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7 Pets Who Rescued Their Humans

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We know how fiercely loyal dogs can be, jumping into action if their human companions find themselves in an emergency. But it doesn’t necessarily take a canine to save lives when the chips are down. Check out seven furry—and feathery—friends who made sure their owners lived to see another day.

1. THE PARROT AND THE POP TART

Willie, a Quaker parrot hailing from Denver, Colorado, earned his babysitting wings in 2009: His owner, Megan Howard, was out of the room when the 2-year-old she was caring for began to choke on a Pop Tart. Willie became hysterical, squawking “Mama baby” to alert Megan to the crisis. Running back in the room to find the child turning blue, she was able to perform the Heimlich in time. Willie was given an Animal Lifesaver Award from the local Red Cross for his efforts.

2. THE CAT IN THE WINDOW

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Cats are often forced to endure a reputation for being aloof and disinterested. This stems from cats being aloof and disinterested. But Slinky Malinki, a tomcat hailing from Todmorden, West Yorkshire, helped beat that rap in 2014 when he made headlines for rescuing his owner from a potentially fatal situation. After Janet Rawlinson suffered an adverse reaction to the morphine she was taking for chronic back pain that left her in a semi-comatose state, Slinky—named after a children’s book character Janet was fond of—trotted over to a neighbor’s house and began tapping on the window with his paw to draw their attention.

The feline Morse code worked: They came out to investigate and called for medical attention. Slinky’s bravado earned him a nomination as Hero Cat of the Year at the National Cat Awards. (He lost to Cleo, a cat who began pacing when his owner was having a heart attack, prompting a call for help.)

3. THE RABBIT WHO DETECTED A DIABETIC EMERGENCY

Dory the rabbit knew something was amiss when her owner, Simon Steggall of Warboys, England, was slumped over in his seat while watching television in January 2004. Simon’s wife, Victoria, thought her husband was just tired and napping—but Dory’s strange behavior led her to take another look. As the rabbit jumped up and down on his chest, Victoria noticed Simon couldn’t be roused and called for an ambulance. It turned out that he had fallen into a diabetic coma and needed a quick boost of glucose. The biggest hint? Dory wasn't typically allowed on the furniture.

4. THE PARROT WHO FENDED OFF A RANDOM ATTACKER

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African grey parrot Wunsy and her owner enjoyed going for strolls in parks near their north London home. One day, the two were walking along when an unnamed attacker emerged and began assaulting Wunsy’s owner. After she was pushed to the ground, Wunsy sprang into action, raining beaked blows upon the criminal until he fled. Owner Rachel Mancino told the BBC in 2014 that Wunsy was both a “companion” and a “weapon.”

5. THE CAT WHO DETECTED A GAS LEAK

Trudy Guy was surprised to wake up to her 6-month-old kitten, Schnautzie, sitting on top of her chest one night. The feline kept putting a paw on her nose and tapping it. Curious, Trudy got out of bed and found a broken gas pipe outside her bathroom. Firefighters later told her that if Schnautzie hadn’t alerted her, the entire house could have gone up in flames.

6. THE PIG WHO FLAGGED DOWN A CAR

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Jack and Jo Ann Altsman hadn’t planned on owning a pot-bellied pig, but when their daughter left LuLu in their care in 1997, they quickly grew attached to her snorting charms. It would prove to be a fateful adoption: In 1998, when Jack was away fishing, Jo Ann suffered a heart attack in their Beaver Falls, Pennylsvania home. Frantic, Jo Ann tried to toss an alarm clock out of a window to attract the attention of passing traffic. When that didn’t work, LuLu squeezed through the home’s doggy door and proceeded to lay down in the middle of the road. A driver stopped and followed the pig to Jo Ann, who was quickly flown to a hospital for open-heart surgery; doctors later said another 15 minutes would have proved fatal.

7. TWO BUNNIES AVOID A FIRE

It was shortly before Christmas 2013 when Tucson, Arizona resident Nicole Ochotorena was roused from bed by a strange thumping noise. Walking into her kitchen to investigate, she saw her family’s two pet rabbits, Bun Bun and Promise, drumming on the hardwood floor with their hind legs. Nearby was a crock pot that had smoke coming from its cord. The home’s smoke alarms had not gone off—the steady percussion of their rabbit feet had averted disaster.

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Why Tiny 'Hedgehog Highways' Are Popping Up Around London
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Hedgehogs as pets have gained popularity in recent years, but in many parts of the world, they're still wild animals. That includes London, where close to a million of the creatures roam streets, parks, and gardens, seeking out wood and vegetation to take refuge in. Now, Atlas Obscura reports that animal activists are transforming the city into a more hospitable environment for hedgehogs.

Barnes Hedgehogs, a group founded by Michel Birkenwald in the London neighborhood of Barnes four years ago, is responsible for drilling tiny "hedgehog highways" through walls around London. The passages are just wide enough for the animals to climb through, making it easier for them to travel from one green space to the next.

London's wild hedgehog population has seen a sharp decline in recent decades. Though it's hard to pin down accurate numbers for the elusive animals, surveys have shown that the British population has dwindled by tens of millions since the 1950s. This is due to factors like human development and habitat destruction by farmers who aren't fond of the unattractive shrubs, hedges, and dead wood that hedgehogs use as their homes.

When such environments are left to grow, they can still be hard for hedgehogs to access. Carving hedgehog highways through the stone partitions and wooden fences bordering parks and gardens is one way Barnes Hedgehogs is making life in the big city a little easier for its most prickly residents.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
New Program Trains Dogs to Sniff Out Art Smugglers
Penn Vet Working Dog Center
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

Soon, the dogs you see sniffing out contraband at airports may not be searching for drugs or smuggled Spanish ham. They might be looking for stolen treasures.

K-9 Artifact Finders, a new collaboration between New Hampshire-based cultural heritage law firm Red Arch and the University of Pennsylvania, is training dogs to root out stolen antiquities looted from archaeological sites and museums. The dogs would be stopping them at borders before the items can be sold elsewhere on the black market.

The illegal antiquities trade nets more than $3 billion per year around the world, and trafficking hits countries dealing with ongoing conflict, like Syria and Iraq today, particularly hard. By one estimate, around half a million artifacts were stolen from museums and archaeological sites throughout Iraq between 2003 and 2005 alone. (Famously, the craft-supply chain Hobby Lobby was fined $3 million in 2017 for buying thousands of ancient artifacts looted from Iraq.) In Syria, the Islamic State has been known to loot and sell ancient artifacts including statues, jewelry, and art to fund its operations.

But the problem spans across the world. Between 2007 and 2016, U.S. Customs and Border Control discovered more than 7800 cultural artifacts in the U.S. looted from 30 different countries.

A yellow Lab sniffs a metal cage designed to train dogs on scent detection.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

K-9 Artifact Finders is the brainchild of Rick St. Hilaire, the executive director of Red Arch. His non-profit firm researches cultural heritage property law and preservation policy, including studying archaeological site looting and antiquities trafficking. Back in 2015, St. Hilaire was reading an article about a working dog trained to sniff out electronics that was able to find USB drives, SD cards, and other data storage devices. He wondered, if dogs could be trained to identify the scents of inorganic materials that make up electronics, could they be trained to sniff out ancient pottery?

To find out, St. Hilaire tells Mental Floss, he contacted the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, a research and training center for detection dogs. In December 2017, Red Arch, the Working Dog Center, and the Penn Museum (which is providing the artifacts to train the dogs) launched K-9 Artifact Finders, and in late January 2018, the five dogs selected for the project began their training, starting with learning the distinct smell of ancient pottery.

“Our theory is, it is a porous material that’s going to have a lot more odor than, say, a metal,” says Cindy Otto, the executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center and the project’s principal investigator.

As you might imagine, museum curators may not be keen on exposing fragile ancient materials to four Labrador retrievers and a German shepherd, and the Working Dog Center didn’t want to take any risks with the Penn Museum’s priceless artifacts. So instead of letting the dogs have free rein to sniff the materials themselves, the project is using cotton balls. The researchers seal the artifacts (broken shards of Syrian pottery) in airtight bags with a cotton ball for 72 hours, then ask the dogs to find the cotton balls in the lab. They’re being trained to disregard the smell of the cotton ball itself, the smell of the bag it was stored in, and ideally, the smell of modern-day pottery, eventually being able to zero in on the smell that distinguishes ancient pottery specifically.

A dog looks out over the metal "pinhweel" training mechanism.
Penn Vet Working Dog Center

“The dogs are responding well,” Otto tells Mental Floss, explaining that the training program is at the stage of "exposing them to the odor and having them recognize it.”

The dogs involved in the project were chosen for their calm-but-curious demeanors and sensitive noses (one also works as a drug-detection dog when she’s not training on pottery). They had to be motivated enough to want to hunt down the cotton balls, but not aggressive or easily distracted.

Right now, the dogs train three days a week, and will continue to work on their pottery-detection skills for the first stage of the project, which the researchers expect will last for the next nine months. Depending on how the first phase of the training goes, the researchers hope to be able to then take the dogs out into the field to see if they can find the odor of ancient pottery in real-life situations, like in suitcases, rather than in a laboratory setting. Eventually, they also hope to train the dogs on other types of objects, and perhaps even pinpoint the chemical signatures that make artifacts smell distinct.

Pottery-sniffing dogs won’t be showing up at airport customs or on shipping docks soon, but one day, they could be as common as drug-sniffing canines. If dogs can detect low blood sugar or find a tiny USB drive hidden in a house, surely they can figure out if you’re smuggling a sculpture made thousands of years ago in your suitcase.

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