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10 True Tales of Pitbull Heroism

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After a dog attack that killed a woman earlier this year in Montreal, the Canadian city approved breed-specific legislation targeting pit bull-type dogs. Under the new law, no one would be able to get one of these dogs, and people who already have them would have to face severe restrictions, like paying a high fee for a permit, muzzling the animals in public, and keeping them on a leash that is 4 feet long. Any owners who don’t get the special permit will likely have their dogs seized and put down.

Luckily for the pit bulls of Montreal, Justice Louis Gouin of the Quebec Superior Court has suspended the legislation until a hearing about the legality of the law is held. But the legal scuffle has likely furthered false negative perceptions of the breed—even though the dog that initially spurred the ruling wasn't necessarily a “pit bull-type” dog; the Humane Society claims it was registered as a boxer.

Breed-specific legislation on the whole has been proven ineffective. Hundreds of cities have adopted them, forcing dog owners to jump through hoops like DNA tests, obtaining liability insurance, and enduring lengthy permit processes. But the fight against dogs hasn’t always been focused at pit bulls—in the past it’s been German shepherds, Doberman pinschers, and Rottweilers—and studies from Australia and the Netherlands have found that the bans aren’t reflective of reality. The American Bar Association, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Humane Society of the United States, and the American Veterinary Medical Association have all noted the ineffectiveness of these laws, as well as pointing out that research doesn’t implicate one breed as worse than others.

Pit bulls are known (and loved) for their sweet, silly personalities, and loyalty to their owners and other animals. Here are 10 stories of pit bulls that were true heroes.

1. CHIEF // SAVED TWO WOMEN FROM A COBRA ATTACK

One day in 2007, in Cagayan de Oro in the Philippines, a cobra found its way into the kitchen of the Fronteras family. The snake went after 87-year-old Liberata la Victoria and her granddaughter, Maria Victoria Fronteras—but the family’s 4-year-old pit bull, Chief, wouldn’t allow anyone to get hurt. When Fronteras screamed for help, the dog rushed in to protect both women from the cobra, shielding them from two attacks and then grabbing the snake by the neck and smashing it on the kitchen floor until it died. But in the process, he suffered a fatal bite on his jaw. Chief was able to give his owners one last glance and wag of the tail before dying from the attack. A local pit bull club later released balloons in his honor.

2. HERO // INTERVENED TO STOP A STABBING

When a stray pit bull was walking around town in Baldwin, Georgia, this August, he saw a man and woman fighting in the street and ran to intervene after the man pulled out a knife. He protected the woman, taking the brunt of the attack as he was stabbed five times. He was rescued by Sgt. Timothy Clay and Officer Daniel Seeley, who immediately brought him to a vet for surgery. The dog died twice during surgery but miraculously recovered; he was named Hero and has now been adopted.

3. LILLY // PULLED WOMAN OUT OF A FREIGHT TRAIN'S PATH

One night in May 2012, Lilly, an 8-year-old pit bull, and her owner, Christine Spain, were walking along train tracks in Shirley, Massachusetts, when Spain collapsed. The operator of a freight train was heading down toward them when he saw the pit bull desperately pulling the unconscious Spain off the tracks. Spain escaped injury, but Lilly was hit, causing internal injuries, pelvis fractures, and catastrophic damage to her right front leg. Even while suffering from a devastating injury, Lilly was calm and stayed by her owner's side until help arrived. After multiple surgeries, the amputation of her leg, and lots of physical therapy, Lilly recovered. Spain's son, Boston Police Officer David Lanteigne, who had adopted Lilly from a shelter in 2009 for his mother, told ABC News, "We saved Lilly, and Lilly saved my mom's life. My hope is that this story is going to get out and show what pit bulls are truly about. I hope by Lilly going through this, it's going to get other dogs homes."

4. MESSIAH // ALERTED WOMAN'S HOUSEMATE OF A MEDICAL EMERGENCY

When Darrin Trombley heard a crying noise coming from his housemate Carol Hathaway’s room one evening in 2014, he went to check on her—and found Hathaway, who has Type 2 diabetes, lying on the bed with her feet on the floor, unconscious. Her pit bull, Messiah, was whining and licking her face. Trombley saw that the pup's tail wasn't wagging and realized something was wrong, so he called 911. When EMTs arrived, they discovered that Hathaway's blood sugar was dangerously low. “She had already started to seize and was making, like, burbling noises,” Trombley told The Post-Star. Thankfully, the EMTs were able to stabilize her. When Hathaway woke up, Trombley told her that it was Messiah—who she had rescued from a shelter a year and a half before—that had alerted him to the fact that Hathaway was in trouble. “I was stunned,” Hathaway said.

5. PRECIOUS // STOPPED AN ALLIGATOR ATTACK

Robert Lineburger lived on his boat at Port LaBelle Marina in southwestern Florida with a service dog, Precious, who could sense his seizures. "She went everywhere with me for the past six years," he told WPTV. So, when Lineburger got up to use the bathroom one night in April 2016, Precious followed—and intervened when an alligator on the dock tried to attack. "She jumped in front of me," Lineburger said. "She was roughly 2 to 3 feet away from me when the gator attacked." Lineburger couldn't see the gator because of the lack of lights on the dock, which he believes is a violation of code. Precious died saving her owner's life, and he is determined that her death bring about some changes at the marina. "Nothing they will do will bring her back, but I do not want her death to be in vain," he said. "At least let it accomplish something [and get] some of these violations taken care of."

6. POPSICLE // FOUGHT CRIME WITH U.S. CUSTOMS OFFICERS

Popsicle began his life as a drug dealer’s fighting dog. When the dealer was arrested in 1997, a policeman found the dog in a black garbage bag stuffed into a freezer on the back porch, blood-caked, malnourished, and near death. Popsicle was taken to a local animal hospital/shelter, but no one would adopt him because of his breed. So, he was sent to the Canine Enforcement Training Center in Front Royal, Virginia, which trains U.S. Customs dogs. He graduated at the top of his class and ended up at the Texas-Mexico border, where he sniffed out more than 3000 pounds of cocaine hidden in a truck—the facility's biggest drug bust at that point.

7. PITTIE // ADOPTED AN ORPHANED KITTEN

Employees from an animal rescue group made a surprising discovery on a Texas roadside in March 2015: a stray pit bull nursing an abandoned newborn kitten. The dog, named Pittie by Mercy Animal Clinic where the pair was taken, was keeping the kitten alive with her milk. "Over my 28-year career, I've never seen anything like this," veterinarian Dr. Rick Hamlin told The Dodo. "My gosh, to find this in the wild, that a pit bull and kitten found each other on their own and they connected like they did, it's really something." From that point on, Pittie acted as the kitten’s mother—and when her milk began to dry up and the kitten had to be bottle-fed, Pittie followed and watched over the whole process. The two couldn’t be separated because Pittie would get upset every time someone took her kitten out of her sight. Sadly, according to Mercy’s Facebook page, Pittie’s kitten passed away in April (the kitten "had congenital malformation of the urinary bladder and kidneys," according to the clinic, which might be why its mother abandoned it). Pittie, though, has since been adopted to her forever home.

8. BABY // RESCUED A FAMILY FROM A HOUSE FIRE

In 2013, then 10-year-old pit bull Baby rescued her family—and their other pets—from a house fire in Wellston, Oklahoma. The fire likely started in the dryer and spread through the house while Rhonda Westenberger and her sister Evelyn were asleep. Baby ran into their rooms, barking and jumping on them so they would wake up and see the danger. "There were flames shooting down the hallway," Westenberger told KOCO News. "If Baby hadn't woken Evelyn up, I don't think either one of us would have come out of it." The women escaped, but they had five other dogs still trapped inside. Baby saved them, too, even pulling one from under the bed and dragging it out of the house.

9. STUBBY // THE MOST DECORATED DOG IN MILITARY HISTORY

Sergeant Stubby was a pit bull mix (among the types that would be banned in Montreal) hailed as a war hero in World War I. Originally a stray puppy found by Private J. Robert Conroy at Yale University in 1917, Stubby became the mascot for the unit Conroy was training with. The dog made it to the front lines in France, where he was injured after being exposed to gas; after he recovered, he was able to smell when gas attacks were coming. He was also very good at locating wounded men between the trenches. He once managed to capture a German spy—an effort that made him the first dog to gain rank in the U.S. Armed Forces. Stubby served in 17 battles total, and he even learned a modified salute, putting his right paw up by his right eyebrow.

10. JACK // FOUGHT OFF COYOTES TO SAVE A CAT

Rescue pittie Jack and rescue cat Kitty share a similar past and a current friendship, with Jack regularly acting as Kitty’s watchful caretaker. When two coyotes attacked Kitty at their Florida home in 2013, Jack sprang into action. Sheree Lewis, the animals’ owner, said the coyotes were battling over the cat, one grabbing her by the tail and the other grabbing her by the neck. Jack bolted over to save his friend’s life—"I didn't know Jack could run that fast," Lewis said—fighting off the coyotes until they let Kitty go. Kitty didn’t escape unharmed—she had several cuts, a broken tooth, and brain swelling—but without Jack’s help, it would have been far worse. Jack is still devoted to his friend. "He checks on her every day and sniffs her, seeing what kind of shape she is in," Lewis said.

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Big Questions
Why Don't We Eat Turkey Tails?
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Turkey sandwiches. Turkey soup. Roasted turkey. This year, Americans will consume roughly 245 million birds, with 46 million being prepared and presented on Thanksgiving. What we don’t eat will be repurposed into leftovers.

But there’s one part of the turkey that virtually no family will have on their table: the tail.

Despite our country’s obsession with fattening, dissecting, and searing turkeys, we almost inevitably pass up the fat-infused rear portion. According to Michael Carolan, professor of sociology and associate dean for research at the College for Liberal Arts at Colorado State University, that may have something to do with how Americans have traditionally perceived turkeys. Consumption was rare prior to World War II. When the birds were readily available, there was no demand for the tail because it had never been offered in the first place.

"Tails did and do not fit into what has become our culinary fascination with white meat," Carolan tells Mental Floss. "But also from a marketing [and] processor standpoint, if the consumer was just going to throw the tail away, or will not miss it if it was omitted, [suppliers] saw an opportunity to make additional money."

Indeed, the fact that Americans didn't have a taste for tail didn't prevent the poultry industry from moving on. Tails were being routed to Pacific Island consumers in the 1950s. Rich in protein and fat—a turkey tail is really a gland that produces oil used for grooming—suppliers were able to make use of the unwanted portion. And once consumers were exposed to it, they couldn't get enough.

“By 2007,” according to Carolan, “the average Samoan was consuming more than 44 pounds of turkey tails every year.” Perhaps not coincidentally, Samoans also have alarmingly high obesity rates of 75 percent. In an effort to stave off contributing factors, importing tails to the Islands was banned from 2007 until 2013, when it was argued that doing so violated World Trade Organization rules.

With tradition going hand-in-hand with commerce, poultry suppliers don’t really have a reason to try and change domestic consumer appetites for the tails. In preparing his research into the missing treat, Carolan says he had to search high and low before finally finding a source of tails at a Whole Foods that was about to discard them. "[You] can't expect the food to be accepted if people can't even find the piece!"

Unless the meat industry mounts a major campaign to shift American tastes, Thanksgiving will once again be filled with turkeys missing one of their juicier body parts.

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
10 Juicy Facts About Sea Apples

They're both gorgeous and grotesque. Sea apples, a type of marine invertebrate, have dazzling purple, yellow, and blue color schemes streaking across their bodies. But some of their habits are rather R-rated. Here’s what you should know about these weird little creatures.

1. THEY’RE SEA CUCUMBERS.

The world’s oceans are home to more than 1200 species of sea cucumber. Like sand dollars and starfish, sea cucumbers are echinoderms: brainless, spineless marine animals with skin-covered shells and a complex network of internal hydraulics that enables them to get around. Sea cucumbers can thrive in a range of oceanic habitats, from Arctic depths to tropical reefs. They're a fascinating group with colorful popular names, like the “burnt hot dog sea cucumber” (Holothuria edulis) and the sea pig (Scotoplanes globosa), a scavenger that’s been described as a “living vacuum cleaner.”

2. THEY'RE NATIVE TO THE WESTERN PACIFIC OCEAN.

Sea apples have oval-shaped bodies and belong to the genus Pseudocolochirus and genus Paracacumaria. The animals are indigenous to the western Pacific, where they can be found shuffling across the ocean floor in shallow, coastal waters. Many different types are kept in captivity, but two species, Pseudocolochirus violaceus and Pseudocolochirus axiologus, have proven especially popular with aquarium hobbyists. Both species reside along the coastlines of Australia and Southeast Asia.

3. THEY EAT WITH MUCUS-COVERED TENTACLES.

Sea cucumbers, the ocean's sanitation crew, eat by swallowing plankton, algae, and sandy detritus at one end of their bodies and then expelling clean, fresh sand out their other end. Sea apples use a different technique. A ring of mucus-covered tentacles around a sea apple's mouth snares floating bits of food, popping each bit into its mouth one at a time. In the process, the tentacles are covered with a fresh coat of sticky mucus, and the whole cycle repeats.

4. THEY’RE ACTIVE AT NIGHT.

Sea apples' waving appendages can look delicious to predatory fish, so the echinoderms minimize the risk of attracting unwanted attention by doing most of their feeding at night. When those tentacles aren’t in use, they’re retracted into the body.

5. THE MOVE ON TUBULAR FEET.

The rows of yellow protuberances running along the sides of this specimen are its feet. They allow sea apples to latch onto rocks and other hard surfaces while feeding. And if one of these feet gets severed, it can grow back.

6. SOME FISH HANG OUT IN SEA APPLES' BUTTS.

Sea apples are poisonous, but a few marine freeloaders capitalize on this very quality. Some small fish have evolved to live inside the invertebrates' digestive tracts, mooching off the sea apples' meals and using their bodies for shelter. In a gross twist of evolution, fish gain entry through the back door, an orifice called the cloaca. In addition expelling waste, the cloaca absorbs fresh oxygen, meaning that sea apples/cucumbers essentially breathe through their anuses.

7. WHEN THREATENED, SEA APPLES CAN EXPAND.

Most full-grown adult sea apples are around 3 to 8 inches long, but they can make themselves look twice as big if they need to escape a threat. By pulling extra water into their bodies, some can grow to the size of a volleyball, according to Advanced Aquarist. After puffing up, they can float on the current and away from danger. Some aquarists might mistake the robust display as a sign of optimum health, but it's usually a reaction to stress.

8. THEY CAN EXPEL THEIR OWN GUTS.

Sea apples use their vibrant appearance to broadcast that they’re packing a dangerous toxin. But to really scare off predators, they puke up some of their own innards. When an attacker gets too close, sea apples can expel various organs through their orifices, and some simultaneously unleash a cloud of the poison holothurin. In an aquarium, the holothurin doesn’t disperse as widely as it would in the sea, and it's been known to wipe out entire fish tanks.

9. SEA APPLES LAY TOXIC EGGS.

These invertebrates reproduce sexually; females release eggs that are later fertilized by clouds of sperm emitted by the males. As many saltwater aquarium keepers know all too well, sea apple eggs are not suitable fish snacks—because they’re poisonous. Scientists have observed that, in Pseudocolochirus violaceus at least, the eggs develop into small, barrel-shaped larvae within two weeks of fertilization.

10. THEY'RE NOT EASILY CONFUSED WITH THIS TREE SPECIES.

Syzgium grande is a coastal tree native to Southeast Asia whose informal name is "sea apple." When fully grown, they can stand more than 140 feet tall. Once a year, it produces attractive clusters of fuzzy white flowers and round green fruits, perhaps prompting its comparison to an apple tree.

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