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7 Dogs and Cats with Unusual Jobs

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From herding sheep to pulling sleds to bringing down criminals, dogs have worked for humans since they were domesticated a long time ago. It's a win-win situation, since the dog receives room and board for life, plus the satisfaction of pleasing his boss. That's not much of a factor for cats, who are mostly employed in pest control. Still, every once in a while we find a cat or dog who is gainfully employed in some activity that surprises us. Here are some of those hardworking dogs and cats.

1. Lucy Lou, the Small Town Mayor

Rabbit Hash, Kentucky achieved some notoriety in 1998 by electing a dog to be its mayor. Since then, all mayoral elections in the unincorporated village have been won by dogs, although cats, goats, and other animals have run for the office. Lucy Lou, the current mayor, is the third dog to hold the office. The border collie won a hotly-contested race in 2008 and spends her time in office at the town's General Store, posing for pictures, greeting visitors and "making sure they see all the sights." She also maintains a Facebook page

2. Millie the Security Guard

Dogs work as security guards all over the world, as can be seen in the the many "beware of dog" signs in private homes and businesses. But Millie is a cat. This feline guard works at Bandai’s toy warehouse in Southampton, England. Millie, a Bengal, was assigned the job because she was always on the factory floor anyway. The position comes with a tiny uniform (a t-shirt) and a lifetime supply of fish and cat food.

3. Misty, the Quarry Administrator

Misty is a 9-year-old border collie who is an administrator at Burlington Stone in Cumbria, UK. Elaine Prickett started bringing Misty to work with her as a puppy, and over the years the dog learned what goes on and how to do it. For the past five years, Misty greets customers and takes their orders -in her mouth- to the office. She also carries and returns credit cards and invoices, delivering them without a scratch, only an occasional bit of wetness. She was never formally trained to do the work, but picked it up herself from watching the human workers. Customers love Misty because she is eager to please and never has a bad word to say. See Misty in action on video

4. Virginia the Foster Mother

The Cattery Cat Shelter in Corpus Christi, Texas, gets litters of kittens in frequently, and finds homes for them. Then there is Virginia, the cat who works as their foster mother, watching, bathing, cuddling, and keeping the kittens out of trouble until they are adopted. When the kittens leave, there is always another litter to take care of. The job of foster mother is not all that rare for a cat, but Virginia is a special case, because of her disabilities.

Perhaps one day Virginia will find her forever home, but according to Person, it will take "a really special household." Virginia is disabled -- one of her rear legs has been amputated, and the other is paralyzed. Lacking control of her bladder and bowels, she also wears a diaper.

At the Cattery, homeless, abused, or abandoned cats live cage-free and are separated by age groups. Virginia cannot handle the occasionally rough play of cats her own age, so she lives with the kittens -- and she has embraced the role of adoptive mother. And until she finds that special home of her own, Person says, there's always room for her at the Cattery, which is a no-kill shelter.

The staff built a therapy cart for Virginia to help her strengthen and learn to use her remaining hind leg, and she has made some progress.

5. Lolo the Truffle Hunter

Lolo works for Toil and Truffle in Seattle as a truffle-sniffing dog. The highly-prized fungus hides in lush woodlands, but a dog's nose can find them with proper training. Lolo is a Lagotto Romagnolo, a breed traditionally associated with truffle-hunting, but she has co-workers that are mixed breeds who also find truffles. Toil and Truffle has quite a few trained dogs available for hire to landowners who want to find truffles.

6. Sable the Crossing Guard

The students at Enterprise Middle School in West Richland, Washington state, have extra help crossing the road. Sable is a black cat who worked his way into a job as crossing guard by being there every day as the children arrived in the morning and left school in the afternoon. Sable does it for the love of the kids, who give him plenty of attention and ear scratches. After he made the newspapers, owner Tamara Morrison got the cat an orange safety vest, and he was made an honorary member of the Enterprise Safety Patrol. That was last year. Recently, the Morrisons gave Sable to a teacher at the school because they are planning to move to Colorado. Sable went missing from his new owner's home just last week. Those involved believe he missed the crossing and tried to find his way back.

7. Tucker the Orca Poop Sniffer

Researchers study marine animals in more ways than just watching them. Analyzing the scat they leave behind can give them invaluable information about the animal's genes, diet, and health. Tucker is a black Labrador scat detection dog trained in finding orca droppings for the Center for Whale Research. Tucker was turned down for employment by law enforcement because he was too hyper, but life on a boat helps him focus on the job, because he's afraid of the water! His team says that other dogs were distracted because they wanted to swim, but Tucker goes to work, then is rewarded with his favorite activity -playing with a ball.

See more working dogs and cats in these previous posts:
10 Stories of Lifesaving Dogs
6 Remarkable Police Animals
Four Feline Photographers
10 Excellent Bookstore Cats
8 Library Cats
7 Heroic Dogs
10 of History's Most Power-Hungry Cats

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Animals
Why Your Cat Can't Roar, But Jungle Cats Can
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Your kitty may have the swagger of a mighty jungle cat, but it’s hard to take the tough cat act seriously once it opens its mouth. Unlike their roaring relatives, domestic cats have a high-pitched, mewling cry. However, they do purr—a trait that isn’t shared with lions, tigers, leopards, or jaguars, the four species of cats with loud, growling vocalizations.

In the video below, SciShow’s Hank Green explains the science behind why your beloved ball of fur can’t roar—and how it’s linked to their ferocious cousins' lack of purring ability.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Love to Knead?
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If you're a cat lover, chances are your favorite feline has shown a penchant for kneading, and at some point has given you and/or a favorite piece of furniture a massage with his or her rhythmic paws. Colloquially called “making biscuits,” kneading is a common behavior among kittens and adult cats alike—but animal experts still aren't sure exactly why they do it.

Scientists have a few theories, some of which SciShow’s Hank Green outlined in this fascinating video. One theory is that your cat's kneading is an attempt to mark its territory—yes, even if that “territory” is you—with the scent glands in its paws. Another rationale is that kneading is a neotenic behavior, or a juvenile trait that sticks with cats into adulthood. Kittens knead their mother's belly to stimulate milk production—an act that’s nearly identical to that strange, Shiatsu-like practice it’s doing in your lap. (This could also explain why some adult cats also "suckle" the items they're kneading.)

Green does point out that domestic cats knead, whereas wild cats don’t, which raises the question: Why have only domestic felines retained this behavior? Green attributes this to the fact that house cats were selected over thousands of years for their friendlier, less aggressive traits, but says they've "probably also held on to some of their more social, baby-like behavior, just because it serves them well when they’re around people."

"I don’t know if you’ve heard this, but wildcats are not super social," Green jokes. "They don’t come up and cuddle, so much as try to eat your flesh. Felis silvestris, the ancestor of all domestic cats, is a solitary hunter that only socializes with members of its own species when it’s time to breed. So wildcats only developed social behaviors for two situations”—mating and caretaking behaviors between mother cats and their kittens.

“Unlike wild cats though, domesticated cats have a lot of social behaviors as adults, because they’re not wild loners anymore," Green adds. "They have us to cuddle with, con treats out of, and demand food from. So their innate tendencies for snuggling with mom and hitting on the lady cats are put to good use on us."

While occasionally painful or bothersome, kneading one’s owner is definitely a loving act on the part of the cat, a way of letting you know that it feels comfortable and safe with you. That said, don't sweat it if your cat isn’t big on the habit—or, conversely, worry that it kneads too much.

“Some cats are more needy and knead more than others,” Dr. Michael W. Fox, a veterinarian and author of the syndicated newspaper column "Animal Doctor,” advised one anxious reader who reported that her kitty had taken to kneading the family dog. “This behavior is exacerbated when a cat is weaned from its mother too soon. It’s an anxious cat’s way of seeking contact comfort.”

If you’re not a fan of kneading, it's futile to train your cat to cease a perfectly natural behavior. Instead, consider investing in a pair of nail clippers—and when you’ve finally had enough, gently push the cat away and enjoy the fleeting freedom of an empty lap.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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