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9 Animals Accused of Espionage

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Our furry friends could make the perfect secret agents—easy to train, small, quick, and too cute to look dangerous, they’ve got the perfect cover to infiltrate your home. And while spy animals might seem like the stuff of movies, over the years a number of (probably) innocent animals have been accused of espionage, nine of which are collected here:

1. UK CHANCELLOR GEORGE OSBORNE’S CAT

Back in 2009 George Osborne’s cat Freya went missing. No one thought much of it until a few years later, after Osborne became Chancellor of the Exchequer and moved into number 11 Downing Street, right next door to the British Prime Minister. Shortly thereafter, he received a phone call notifying him that Freya had been found, and she was welcomed home by the Osborne family.

However, eyebrows were soon raised after Freya began waltzing in and out of some of the government’s most sensitive buildings, and some whispered that she might have been captured by a foreign power and bugged. In 2014 Freya was sent to live with another family in the Kent countryside, supposedly after being usurped by Osborne’s new dog, but some may wonder if her habit of infiltrating the heart of government may have been the real reason.

2. ISRAELI "SPY" VULTURE

In January 2016 an enormous vulture (its wingspan was 6 feet, 5 inches!) was captured flying over Lebanon after arousing suspicion because it had a tracker on its tail. Lebanese villagers seized the poor bird and accused Israel of training it as a spy. In fact, the bird was part of an effort by Tel Aviv University and others to re-introduce raptors to the Middle East. After a few ruffled feathers, the vulture was returned to Israel.

3. CAMERA-WIELDING FALCON

A dead falcon found in the border region of India and Pakistan in 2013 aroused suspicion after a small camera was discovered on its body. India seized the remains and speculated that the falcon may have been trained to spy on the Indian army, who conduct war games in the area. However it soon became clear that the camera was not sophisticated enough to have been planted by an intelligence agency and instead it was thought to have been used by Pakistani hunters.

4. SHARKS TRAINED BY MOSSAD

After a series of shark attacks in the popular Egyptian Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh in 2010, rumors in the Egyptian press accused Israeli intelligence agency Mossad of training the beasts. It was thought that the shark might have been deliberately planted in the area in order to damage the tourist trade. Israel vehemently denied the accusations and pointed out that they too had beach resorts on the Red Sea, meaning that any shark in the area was a danger to Israel as well.

5. THE HARTLEPOOL MONKEY

During the Napoleonic Wars between England and France in the early 19th century, a French ship was wrecked off the shore of northeast England. According to local legend, the inhabitants of Hartlepool gathered on the beach to see off their enemies but found only one survivor, a monkey dressed in a miniature military uniform. Never having seen a Frenchman before, the townsfolk immediately suspected the monkey of being a French spy and questioned the unfortunate beast, who unsurprisingly failed to answer their questions. After an impromptu trial, the monkey was convicted of spying and hanged. Hartlepool remains strangely pleased with this historic incident and their soccer team has a monkey mascot named H’Angus the Monkey, while the rugby team is affectionately known as the Monkeyhangers.

6. SUSPICIOUS SQUIRRELS

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The Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) of Iran reported in 2007 that they had smashed a squirrel spying ring. Fourteen squirrels were reportedly captured by intelligence officers in the border region of Iran, each allegedly sporting listening devices. The British Foreign Office reacted in characteristic deadpan fashion, stating “The story is nuts.”

7. SPY DOLPHINS

Hamas captured a dolphin off the coast of Gaza in August 2015 and accused Israel of equipping the animal with spying devices. Israel did not respond to the allegations, but it would not be the first time a dolphin has been used in the military. The U.S. Navy has long had a program to train these highly intelligent animals, but rather than being trained to kill, the dolphins are used for peaceful missions to identify mines and underwater threats.

8. THE SPYING SWAN/STORK

A plucky Egyptian fisherman captured what he thought was a swan wearing a suspicious electronic device in 2013. As pictures of the jailed bird emerged, it soon became clear that it looked more like a stork. This mistaken identity did not prevent the Egyptians from accusing the French of training the bird as a spy. The incident soon blew over when it was revealed the swan/stork was in fact wearing a tracking device in order for academics to study its migration routes.

9. CATS AND DOGS IN THE TRENCHES

Declassified documents released by Britain’s National Archives reveal that two cats and a dog were suspected of spying for the Germans during World War I. The cats and dog had been observed frequently crossing the British trenches on the Flanders front line, arousing suspicions that they may have been carrying messages from the Germans. The archives reveal that the British were keen to capture the animals but unfortunately no records survive to indicate if they achieved their goal.

BONUS: ACOUSTIC KITTY

Although these stories may seem far-fetched, there have been incidences where intelligence agencies explored the idea of animal espionage. Declassified CIA documents revealed a 1960s effort to wire up a cat as a remote listening device, with its tail used as an antenna. The project, dubbed “Acoustic Kitty,” was abandoned after the unlucky feline was sent into a park to eavesdrop on some men sitting on a bench but was run over by a taxi before it could get into position.

All images courtesy of Getty Images unless noted otherwise.

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Big Questions
Should You Keep Your Pets Indoors During the Solar Eclipse?
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By now, you probably know what you’ll be doing on August 21, when a total solar eclipse makes its way across the continental United States. You’ve had your safety glasses ready since January (and have confirmed that they’ll actually protect your retinas), you’ve picked out the perfect vantage point in your area for the best view, and you’ve memorized Nikon’s tips for how to take pictures of this rare celestial phenomenon. Still, it feels like you’re forgetting something … and it’s probably the thing that's been right under your nose, and sitting on your lap, the whole time: your pets.

Even if you’ve never witnessed a solar eclipse, you undoubtedly know that you’re never supposed to look directly at the sun during one. But what about your four-legged family members? Shouldn’t Fido be fitted with a pair of eclipse glasses before he heads out for his daily walk? Could Princess Kitty be in danger of having her peepers singed if she’s lounging on her favorite windowsill? While, like humans, looking directly at the sun during a solar eclipse does pose the potential of doing harm to a pet’s eyes, it’s unlikely that the thought would even occur to the little ball of fluff.

“It’s no different than any other day,” Angela Speck, co-chair of the AAS National Solar Eclipse Task Force, explained during a NASA briefing in June. “On a normal day, your pets don’t try to look at the sun and therefore don’t damage their eyes, so on this day they’re not going to do it either. It is not a concern, letting them outside. All that’s happened is we’ve blocked out the sun, it’s not more dangerous. So I think that people who have pets want to think about that. I’m not going to worry about my cat.”

Dr. Jessica Vogelsang, a veterinarian, author, and founder of pawcurious, echoed Speck’s statement, but allowed that there’s no such thing as being too cautious. “It’s hard for me to criticize such a well-meaning warning, because there’s really no harm in following the advice to keep pets inside during the eclipse,” Vogelsang told Snopes. “It’s better to be too cautious than not cautious enough. But in the interest of offering a realistic risk assessment, the likelihood of a pet ruining their eyes the same way a human would during an eclipse is much lower—not because the damage would be any less were they to stare at the sun, but because, from a behavior standpoint, dogs and cats just don’t have any interest in doing so. We tend to extrapolate a lot of things from people to pets that just doesn’t bear out, and this is one of them.

“I’ve seen lots of warnings from the astronomy community and the human medical community about the theoretical dangers of pets and eclipses, but I’m not sure if any of them really know animal behavior all that well," Vogelsang continued. "It’s not like there’s a big outcry from the wildlife community to go chase down coyotes and hawks and bears and give them goggles either. While we in the veterinary community absolutely appreciate people being concerned about their pets’ wellbeing, this is a non-issue for us.”

The bigger issue, according to several experts, would be with pets who are already sensitive to Mother Nature. "If you have the sort of pet that's normally sensitive to shifts in the weather, they might be disturbed by just the whole vibe because the temperature will drop and the sky will get dark,” Melanie Monteiro, a pet safety expert and author of The Safe-Dog Handbook: A Complete Guide to Protecting Your Pooch, Indoors and Out, told TODAY.

“If [your pets] have learned some association with it getting darker, they will show that behavior or at a minimum they get confused because the timeframe does not correspond,” Dr. Carlo Siracusa of Penn Vet Hospital told CBS Philly. “You might put the blinds down, but not exactly when the dark is coming but when it is still light.” 

While Monteiro again reasserts that, "Dogs and cats don't normally look up into the sun, so you don't need to get any special eye protection for your pets,” she says that it’s never a bad idea to take some extra precautions. So if you’re headed out to an eclipse viewing party, why not do your pets a favor and leave them at home. They won’t even know what they’re missing.

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Big Questions
Why Can't Dogs Eat Chocolate?
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Even if you don’t have a dog, you probably know that they can’t eat chocolate; it’s one of the most well-known toxic substances for canines (and felines, for that matter). But just what is it about chocolate that is so toxic to dogs? Why can't dogs eat chocolate when we eat it all the time without incident?

It comes down to theobromine, a chemical in chocolate that humans can metabolize easily, but dogs cannot. “They just can’t break it down as fast as humans and so therefore, when they consume it, it can cause illness,” Mike Topper, president of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tells Mental Floss.

The toxic effects of this slow metabolization can range from a mild upset stomach to seizures, heart failure, and even death. If your dog does eat chocolate, they may get thirsty, have diarrhea, and become hyperactive and shaky. If things get really bad, that hyperactivity could turn into seizures, and they could develop an arrhythmia and have a heart attack.

While cats are even more sensitive to theobromine, they’re less likely to eat chocolate in the first place. They’re much more picky eaters, and some research has found that they can’t taste sweetness. Dogs, on the other hand, are much more likely to sit at your feet with those big, mournful eyes begging for a taste of whatever you're eating, including chocolate. (They've also been known to just swipe it off the counter when you’re not looking.)

If your dog gets a hold of your favorite candy bar, it’s best to get them to the vet within two hours. The theobromine is metabolized slowly, “therefore, if we can get it out of the stomach there will be less there to metabolize,” Topper says. Your vet might be able to induce vomiting and give your dog activated charcoal to block the absorption of the theobromine. Intravenous fluids can also help flush it out of your dog’s system before it becomes lethal.

The toxicity varies based on what kind of chocolate it is (milk chocolate has a lower dose of theobromine than dark chocolate, and baking chocolate has an especially concentrated dose), the size of your dog, and whether or not the dog has preexisting health problems, like kidney or heart issues. While any dog is going to get sick, a small, old, or unhealthy dog won't be able to handle the toxic effects as well as a large, young, healthy dog could. “A Great Dane who eats two Hershey’s kisses may not have the same [reaction] that a miniature Chihuahua that eats four Hershey’s kisses has,” Topper explains. The former might only get diarrhea, while the latter probably needs veterinary attention.

Even if you have a big dog, you shouldn’t just play it by ear, though. PetMD has a handy calculator to see just what risk levels your dog faces if he or she eats chocolate, based on the dog’s size and the amount eaten. But if your dog has already ingested chocolate, petMD shouldn’t be your go-to source. Call your vet's office, where they are already familiar with your dog’s size, age, and condition. They can give you the best advice on how toxic the dose might be and how urgent the situation is.

So if your dog eats chocolate, you’re better off paying a few hundred dollars at the vet to make your dog puke than waiting until it’s too late.

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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