could have one of Judy’s future puppies as long as he told his guards to leave the dog alone.

The men were transferred to Singapore in 1944 and while dogs weren’t allowed on the ship, Williams trained Judy to lay very still and smuggled her onboard in a rice sack. When the ship was torpedoed, he threw her from a portal hoping to save her life, before making his own escape. While Williams was recaptured before he saw Judy, he heard stories from others about a dog that helped rescue drowning men by bringing them pieces of floating debris.

Judy and Williams met again at their new prison camp, where they were forced to clear a path through the jungle to make way for a new railroad. Eventually, the guards sentenced Judy to death, but she managed to hide out in the jungle until hostilities ceased. After the war, Judy and Williams returned to the UK and Judy was given the Dickin Medal (the animal version of a Victoria Cross) in 1946. Williams was given the People's Dispensary for Sick Animals’ (PDSA) White Cross of St. Giles, their highest award possible for his protection of Judy.

Sources: Wikipedia, Yorkshire Post, The Age, PDSA

2. Bamse

This heroic pup, whose name means “teddy bear” in Norwegian, eventually became a symbol for Norwegian freedom during WWII. Bamse was bought by Captain Erling Hafto in 1937 with the intent of turning her into a ship’s dog. Before the war, she would look after the Captain’s children, but when WWII broke out, Hafto’s ship was drafted into the Royal Norwegian Navy and Bamse went along for the ride.

After the Nazis invaded Norway, Bamse’s ship was one of only 13 Norwegian naval vessels that managed to escape to the UK. The ship was converted into a minesweeper and stationed in Montrose, Scotland for the rest of the war. While Bamse might not have helped search for mines very efficiently, when the ship wound up in battle, she would stand on the front gun tower of the boat wearing her own special metal helmet. More important to the troops, she lifted the spirits of the crew. She also wrangled them up at the end of the day to get them back on the ship before curfew: She rode the bus, with a bus pass attached to her collar, to her crew’s favorite bar, then went in and fetched them. When she couldn’t find her crewmates, she would ride the bus back to base alone.

Bamse wasn’t just loyal. She was also heroic: She once pushed a knife-wielding attacker into the sea, saving the life of a lieutenant commander; on another occasion, she jumped off the boat and dragged a sailor who had fallen overboard back to shore.

Given the Nazi occupation back home, it’s no surprise that Bamse quickly became mascot of all Free Norwegian Forces—they needed something positive and heart-warming to remind them why they kept fighting and couldn’t go home.  The PDSA even made her an official Allied Forces Mascot.

When she died in 1944, Bamse was given full military honors and her funeral was attended by hundreds of people. In 1984, she was posthumously awarded the Norwegian Norges Hundeorden for her war service and the PDSA awarded her their Gold Medal in 2006, making her the only animal from WWII to receive the honor. In 2006, a life-sized bronze statue of Bamse was erected in Montrose. In 2008, a biography about the pup was released, titled Sea Dog Bamse.

Note: Some sources refer to Bamse as a female, but others refer to the dog as a male. There seems to be no clear source on the dog’s sex overall.

Sources: Wikipedia, BBC NewsThe Bamse Heritage Trust, PDSA

3. Theo

Theo was a bomb detection dog in the British Army’s 1st Military Working Dog Regiment. The English Springer Spaniel was born in 2009, trained in his duties and then assigned to his handler, Liam Tasker, in 2010.

The pair was sent to Afghanistan in September 2010 for Theo’s first tour. In March of 2011, Tasker and Theo were on patrol in the Nahri Saraj District when they were attacked by Taliban insurgents. Tasker was shot and killed by a sniper and upon returning to base, Theo suffered from a seizure and died. It is believed his death was caused by the stress he incurred by the attack and Tasker’s death.

Amazingly, while the duo was only in service together for about six months, they had already set a new record for bomb finds for their period of deployment and were considered the most successful working dog team in Afghanistan. As a result, Theo was posthumously awarded the Dickin Medal in 2012.

Sources: WikipediaABC NewsBBC

4. Lin Wang

Think dogs are the only animals that can be useful during wars? Think again.

Lin Wang was an Asian elephant that served with the Chinese Expeditionary Force in WWII. He originally served the Japanese army by transporting supplies, but was captured by the Chinese in 1943 along with 12 other elephants. The Chinese used the elephants in a similar manner until they were recalled back to China in 1945.

After the war, Lin Wang continued to help the military by aiding in the building of war monuments and by performing a circus to help raise money for famine relief. Eventually, he was transferred to an army base in Kaohsiung, where he helped transport logs and perform other simple tasks.

In 1952, Lin Wang was given to the Taipei Zoo, where he met his lifelong mate, Malan. The elephant eventually became the most famous animal in Taiwan and in 1983, the zoo threw him a birthday party for what would approximately be his 66th birthday. His birthday was celebrated every year after that on the last Sunday of October. Lin Wang survived until 2003, making him around 86 years old (typically Asian elephants live to around 70 years).

While he may not have made a huge difference in the war, he was still a major celebrity in Taipei. His memorial service lasted several weeks and was attended by tens of thousands of people. In honor of his memory, Lin Wang was posthumously awarded the title of “Honorary Taipei Citizen” by the mayor.

Sources: Wikipedia, BBCThe China Post, Taipei Times

5. Tirpitz

In WWI, Tirpiz started out in the Germany Navy—who kept the pig on hand as a source of fresh meat. He was onboard the SMS Dresden when it sank off the coast of South America in 1915. The German soldiers fled, but the poor pig was left on board to sink. Fortunately, Tirpiz was able to make its way to the top deck and swim clear of the ship. He immediately started heading straight for the Royal Navy ships and was eventually rescued and pulled onboard the HMS Glasgow.

The ship’s crew quickly adopted the pig, naming him after Alfred von Tirpitz, the German Admiral and Secretary of State of the Imperial Naval Office. The pig stayed on the ship for a year and was then placed in quarantine until he was adopted by the man who first saw him swimming to their boat. Tirpitz was then transferred to Whale Island Gunnery School for the rest of his career.

Unfortunately, the fact that Tirpitz was still just a pig eventually caught up to him and after the war ended, he was auctioned off as pork for charity, helping the British Red Cross raise 1,785 pounds. Later on, his stuffed head was donated to the Imperial War Museum.

Sources: Wikipedia, The Guardian, Imperial War Museums

There are thousands of animals who have served in the military, and this is only a small selection of the heroic critters worth reading about. If you feel like one particular military animal was egregiously left out of this list though, let us know in the comments. Who knows, maybe we will cover more military animals in a future article.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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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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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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