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The Seeing Eye

How Seeing Eye Dogs Found Their Way to America

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The Seeing Eye

In the 1920s, a journalist, a college student, and a German shepherd teamed up to change the lives of the blind.

American expat Dorothy Harrison Eustis was living in Switzerland in 1927 when she saw something incredible: specially trained dogs guiding blind German World War I veterans. It was an era when the blind were almost totally reliant on other people for help, and Eustis was so impressed by the veterans’ independence that she wrote a piece for The Saturday Evening Post extolling the virtues of their German shepherds. “Called from his play, a dog advanced in his work is ridiculously like a business man called to his office,” she wrote.

After the article ran, readers flooded Eustis with letters. One note in particular stood out. Morris Frank, a Vanderbilt undergrad, wrote: “Is what you say really true? If so, I want one of those dogs! And I am not alone. Thousands of blind like me abhor being dependent on others.” Frank offered Eustis a deal: “Help me and I will help them. Train me and I will bring back my dog and show people here how a blind man can be absolutely on his own.”

Eustis called Frank with an offer. If he’d trek to Switzerland—no small task for a blind man in that era—she’d set him up with a dog and trainer. Frank wasn’t daunted by the terms, yelling, “To get back my independence, I’d go to Hell!”

Both held up their ends of the bargain. Frank went to Switzerland, got a dog named Buddy, and returned home to much media attention. In New York City, throngs of reporters were astounded by the spectacle of Buddy and Frank crossing streets and navigating sidewalk traffic. True to his word, Frank traveled the U.S. and Canada demonstrating Buddy’s helpfulness. In 1929, Frank and Eustis teamed up to form the Seeing Eye, the first U.S. agency to train guide dogs. The program proved wildly successful and in its 84 years of operation has trained more than 15,000 dogs.

This article originally appeared in mental_floss magazine.

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

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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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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RODRIGO ARANGUA/AFP/GettyImages

Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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