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5 Pets Who Helped Solve Their Owners' Murders

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While it’s widely acknowledged pets can offer comfort, companionship, and fuzzy tummies for rubbing, it can also be reassuring to know your furry pals may one day provide the necessary information to find your killer. That could be the case for the late Martin Duram, whose pet parrot Bud has taken to vocalizing his owner's possible last words after a fatal shooting in May 2015: "Don't [expletive] shoot!"

Bud also likes to replicate what sounds like an argument between a man and woman, leading Duram's family to believe it may have been a domestic incident gone awry. (According to Michigan NBC affiliate WOODTV, his wife, Glenna, is a suspect.)

It's not yet known whether Bud's chirpy testimony will ever be admissible in court. Until then, here are five animals that made sure justice was served.

1. BIRD THE COCKATOO

Texas native Kevin Butler was such a fan of NBA great Larry Bird that he ignored the potential redundancy and named his pet cockatoo after him. Friends said Bird was very devoted to Butler, and when Butler’s home was broken into in 2001, Bird tried to fend off his owner's murderers before he was mortally wounded himself. One of them, Daniel Torres, denied involvement until prosecutors presented evidence linking the DNA recovered from Bird’s beak to Torres. He received life in prison. Bird, just 18 inches tall, was heralded as “valiant” during the trial.

2. CHIEF THE PITBULL-LAB MIX

A Seattle, Washington couple and their dog were found slain in 1998, the apparent victims of a home invasion. While standing trial, suspects Ken Leuluaialii and George Tuilefano were surprised to learn that prosecutors planned a landmark entry of evidence: Chief’s DNA. Dog blood had been found on the defendants’ clothing during the investigation, and forensic analysis was able to match it to the deceased pit bull-Labrador mix. In his opening argument, prosecutor Tim Bradshaw stated that “the irony will be that the witness who could never speak, even when he was alive, will present the most eloquent of evidence."

3. TWO CATS

When pet shop owner Lori Auker disappeared in May 1989, her family thought the worst. Unfortunately, their suspicions were correct: After almost three weeks of searching, Lori’s body was discovered near a dirt road in Pennsylvania. Police focused on her estranged husband, Robert Auker, who had been following her in the weeks leading up to her death. Surveillance footage placed a car resembling his 1984 Chevrolet Celebrity in the vicinity, and his parents reported Auker had been meticulously scrubbing the interior before selling it.

Despite his efforts, forensic workers found several cat hairs that later proved to be an identical match to the victim’s two felines. The fur was also stuck to a splint Auker had been wearing on his hand the day Lori disappeared. He was given the death penalty.

4. HIRA THE PARROT

Hira was the only witness to Neelam Sharma’s murder in February 2014; the attacker had also dispatched of the family dog, who had been barking during the struggle. Widower Vijay Sharma, editor of a Hindi daily newspaper, was unable to think of any solid leads to help police until his brother-in-law noticed Hira would become highly agitated whenever his nephew, Ashutosh, visited—or even when his name was mentioned in conversation. Vijay says he informed police and Ashutosh confessed to the robbery-turned-murder. "He accepted his crime and informed us that he was accompanied by an accomplice," officer Shalabh Mathur said. "They had entered the house with the intention of taking away cash and other valuables." Afraid his aunt would recognize him, he killed her.

Police later downplayed the bird’s participation, saying it was an unexplained bite mark on Ashutosh that made him their primary focus. Whatever the case, local news media initially reported Hira’s name as Hercule the Parrot, a rather morbid attempt at humor.  

5. AN UNNAMED GRASSHOPPER

While not quite a pet, one insect found itself dying for a noble cause. According to “forensic entomologist” M. Lee Goff, a 1985 homicide in Texas resulted in precious little physical evidence—save for a grasshopper that had been found on the victim’s clothing that was missing a limb. Further investigation of one suspect revealed that he happened to have a severed insect leg stuck in the cuff of his pants. When Goff re-assembled the bug, he found it to be a perfect match, and the suspect was convicted. Goff went on to be a consultant for the CSI television franchise and continues to use entomology to help determine time, location, and cause of death.

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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E
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Art
New Smithsonian Exhibit Explains Why Felines Were the Cat's Meow in Ancient Egypt
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Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.406E

From bi-coastal cat cafes to celebrity pets like Lil Bub, felines are currently enjoying a peak moment in popular culture. That’s part of the reason why curators at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—which will re-open to visitors on Saturday, October 14, following a 3-month closure—decided to dedicate a new exhibition to ancient Egypt’s relationship with the animals.

Divine Felines: Cats of Ancient Egypt” looks at the cultural and religious importance of cats, which the Egyptians appreciated long before YouTube was a thing and #caturday was a hashtag. It's based on a traveling exhibition that began at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. On view until January 15, 2018, it's one of several exhibits that will kick off the grand reopening of the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler galleries, the conjoined national museums of Asian and Middle Eastern Art.

The Freer has been closed since January 2016 for major renovations, and the Sackler since July 2016 for minor ones. The upgraded institutions will make their public debut on October 14, and be feted by a free two-day festival on the National Mall.

Featuring 80 artworks and relics, ranging from figurines of leonine deities to the tiny coffins of beloved pets, "Divine Felines" even has a cat mummy on loan from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. These objects span from the Middle Kingdom (2008 to 1630 BCE) to the Byzantine period (395 to 642 CE).

An ancient Egyptian metal weight shaped like a cat, dating back to 305 to 30 BCE, on view at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
Weight in Form of a Cat, 305 to 30 BCE, Bronze, silver, lead
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

The term “cat” is used loosely, as the Egyptians celebrated domestic mousers and fearsome predators alike.

“The Egyptians were close observers of nature, so they were observing cat behaviors,” Antonietta Catanzariti, the exhibition's in-house curator, tells Mental Floss. “They noticed that cats and lions— in general, felines—have aggressive and protective aspects, so they associated those attributes to deities.”

The ancient Egyptians viewed their gods as humans, animals, or mixed forms. Several of these pantheon members were both associated with and depicted as cats, including Bastet, the goddess of motherhood, fertility, and protection; and Sakhmet, the goddess of war and—when appeased—healing. She typically has a lion head, but in some myths she appears as a pacified cat.

A limestone sculptor's model of a walking lion, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Sculptor's Model of a Walking Lion, ca. 664 to 630 BCE, limestone
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 33.190

While Bastet was a nurturer, Sakhmet—whose name means “The Powerful One”—could use her mighty force to either slay or safeguard humanity. These characterizations are typical of the ancient Egyptian worldview, which perceived the universe in dualistic terms. “There’s always a positive and a negative,” Catanzariti explains.

Contrary to popular belief, however, ancient Egyptians did not view cats themselves as gods. “The goddess Sakhmet does have the features as a lion, or in some cases as a cat, but that doesn’t mean that the Egyptians were worshipping cats or lions,” Catanzariti says. Instead, they were simply noting and admiring her feline traits. This practice, to an extent, also extended to royalty. Kings were associated with lions and other large cats, as they were the powerful protectors of ancient Egypt’s borders.

These myriad associations prompted Egyptians to adorn palaces, temples, protective amulets, ceremonial vessels, and accessories with cat images. Depending on their context, these renderings symbolized everything from protection and power to beauty and sexuality. A king’s throne might have a lion-shaped support, for example, whereas a woman’s cosmetics case might be emblazoned with a cat-headed female goddess of motherhood and fertility.

An ancient Egyptian figurine of a standing lion-headed goddess, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Figurine of a Standing Lion-Headed Goddess, 664 to 630 BCE, Faience
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.943E

While cats were linked with heavenly figures and kings, they were also popular domestic pets. Their ability to catch vermin made them an important addition to households, and owners loved and anthropomorphized their pets just like we do today.

Egyptians often named, or nicknamed, their children after animals; Miit (cat) was a popular moniker for girls. It's said that entire households shaved their eyebrows in mourning if a house cat died a natural death. Some also believe that cats received special legal protection. (Not all cats were this lucky, however, as some temples bred kittens specifically to offer their mummified forms to the gods.) If a favorite cat died, the Egyptians would bury them in special decorated coffins, containers, and boxes. King Tutankhamen, for example, had a stone sarcophagus constructed just for his pet feline.

An ancient Egyptian bronze cat head adorned with gold jewelry, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Cat's Head, 30 BCE. to third century CE, bronze, gold
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 36.114

“Divine Felines” breaks down these facts, and more, into five thematic sections, including “Cats and Kings"; “Cats and Gods”; “Cats and Death”; “Cats and Protection”; and “Dogs as Guardians and Hunters.” Yes, there’s also an exhibition section for dog lovers—“a small one,” Catanzariti laughs, that explains why canines were associated with figures like Anubis, the jackal-headed god of mummification and the afterlife.

Did the ancient Egyptians prefer cats to dogs? “I would say that both of them had different roles,” Catanzariti says, as dogs were valued as hunters, scavengers, and guards. “They were appreciated in different ways for their ability to protect or be useful for the Egyptian culture.” In this way, "Divine Felines" is targeted to ailurophiles and canophiliacs alike, even if it's packaged with pointed ears and whiskers.

An ancient Egyptian cat coffin, on display at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.
Coffin for a Cat, 664 to 332 BCE, or later, Wood, gesso, paint, animal remains
Brooklyn Museum, Charles Edwin Wilbour Fund, 37.1944Ea-b
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Here's the First-Ever Video of Sand Cat Kittens Playing in the Wild

Sand cats are as elusive as they are adorable. Native to the isolated deserts of Asia and Africa, the nocturnal felines are adapted to desert life, and can go for long periods without water. They’re stealthy predators of venomous snakes and small rodents, and escape detection thanks to their pale sandy coats and furry paws, the latter of which make their tracks nearly invisible. These reasons, among others, are why sand kittens have never been captured on video—until now.

As The Independent reports, researchers from Panthera France, a wild cat conservation group, recently found and filmed three sand cat kittens in Morocco. Thought to be around two months old, they were hiding among vegetation as they waited for their mother to return.

Led by biologists Alexander Sliwa and Grégory Breton, the managing director of Panthera France, the researchers first embarked on their quest to locate and study the wild cat in 2013. Over the course of multiple expeditions, they encountered adults, but no offspring.

In April 2017, during their fifth expedition, Sliwa and Breton were heading back to camp at night when they spotted three pairs of gleaming eyes in the darkness. "They belonged to young sand cats, yellowish, small wild cats with broader faces and larger ears than domestic cats," Breton recounted on Panthera France's blog. Astonished, the scientists managed to record the kittens and identify and radio-collar their mother.

Experts think this is the first time that sand cat (Felis margarita) kittens have been documented in their African range. Until Sliwa and Breton locate even more baby cats for us to ogle, you can enjoy their video footage below.

[h/t The Independent]

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