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25 Shelter Dogs Who Made It Big

Focus Features
Focus Features

If you’ve been thinking of adding a four-legged friend to your brood and are deciding whether a shelter dog is right for you, consider this: Some of history’s most amazing pooches—from four-legged movie stars to heroic rescue dogs—were found in animal shelters. In honor of Adopt-a-Shelter-Dog Month, here are 25 shelter dogs who made it big.

1. OLD YELLER

Photo of Spike from 'Old Yeller' (1957)
Walt Disney Studios

Old Yeller may be one of Disney’s saddest movies, but the backstory of its canine star is anything but: Spike, who played the title role, was adopted from a Van Nuys, California shelter when he was still just a puppy by animal trainer Frank Weatherwax for a fee of just $3. When Weatherwax’s wife, Connie, read part of Frank Gipson’s classic novel in The Saturday Evening Post, the author’s description of the dog reminded her of Spike. So when Disney announced that they’d be adapting the book to the big screen, Weatherwax got Spike an audition. But there was a problem: The lop-eared yellow Mastador was just too sweet. So Weatherwax went to work on training the lovable pup to snarl and growl on command. Spike nailed the part, and went on to have a fruitful acting career (he even made a few appearances as one of Lassie’s buds).

2. JAKE

Photo of Jake the Rescue Dog
Anita Westervelt/FEMA

In 1995, FEMA worker Mary Flood met Jake: a 10-month-old black Lab who was taken in by a shelter after he was found roaming the streets with a broken leg and a dislocated hip. "But against all odds he became a world-class rescue dog,” Flood, who works as part of a federal search-and-rescue team that has searched for human remains at both Ground Zero and following Hurricane Katrina, told CNN.

Following the events of September 11, Jake was officially hailed as a “hero” by the City of New York. In addition to his own acts of heroism, Jake helped train other rescue dogs and worked as a therapy dog at nursing homes and at a camp for burn victims. On July 25, 2007, Jake died of cancer; his body was donated to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, who were studying the long-term effects of 9/11 on the health of the rescue dogs.

3. HIGGINS

Frank Inn with Higgins, the original 'Benji'

Frank Inn was a dog lover through and through: Though he made his living as a professional animal trainer, he was also an enormous advocate of shelter dogs. He’d regularly adopt pups who were at risk of being euthanized, then attempt to train them; if they weren't into the whole acting thing, he’d find loving homes for them through friends and family. One of his greatest success stories was Higgins, a mutt he found at California’s Burbank Animal Shelter, who proved to be a natural in front of the camera. After making his onscreen debut on Petticoat Junction, his real star-making turn came in the first Benji film. According to the Humane Society, Higgins’s history as a shelter dog led to the adoption of 1 million more because of Benji.

4. PEETY

Eric O’Grey and Peety
Eric O’Grey

In 2010, Eric O’Grey—a Silicon Valley-based sales rep who worked from home and spent much of his day on the phone—was taking more than a dozen different medications to control a range of health problems, including type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and depression. “It was a day-to-day existence of me and myself and really, the phone and the internet,” the 58-year-old told Metro earlier this month. His diet consisted of takeout food and he would sometimes eat up to 10,000 calories per day; eventually, he began to lose contact with many of his friends and stopped leaving the house altogether. Then a doctor made a seemingly odd suggestion: Get a rescue dog.

That’s when O’Grey met Peety, an overweight, middle-aged Australian Shepherd/Border Collie mix at the Humane Society Silicon Valley. Together, they began taking twice-a-day walks and eventually worked up to three miles. Within 10 months, O’Grey had lost 140 pounds (and Peety had dropped 25). Today, O’Grey is running about five marathons a year and just released a book, Walking With Peety: The Dog Who Saved My Life, about how Peety changed his life.

5. RIN TIN TIN

Rin Tin Tin
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

In 1918, American corporal Leland Duncan stumbled upon a bombed-out dog kennel near Lorraine, France, where he found a German Shepherd mom tending to her litter of newborn puppies. Duncan rescued the dogs, and brought two of the puppies home to California with him: Nanette and Rin Tin Tin. Though Nanette passed away, Rin Tin Tin became a huge star, appearing in more than two dozen silent films. Today, you can visit his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

6. AND 7. PICASSO AND PABLO

Shelter dogs Picasso and Pablo
Mecca Ray-Rouse for Luvable Dog Rescue

If it weren’t for Liesl Wilhardt and the devoted dog lovers at Luvable Dog Rescue, the world may never have been introduced to Picasso. Earlier this year, the Eugene, Oregon animal shelter rescued the 10-month-old pit bull-corgi mix and his brother, Pablo, from a high-kill shelter in California. The brothers had been surrendered by a breeder who couldn’t place them—in Picasso’s case, because of a misaligned snout that made him look like a Pablo Picasso painting (hence the name).

When Luvable began posting photos of the pair on their Instagram and Facebook pages, they turned into internet stars practically overnight. The organization has reportedly received inquiries from hundreds of people around the world who are interested in giving a home to the brothers—who will only be adopted as a pair—but they will remain under Luvable’s care while Picasso undergoes dental surgery to correct an issue with his snout (which can cause him pain). If you’re interested in following their progress, check out the group’s social media feeds.

8. ALEISTER

Keira Knightley, Steve Carell and Aleister the shelter dog in 'Seeking a Friend for the End of the World'
Focus Features

In 2008, Aleister—a 5-year-old terrier mix—was rescued from an animal shelter in California. Four years later, he was starring alongside Steve Carell and Keira Knightley in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, Lorene Scafaria’s 2012 dramedy about two strangers who meet in the final days before an asteroid strikes Earth and obliterates everything and everyone on it. The pooch played “Sorry,” an abandoned dog that ends up giving Carell’s character a reason to live when death is imminent.

9. PABST 

Pabst, the 2009 winner of World's Ugliest Dog
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

In 2009, Pabst—a then-4-year-old boxer mix with an extremely pronounced underbite—was named the World’s Ugliest Dog, becoming the first pup who wasn’t a Chinese crested to claim the title in seven years. The title brought him $1600 in prize money plus a modeling contract from House of Dog. While Miles Egstad, who adopted Pabst from a shelter in 2006, appreciated the accolades, he didn’t necessarily agree with the description. “I don’t think he’s that ugly!” Egstad told People Magazine.

10. DOG

Mel Gibson and Dog star in 'The Road Warrior'
Warner Home Video

A professionally trained pooch is the dream of any filmmaker who decides to work with a dog, but sometimes not even the most talented of canine performers tick every box for a director. That was definitely the case for George Miller, who auditioned more than 100 dogs to play the part of Dog, faithful companion to Max Rockatansky in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. The filmmakers had just about given up on finding their Dog when they came across an Australian cattle dog that was scheduled to be put down at the local pound. Miller threw a rock and the dog retrieved it, which was enough for the director to cast him as Max’s furry pal. When filming ended, he was adopted by Max and Dale Aspin, the film’s stunt coordinator and animal trainer, respectively.

11. WHEELY WILLY 

Wheely Willy the rescue dog
Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

Originally found abandoned in a cardboard box suffering from both spinal injuries and a cut throat, Willy—who was then just a puppy—was rescued and received the medical attention he needed, though the injuries left him paraplegic. After spending more than a year in a shelter, he had still not found his forever home, and was scheduled to be euthanized. That’s when pet groomer Deborah Turner took action, and brought him home.

In order to help Willy walk on his own, Turner spent a lot of time trying to come up with new ways to help his mobility, then learned about K-9 Carts, a special kind of wheelchair for dogs. With his fancy new wheels, Willy began attracting lots of attention, which eventually led to him becoming the subject of a pair of bestselling children’s books where he was rechristened Wheely Willy. When he wasn’t posing for the cameras, Willy—who passed away in 2010—helped raise public awareness about animals with disabilities and visited hospitals, where his tenacity regularly inspired patients.

12. SANDY

Sandy the dog in 'Annie'
Kevin Winter/Getty Images

In Annie, the red-headed orphan finds a kindred spirit in Sandy, a streetwise stray dog she adopts as her own faithful companion. Since the musical’s original Broadway run, animal trainer and behaviorist William Berloni has filled the role with shelter dogs. In 1976, he paid just $7 to save the original Sandy from being euthanized and trained him to appear on Broadway; he ended up stealing the show in more than 2300 performances. It started a bit of a trend; when Annie was revived for the stage in 2012, Berloni put a dog named Sunny to work for the part.

13. MOCHI

Photo of a dog's tongue
iStock

In 2016, Mochi "Mo" Rickert was awarded a Guinness World Record for The Dog With the Longest Tongue, with an official measurement of 7.3 inches. "With this record, we hope to bring attention to how much joy rescued animals can bring to their new family," Carla Rickert, who adopted Mochi from a South Dakota rescue with her husband Craig, said of the accolade. "Mo is resilient, comical, loving, and eternally grateful and loyal to us—her forever family. This once abused and neglected pup has taught us that it's okay to be different. We are proud of her unique feature."

14. MAUI

Paul Reiser, Helen Hunt, and Maui in 'Mad About You'
NBC Universal

From 1992 to 1999, Maui—a collie mix who was adopted from a California shelter by animal trainer Boone Narr—played Murray, the lovable pooch of Paul and Jamie Buchman (Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt) on Mad About You. “Maui is very sweet and takes direction well,” Betty Linn, who trained Maui for several years, told Mutt News in 2008. “He’s completely spoiled by everyone and consequently loves to go to the set when we begin a new show on Mondays.”

15. PEANUT

A dog digging.
iStock

In 2016, Petunia—a tan and brown mixed breed pup—found her forever home after being adopted out by the Delta Animal Shelter in Escanaba, Michigan following years of abuse (she arrived at the shelter with broken legs and ribs). A year later, the pup (now known as Peanut) returned that kindness by helping to save a 3-year-old girl.

In March 2017, Peanut was clearly distressed; the normally quiet pooch was running up and down the stairs and barking at her owner. Sensing that something must be wrong, Peanut’s owner took her outside, where she immediately ran into the field behind the house. It’s there that Peanut located a young girl curled up into a ball, wearing no clothing, and shivering from the cold. “By the time the ambulance and police arrived, the little girl could only say one thing—‘doggie,’” Peanut’s owner wrote in a letter to the shelter. “Thanks to Peanut, a little girl’s life was saved.”

16. AND 17. CLYDE AND RUDY

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

In 2005, readers fell in love with Marley & Me, John Grogan’s loving tribute to the many years he and his family spent living with Marley, a destructive yellow lab who Grogan deemed “the world’s worst dog.” When the book was adapted into a movie starring Owen Wilson and Jennifer Aniston in 2008, the filmmakers had to employ a total of 22 dogs to play Marley at various stages of his life, and six of them were rescue dogs.

Of all the pups, Clyde—who was rescued from a breeder—had the most screen time (and managed to earn a Teen Choice Award nomination for Choice Movie Liplock alongside Wilson). Then there was Rudy, who managed to find an adopter just 24 hours before he was set to be euthanized. He was adopted by Susan Woolley and Dean Kagawa, who regularly take in strays. When Woolley, who volunteers with the Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida Inc., learned that Rudy was going to be destroyed, she stepped in and tried to find him a new home. But his energy level proved to be too much for many potential adopters.

"We kept him because nobody wanted him," Woolley told the Tampa Bay Times. "He's a hoot," Kagawa added. "You rarely get a dog like him. He's just nuts. He's very smart. Very stubborn. Loves being the center of attention." When Woolley learned that the makers of Marley & Me were in need of just such a pup, she told them: "I have the perfect dog."

18. CHANEL

Dog in goggles
iStock

In 1988, Denice Shaughnessy—then a soldier in the U.S. Army—fell in love with Chanel, a 6-week-old white dachshund she adopted from a shelter in Newport News, Virginia. More than 20 years later, Shaughnessy noticed that there was no current Guinness World Record holder for World’s Oldest Dog, so she submitted Chanel’s information. In 2009, Chanel (who was often seen wearing goggles because of cataracts, in sweaters because of a sensitivity to cold, and being pushed in a stroller because of the difficulty she had walking) was the center of attention at a big birthday party held in her honor in New York City, where her Guinness World Record distinction was announced. Sadly, Chanel passed away just a few months later, at the age of 21 years and 114 days.

19. MARNIE

Marnie the dog
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for ASPCA

In 2012, animal control officers in Connecticut came across a homeless 10-year-old shih tzu and brought her to a shelter, where she was named “Stinky” and sat for several months until Shirley Braha discovered her. After taking the dog home, Braha renamed her new four-legged friend Marnie, and began posting pictures of the unusual pooch, whose head tilts to one side, likely due to a previous illness. Today, Marnie is a bona fide celebrity with her own book and app and more than 2 million Instagram followers.

20. TUNA

Tuna the dog
Michael Kovac/Getty Images for Annenberg PetSpace

Like Marnie, Tuna the dog went from homeless to internet sensation—though in his case, it seemed practically overnight. After being found on the side of a road in California, Tuna was made adoptable by a rescue group, which is how Courtney Dasher came across him in 2010. He was then just 4 months old, and Dasher decided to foster the Chihuahua/Dachshund for a week—but was quickly charmed by him and his adorably odd appearance.

Tuna’s extreme overbite and misaligned jaw earned him some instant online love; in addition to his nearly 2 million Instagram followers, Tuna has his own book and is doing his part to raise awareness (and money) for rescue organizations that have a soft spot for unconventionally cute would-be pets.

21. HOBO

Photo of a Border Collie dog.
iStock

In 2005, a lovable Border Collie named Castor was having trouble finding a home. Just as his longtime foster, Lori, was getting ready to offer him a forever home, the mother of a 4-year-old girl named Melorah who had daily seizures decided that Castor just might be the perfect service dog for their home. They were right. “Castor is now Hobo, and he is a seizure alert dog for Melorah,” Lori wrote in a blog post. “He alerts Melorah’s mom when a seizure is on its way, and her mom actually gives her medicine when Hobo predicts a seizure.

“The medicine can lessen the effects of the seizure. He has done his job for many years now. He has been all over the U.S. He has also spent many nights in hospitals in Melorah’s bed comforting her when she was scared and away from home. He has ridden the carousel at DisneyWorld, he has ridden on trains, subways, and even in an ambulance. Melorah’s mom now speaks at large events on the benefits of service dogs.”

22. MR. WINKLE

Photo of Mr. Winkle the dog
Amanda Edwards/Getty Images

It’s hard not to fall in love with Mr. Winkle, a tiny toy dog who is believed to be a mix of Chihuahua and Pomeranian, but looks more like a teddy bear. That’s exactly what happened when renowned photographer Lara Jo Regan met him, and why she adopted him. Immediately, she began dressing Mr. Winkle up and posting photos of him in all sorts of settings and costumes. Next came a line of merchandise, including books and calendars, that endeared Mr. Winkle to the world.

23. LADY

Phot of a dog shaking hands.
iStock

Pit bulls can get a bad rap, but time and again, they’ve proven to be an amazing breed—saving and changing many people’s lives in the process. Case in point: Lady, who found her way to the Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS).

"She's just one of those dogs who was very overlooked," BARCS’s communications director Bailey Deacon told The Dodo in 2016. "She was loved by our staff and volunteers. But she wasn't getting a lot of chances for people to get her out and see how wonderful she really was. People weren't picking her. Everybody just walked by the brown and white pit bull." Then she met Mandy Weikert and Chris Kimple, who immediately connected to Lady’s fun-loving spirit and brought her home.

But Lady wanted to do more: Weikert, who is a nurse at a cancer treatment center in Pennsylvania, brought Lady to work with her one day, and the pup immediately got to work cheering everyone up. "She makes people laugh and makes people smile and makes people forget why they are there," Weikert told People. "When they are with Lady, they are not cancer patients anymore. They are just people who are happy."

24. MURRAY

iStock

By the time Murray, a 2-year-old beagle, was rescued by Georgia’s Alcovy Pet Rescue from the Northeast Georgia Animal Shelter, it was clear he had had a tough life. In addition to being severely underweight and beat up, his tail was injured and he was missing half of one of his ears. But, “He was very eager for love and very eager for attention,” Tammie Jourdanais, the shelter’s director, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in early 2017. Murray was also smart and eager to please, which is how—about one year later—he found himself joining the elite crew of agriculture detector dogs at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, where he ensures that no harmful foods or pests make their way into the U.S.

“The dogs we’re looking for are working dogs that really need something to do,” Kathleen Warfield, a training specialist at the National Detector Training Center, told the AJC. “They need to keep busy and be active … Murray is the happiest dog you will ever meet. When he’s at the airport, he just loves being in that environment."

25. CHARLIE GRAY

A scene from Hart to Hart
Shout! Factory

Beginning in 1979, Robert Wagner and Stefanie Powers portrayed Jonathan and Jennifer Hart, a married couple who regularly find themselves embroiled in some sort of weird mystery that forces them to play amateur detectives to solve it, on Hart to Hart. Helping them in their investigations is Freeway, a stray Löwchen they found roaming the freeway (hence the name). In real life, the story of Charlie Gray—the dog who portrayed Freeway—wasn’t too different. Charlie was close to being euthanized when Hollywood animal trainer Bob Blair found him. "I went down to the shelter, just down the road from here and there was this little dog, looking at me and saying 'When's my call to go to the studio?'" Blair recalled. “I brought him back, and he turned out to be a great little dog.”

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Atlanta Shelters Give Pups a Temporary Home for the Holidays
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The holidays are looking a little brighter for adoptable dogs from two animal shelters in Atlanta, Georgia. As ABC News reports, a new program called Home for the Pawlidays is providing temporary homes to longer-term residents of Fulton County Animal Services and DeKalb County Animal Services for the week of Thanksgiving.

The initiative was organized by Atlanta's LifeLine Animal Project, a local group dedicated to providing healthcare and homes to shelter dogs. The dogs that were chosen for the project may be older, have special health needs, or other issues that make it more difficult to find them forever homes.

But from November 18 to 25, the dogs are getting to spend time away from the shelter and in the homes of loving foster families.

“We were thinking, everyone gets a break from work, and they should get a break from the shelter,” LifeLine’s public relations director Karen Hirsch told ABC News.

Some caretakers have already fallen in love with their four-legged house guests. Foster Heather Koth told ABC that she hadn’t been considering adoption, but after meeting Missy the shelter dog, she now plans to foster her until she has a permanent home or possibly adopt the dog herself.

And for the dogs that can’t be kept by their temporary owners, just a week of quality playtime and sleeping in a real bed can make a huge impact. You can check out photos of the pets who are benefiting from the program this week below.

[h/t ABC News]

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25 Things You Didn't Know About Turkeys
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Most of us probably associate turkey with a sumptuous Thanksgiving spread, but there’s a lot more to the big bird than how delicious it is alongside your grandma’s famous cranberry sauce. Here are a few bits of knowledge you can drop over the dinner table—when you’re not fighting with your family over white meat or dark meat, that is.

1. THE NORTH AMERICAN WILD TURKEY POPULATION WAS ALMOST WIPED OUT.

Wild turkey
iStock

Wild turkeys once roamed the continent en masse, but by the early 20th century, the entire U.S. population had been whittled down to a mere 30,000 due to hunting and the destruction of their woodland habitats. In the 1940s, many of the remaining birds were relocated to parts of the U.S. with recovering woodlands so the turkeys could repopulate. Despite these efforts, by 1973, there were still just 1.5 million wild turkeys in North America. Today, that number is up to about 6 million.

2. TURKEY APPENDAGES ARE LIKE MOOD RINGS.

Wild turkey
iStock

The dangly appendage that hangs from the turkey’s forehead to the beak is called a snood. The piece that hangs from the chin is the wattle. These fleshy flaps can change color according to the turkey’s physical and mental health—when a male turkey (called a tom, of course) is trying to attract a mate, the snood and wattle turn bright red. If the turkey is scared, the appendages take on a blue tint. And if the turkey is ailing, they become very pale.

3. TURKEYS CAN FLY.

Wild turkey in flight
iStock

Well, domestic turkeys that are bred to be your Thanksgiving centerpiece can’t. They’re too heavy. But wild turkeys can, reportedly at speeds up to 55 miles per hour. Though they don’t go very far—usually less than 100 yards—wild turkeys are among the five largest flying birds in the world. They’re in good company: Others on the list include the swan and the albatross.

4. THEY CAN ALSO SWIM.

Wild turkey drinking water
iStock

Turkeys don’t swim often, it seems, but they can, by tucking their wings in, spreading their tails, and kicking. In 1831, John James Audubon wrote, “I have been told by a friend that a person residing in Philadelphia had a hearty laugh on hearing that I had described the Wild Turkey as swimming for some distance, when it had accidentally fallen into the water. But be assured, kind reader, almost every species of land-bird is capable of swimming on such occasions, and you may easily satisfy yourself as to the accuracy of my statement by throwing a Turkey, a Common Fowl, or any other bird into the water.”

5. TURKEY POOP CAN TELL YOU A LOT.

A handler picking up turkey poop at the White House Turkey Pardon in 2013.

The next time you happen across turkey poop—which happens all the time, we know—take a closer look at it. If the droppings are shaped like a “J,” they were left there by a male turkey. Spiral-shaped poo? The culprit is female.

The citizens of Pilot Rock, Oregon, probably don’t much care about the shape of the stuff, but more about the quantity of it. Earlier this year, Pilot Rock turned to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) for help combating a flock of 50 to 70 wild turkeys that would periodically invade the town, destroy gardens, perch in trees, and poop on pickup trucks. The ODFW offered several solutions, but as far as we know the turkeys still rule the roost at Pilot Rock.

6. TURKEY PROBABLY WASN'T ON THE PILGRIMS' MENU.

A recreation of the Pilgrims' first settlement
iStock

Thanks to historical records, we know for sure that the Wampanoag brought deer, and the English brought fowl—likely ducks and geese.

7. BEN FRANKLIN DIDN'T REALLY WANT THE TURKEY TO BE OUR NATIONAL BIRD.

A drawing of Ben Franklin.
Getty / Hulton Archive / Handout

You may have heard that at least one of our Founding Fathers lobbied hard to make the turkey our national symbol instead of the noble bald eagle. That’s not quite true, but in a letter to his daughter, he did expound on the character of each, which may be where the rumor got started:

“For my own part I wish the Bald Eagle had not been chosen the Representative of our Country. He is a Bird of bad moral Character. He does not get his Living honestly. You may have seen him perched on some dead Tree near the River, where, too lazy to fish for himself, he watches the Labour of the Fishing Hawk; and when that diligent Bird has at length taken a Fish, and is bearing it to his Nest for the Support of his Mate and young Ones, the Bald Eagle pursues him and takes it from him.

“With all this injustice, he is never in good case but like those among men who live by sharping & robbing he is generally poor and often very lousy. Besides he is a rank coward: The little King Bird not bigger than a Sparrow attacks him boldly and drives him out of the district. He is therefore by no means a proper emblem for the brave and honest Cincinnati of America who have driven all the King birds from our country…

“I am on this account not displeased that the Figure is not known as a Bald Eagle, but looks more like a Turkey. For the Truth the Turkey is in Comparison a much more respectable Bird, and withal a true original Native of America… He is besides, though a little vain & silly, a Bird of Courage, and would not hesitate to attack a Grenadier of the British Guards who should presume to invade his Farm Yard with a red Coat on.”

8. ANOTHER TURKEY FAN: ALEXANDER HAMILTON.

Portrait of Alexander Hamilton
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Yep, A. Ham liked turkey. In fact, he thought eating turkey was practically a god-given right, and once remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day."

9. TEDDY ROOSEVELT BELIEVED THE BIRDS WERE CUNNING PREY.

Teddy Roosevelt on a hunting trip in Africa.
Getty / Hulton Archive / Stringer

Ol’ TR may have been accustomed to hunting big game, but wild turkeys held a special place in his heart. He believed they were every bit as challenging to hunt as deer. In his 1893 book Hunting Trips of a Ranchman and the Wilderness Hunter, he wrote, “The wild turkey really deserves a place beside the deer; to kill a wary old gobbler with the small-bore rifle, by fair still-hunting, is a triumph for the best sportsman.”

10. WILD TURKEYS HAVE BETTER VISION THAN YOU DO.

Close up of wild turkey's head
iStock

Their fantastic vision is probably one reason Teddy Roosevelt found turkeys such a challenge to hunt. They can detect motion from many yards away, have vision three times greater than 20/20, and have peripheral vision of about 270 degrees. Ours, comparatively, is only 180. And although turkeys can’t see in 3D, they can see UVA light, which helps them better identify predators, prey, mates, and food.

11. THE TOP TURKEY-PRODUCING STATE MAY SURPRISE YOU.

Domesticated turkeys on a farm
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You may know Minnesota for producing Prince, the Mall of America, and Target. But we also have the Land of 10,000 Lakes to thank for our Thanksgiving turkeys. According to the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, approximately 46-48 million turkeys are produced in Minnesota every year. In fact, it’s where the turkey that receives a presidential pardon hails from every year. Speaking of which ...

12. THE PRESIDENTIAL TURKEY PARDON MAY DATE BACK TO ABE LINCOLN.

President Barack Obama pardons a turkey in 2011.
Getty / Mark Wilson / Staff

Officially, the tradition of the sitting president of the United States pardoning his Thanksgiving turkey dates back to John F. Kennedy, who decided to let his gift from the National Turkey Federation off the hook. But he wasn't the first president to let a turkey go free: When Abraham Lincoln’s son Tad befriended one of the birds intended for Christmas dinner in 1863, kind-hearted Abe granted it a stay of execution.

13. THE FIRST TV DINNER MEAL: THANKSGIVING LEFTOVERS

Thanksgiving TV dinner
iStock

In 1953, Swanson ended up with 10 train cars full of frozen turkeys—260 tons of them—when an overzealous buyer ordered too many turkeys for the holidays. Salesman Gerry Thomas solved the problem by ordering 5,000 aluminum trays and setting up an assembly line of workers to scoop dressing, peas, and sweet potatoes into the compartments. Slices of turkey rounded out the meal, which Swanson sold for 98 cents. The idea was a hit: The following year, 10 million turkey TV dinners were sold.

14. NATIONAL TURKEY LOVERS’ MONTH ISN’T WHEN YOU THINK.

Grilled meats on a silver tray
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Everyone eats turkey in November and December, so there’s not a lot of need for extra poultry promotion during those months. If you want to celebrate National Turkey Lovers’ Month, you’ll have to do it in June with some turkey brats and burgers on the grill.

15. THE TURKEY YOU’LL BE EATING IS PROBABLY ABOUT 18 WEEKS OLD.

Roasted turkey on a platter
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That’s how long it typically takes the birds to grow to maturity, which is when they’re usually slaughtered.

16. THERE WAS ALMOST A TURKEY SIDEKICK IN POCAHONTAS.

Loren Javier via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

At one point, Disney thought Pocahontas needed a little comic relief, so they hired John Candy to voice a wisecracking woodland fowl named Red Feather. Sadly, Candy passed away while the logistics were being worked out, so animators dropped the turkey entirely and opted for a clever raccoon named Meeko.

17. NOT ALL TURKEYS GOBBLE.

Close up shot of a wild turkey
iStock

If you hear a turkey making the distinctive noise we all associate with them, then you’re hearing a male communicating with his lady friends up to a mile away. Females make a clicking sound instead of a gobble.

18. IF YOU DON’T EAT TURKEY AT THANKSGIVING, YOU’RE IN THE MINORITY.

A black and white photo of a family gathering around the table as the mother brings in a turkey.
Getty / Evans / Stringer

According to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans eat turkey at Thanksgiving.

19. TURKEY CRAVINGS CAUSED A SPIKE IN KFC SALES IN JAPAN.

A large Kentucky Fried Chicken sign
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When KFC opened its first stores in Japan in the 1970s, the company was surprised to find that sales soared during the holidays. The phenomenon stymied executives since most of Japan celebrates neither Thanksgiving nor Christmas. It was later discovered that foreigners craving holiday turkey had decided that KFC’s chicken was the next best thing. After the company figured this out, they played up the association with their “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” campaign—“Kentucky for Christmas.” It worked on tourists and locals alike, and today, Christmas Eve is still the highest-selling day for KFC Japan.

20. THERE IS PROPER TURKEY TERMINOLOGY.

A flock of turkeys on a farm with one staring directly into the camera.
Getty / Cate Gillon / Staff

You probably know that a group of turkeys is a flock, but they can also properly be called a “rafter.” And should you want to call baby turkeys something a little more precise, you can call them “poults.”

21. THE MAYA USED TURKEYS AS SACRIFICIAL OFFERINGS.

A Maya tripod plate featuring a bird
Los Angeles County Museum of Art via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Archaeologists have found vases dating from 250-800 CE that have turkeys depicted on them. According to University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee art historian Andrea Stone, "turkeys were quintessential animals for feasting and for sacrificial offerings." The Maya even crafted tamales shaped like the birds.

22. DURING THE ‘70S, YOU COULD CALL JULIA CHILD FOR TURKEY ADVICE ON THANKSGIVING.

Julia Child in her kitchen in 1978
Lynn Gilbert via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Even when she was at peak popularity, the famous chef refused to remove her phone number from public listings. According to friends, complete strangers would call Child on Thanksgiving to ask for advice on cooking the perfect turkey. Julia always answered the phone, and typically told callers whatever they needed to hear to get them to relax and enjoy the holiday. She even told some amateur cooks that turkey was best served cold anyway.

23. BIG BIRD IS A TURKEY.

Big Bird and Elmo at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Getty / Matthew Peyton / Stringer

Well, according to Sesame Street, he’s actually a canary—but his plumage makes him a turkey. The good people at American Plume & Fancy Feather provide Sesame Street with several thousand turkey feathers per costume to make sure Big Bird looks soft and fluffy.

24. THE BIRD IS NAMED AFTER THE COUNTRY.

Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, Turkey
iStock

But the whole thing was a mistake. Centuries ago, the English began to import a rather tasty bird, now known as a helmeted guinea fowl, from Madagascar. But they didn’t know it was from Africa. Because it was imported to Europe from merchants in Turkey, the English believed the birds were also Turkish.

Later, when the Spanish arrived in the New World, they discovered Meleagris gallopavo—the wild turkey. It was delicious, so they started importing it back to Europe. Europeans thought it tasted like the “turkey” guinea fowl they had been enjoying, so they called it the same thing.

25. WHAT, EXACTLY, IS DARK MEAT?

Roasted turkey legs on a piece of butcher paper
iStock

It’s just a different type of muscle than white meat. White meat is the result of glycogen, which doesn't need much oxygen from the blood because the muscles it fuels only require short bursts of energy. Dark meat, however, is found on wings, thighs, and drumsticks—muscles that are used for long periods of time and require more sustainable energy. It’s made dark by the proteins that convert fat into energy.

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