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All photos courtesy Rohit Saxena / Ottawa Humane Society
All photos courtesy Rohit Saxena / Ottawa Humane Society

Mad Men and Cats and Bunnies, Oh My!

All photos courtesy Rohit Saxena / Ottawa Humane Society
All photos courtesy Rohit Saxena / Ottawa Humane Society

It’s a bittersweet day for Mad Men fans as tonight marks the end of an eight-year affair with ad man extraordinaire Don Draper. While some devotees are binge-watching their way through each of the series’ seven seasons, others are paying tribute in much more unique—and adorable—ways. Learning toward the latter side of those options are the Ottawa Humane Society and photographer Rohit Saxena.

Just one week ago, we shared some photos from their recent Star Wars-themed photo shoot of adoptable animals. Today, they're back at it again with a series of evocative photos that pose a variety of shelter animals with a few of Don Draper’s favorite things, including but not limited to (animal-safe) booze and (candy) cigarettes.

Such pop culture-themed pet photo shoots are nothing new for Saxena, who has been a photographer for the Ottawa Humane Society (OHS)—a nonprofit organization that assists more than 10,000 animals per year—for five years.

“We recently talked about experimenting with a new approach directed at a different audience telling a new kind of story,” Saxena explains of how the idea came about. “Around that time, we partnered with the Ottawa Citizen on a Petfinder feature, and the initiative has been really popular so far.”

In addition to Star Wars, Saxena and OHS have paid photographic tribute to Game of Thrones, Cupcake Day, the Super Bowl, and animals as hipsters. And they’ve received plenty of attention for their efforts—both from the media at large and potential pet parents.

“We have seen tremendous interest from the community and obviously through the Internet and social media,” says Saxena of the initiative’s success thus far. “People who may not have been checking the adoptable animals regularly now have a compelling reason to seek that out weekly, and that tells me that we are growing the base of people considering adopting shelter pets as their first option.”

While the first goal, of course, is to raise awareness for the Ottawa Humane Society’s mission and pet adoption overall, “The side goal of the campaign,” says Saxena, “is to make people smile when they see shelter animal photos, and to make people everywhere want to visit their local shelters and rescues when they're looking to add animals to the family.”

“Even before the themes, my volunteer team's goal every week is to photograph every animal in the shelter looking for a forever home, and we've gotten really good at getting 20 to 25 adoption portraits done in the space of two hours on a Sunday morning,” explains Saxena. “For a setup like Mad Men, we had a low-key black photo set in parallel with our high-key white photo set, and my two assistants are integral in making every second count.”

Adorable looks aside, not every adoptable cutie is ready for his or her close-up. “Not everyone wants to be in show business,” jokes Saxena, “so we'll just attempt an adoption portrait for the shy subjects.”

There’s also that tiny matter of animals being a little, well, unpredictable when it comes to behavior. So sometimes it helps to have a bag of tricks at the ready. “I have been known to try an actual duck call or frantically make Donald Duck noises to intrigue animals into eye contact,” admits Saxena. “Crinkling foil, squeaky toys, or phone apps that play sound effects are all things that we'll try to get our subjects to look right into the lens—not always needed, but it works more than it doesn't!”

Though the themed shoots are still a relatively new endeavor for the group, Saxena says that, “Time will tell if this campaign makes a measurable lasting difference, but we're patient and having fun. We'll keep working hard for the animals, as we have since 1888, and for 10,000 lost, abandoned, abused, or neglected animals every year.”

All photos courtesy Rohit Saxena/ Ottawa Humane Society
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Animals
Where Do Birds Get Their Songs?
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iStock

Birds display some of the most impressive vocal abilities in the animal kingdom. They can be heard across great distances, mimic human speech, and even sing using distinct dialects and syntax. The most complex songs take some practice to learn, but as TED-Ed explains, the urge to sing is woven into songbirds' DNA.

Like humans, baby birds learn to communicate from their parents. Adult zebra finches will even speak in the equivalent of "baby talk" when teaching chicks their songs. After hearing the same expressions repeated so many times and trying them out firsthand, the offspring are able to use the same songs as adults.

But nurture isn't the only factor driving this behavior. Even when they grow up without any parents teaching them how to vocalize, birds will start singing on their own. These innate songs are less refined than the ones that are taught, but when they're passed down through multiple generations and shaped over time, they start to sound similar to the learned songs sung by other members of their species.

This suggests that the drive to sing as well as the specific structures of the songs themselves have been ingrained in the animals' genetic code by evolution. You can watch the full story from TED-Ed below, then head over here for a sample of the diverse songs produced by birds.

[h/t TED-Ed]

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NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
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Animals
Watch the First-Ever Footage of a Baby Dumbo Octopus
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
NOAA, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Dumbo octopuses are named for the elephant-ear-like fins they use to navigate the deep sea, but until recently, when and how they developed those floppy appendages were a mystery. Now, for the first time, researchers have caught a newborn Dumbo octopus on tape. As reported in the journal Current Biology, they discovered that the creatures are equipped with the fins from the moment they hatch.

Study co-author Tim Shank, a researcher at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, spotted the octopus in 2005. During a research expedition in the North Atlantic, one of the remotely operated vehicles he was working with collected several coral branches with something strange attached to them. It looked like a bunch of sandy-colored golf balls at first, but then he realized it was an egg sac.

He and his fellow researchers eventually classified the hatchling that emerged as a member of the genus Grimpoteuthis. In other words, it was a Dumbo octopus, though they couldn't determine the exact species. But you wouldn't need a biology degree to spot its resemblance to Disney's famous elephant, as you can see in the video below.

The octopus hatched with a set of functional fins that allowed it to swim around and hunt right away, and an MRI scan revealed fully-developed internal organs and a complex nervous system. As the researchers wrote in their study, Dumbo octopuses enter the world as "competent juveniles" ready to jump straight into adult life.

Grimpoteuthis spends its life in the deep ocean, which makes it difficult to study. Scientists hope the newly-reported findings will make it easier to identify Grimpoteuthis eggs and hatchlings for future research.

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