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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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15 Reasons You Should Appreciate Squirrels
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Even if you live in a big city, you probably see wildlife on a regular basis. Namely, you're sure to run into a lot of squirrels, even in the densest urban areas. And if you happen to live on a college campus, well, you're probably overrun with them. While some people might view them as adorable, others see them as persistent pests bent on chewing on and nesting in everything in sight. But in honor of National Squirrel Appreciation Day, here are 15 reasons you should appreciate the savvy, amazing, bushy-tailed critters.

1. THEY CAN JUMP REALLY, REALLY FAR.

A flying squirrel soars through the air
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In one study [PDF] of the tree-dwelling plantain squirrels that roam the campus of the National University of Singapore, squirrels were observed jumping almost 10 feet at a stretch. In another study with the eastern ground squirrel, one researcher observed a squirrel jumping more than 8 feet between a tree stump and a feeding platform, propelling itself 10 times the length of its body. Flying squirrels, obviously, can traverse much farther distances midair—the northern flying squirrel, for instance, can glide up to 295 feet [PDF].

2. THEY'RE VERY ORGANIZED …

A squirrel digs in a grassy field filled with fallen leaves.
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In fact, they may be more organized than you are. A recent study found that eastern fox squirrels living on UC Berkeley's campus cache their nuts according to type. When given a mixture of walnuts, pecans, almonds, and hazelnuts, the squirrels took the time to hide each type of nut in a specific place. This method of "spatial chunking" may help them remember where the nuts are when they go to retrieve them later. Though the study wasn't able to determine this for sure, the study's results suggested that the squirrels may have been organizing their caches by even more subtle categories, like the size of the nuts.

3. … BUT THEIR FORGETFULNESS HELPS TREES GROW.

Looking up a tree trunk at a squirrel climbing down
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Tree squirrels are one of the most important animals around when it comes to planting forests. Though they may be careful about where they bury their acorns and other nuts, they still forget about quite a few of their caches (or at least neglect to retrieve them). When they do, those acorns often sprout, resulting in more trees—and eventually, yet more acorns for the squirrels.

4. THEY HELP TRUFFLES THRIVE.

A man holds a truffle up for the camera.
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The squirrel digestive system also plays an important role in the survival of truffles. While above-ground mushrooms can spread their spores through the air, truffles grow below ground. Instead of relying on the air, they depend on hungry animals like squirrels to spread their spores to host plants elsewhere. The northern flying squirrel, found in forests across North America, depends largely on the buried fungi to make up its diet, and plays a major role in truffle propagation. The squirrels poop out the spores unharmed on the forest floor, allowing the fungi to take hold and form a symbiotic relationship with the tree roots it's dropped near.

5. THEY'RE ONE OF THE FEW MAMMALS THAT CAN SPRINT DOWN A TREE HEAD-FIRST.

A squirrel stands on the knot of a tree trunk looking down at the ground.
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You may not be too impressed when you see a squirrel running down a tree, but they're actually accomplishing a major feat. Most animals can't climb vertically down head-first, but squirrel's back ankles can rotate 180°, turning their paws all the way around to grip the tree trunk as they descend.

6. SEVERAL TOWNS COMPETE FOR THE TITLE OF 'HOME OF THE WHITE SQUIRREL.'

A white squirrel in Olney, Illinois stands on its hind legs.
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Squirrels are a more popular town mascot than you might think. Surprisingly, more than one town wants to be known as the "home of the white squirrel," including Kenton, Tennessee; Marionville, Missouri; the Canadian city of Exeter, Ontario; and Brevard, North Carolina, the location of the annual White Squirrel Festival. But Olney, Illinois may be the most intense about its high population of albino squirrels. There is a $750 fine for killing the all-white animals, and they have the legal right-of-way on roads. There's an official city count of the squirrels each year, and in 1997, realizing that local cats posed a threat to the beloved rodent residents, the city council banned residents from letting their cats run loose outdoors. In 2002, the city held a 100-Year White Squirrel Celebration, erecting a monument and holding a "squirrel blessing" by a priest. Police officers wore special squirrel-themed patches for the event.

7. THEY CAN AID STROKE RESEARCH.

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Ground squirrels hibernate in the winter, and the way their brains function while they do may help scientists develop a new drug that can limit the brain damage caused by strokes. When ground squirrels hibernate, their core body temperature drops dramatically—in the case of the arctic ground squirrel, to as low as 26.7°F, possibly the lowest body temperature of any mammal on Earth. During this extra-cold hibernation, a squirrel's brain undergoes cellular changes that help its brain deal with reduced blood flow. Researchers are currently trying to develop a drug that could mimic that process in the human brain, preventing brain cells from dying when blood flow to the brain is cut off during a stroke.

8. THEIR FUR MAY HAVE SPREAD LEPROSY IN THE MIDDLE AGES.

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If you always warn your friends not to pet or feed squirrels because they can spread disease, put this story in your back pocket for later: They may have helped leprosy spread from Scandinavia to the UK in the 9th century. Research published in 2017 found a strain of leprosy similar to a modern variant found in squirrels in southern England in the skull of a woman who lived in England sometime between 885 and 1015 CE. The scientists suggest that the leprosy may have arrived along with Viking squirrel pelts. "It is possible that this strain of leprosy was proliferated in the South East of England by contact with highly prized squirrel pelt and meat, which was traded by the Vikings at the time this woman was alive," one of the authors told The Guardian. That may not be the most uplifting reason to appreciate squirrels, but it's hard not to admire their influence!

9. THEY'RE MORE POWERFUL THAN HACKERS.

A squirrel runs across a power line.
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While energy companies may worry about hackers disrupting the power grid, squirrels are actually far more powerful than cyber-whizzes when it comes to sabotaging our electricity supply. A website called Cyber Squirrel 1 documents every public record of squirrels and other animals disrupting power services dating back to 1987. It has counted more than 1100 squirrel-related outages across the world for that time period, which is no doubt a vast underestimate. In a 2016 survey of public power utilities, wildlife was the most common cause of power outages, and for most power companies, that tends to mean squirrels.

10. THEY CAN HEAT UP THEIR TAILS TO WARD OFF PREDATORS.

A ground squirrel sits with its mouth open.
David McNew, Getty Images

California ground squirrels have an interesting way of scaring off rattlesnakes. Like cats, their tails puff up when they go on the defense. A squirrel will wave its tail at a rattlesnake to convince the snake that it's a formidable opponent. Surprisingly, they whip their tails at their foes whether it's light or dark outside. Squirrels can control the blood flow to their tails to cool down or keep warm, and they use this to their advantage in a fight, pumping blood into their tails. Even if the rattlesnakes can't see the bushy tails, researchers found in 2007, they can sense the heat coming off them.

11. THEY HELP SCIENTISTS KNOW WHETHER A FOREST IS HEALTHY.

A squirrel runs down a tree trunk toward a pile of leaves.
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Researchers look at tree squirrel populations to measure just how well a forest ecosystem is faring. Because they depend on their forest habitats for seeds, nesting sites, and food storage, the presence and demographics of tree squirrels in an area is a good bellwether for the health of a mature forest. Studying changes in squirrel populations can help experts determine the environmental impact of logging, fires, and other events that alter forest habitats [PDF].

12. THEY CAN LIE.

A squirrel with a bushy tail stands on its hind legs.
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Gray squirrels know how to deceive. They can engage in what's called "tactical deception," a behavior previously only seen in primates, as a study in 2008 found. When they think they're being watched by someone looking to pilfer their cache of food, the researchers discovered, they will pretend to dig a hole as if burying their acorn or nut, but tuck their snack into their mouth and go bury it elsewhere.

13. THEY WERE ONCE AMERICA'S MOST POPULAR PET.

A man in a hat kisses a squirrel on the White House grounds
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Though some states currently ban (or require permits for) keeping squirrels as pets, it was once commonplace. Warren G. Harding kept a squirrel named Pete who would sometimes show up to White House meetings and briefings, where members of Harding's cabinet would bring him nuts. But keeping a squirrel around wasn't just for world leaders—the rodent was the most popular pet in the country, according to Atlas Obscura. From the 1700s onwards, squirrels were a major fixture in the American pet landscape and were sold in pet shops. Despite Harding's love of Pete, by the time he lived in the White House in the 1920s, squirrel ownership was already on the wane, in part due to the rise of exotic animal laws.

14. THE MERE SIGHT OF JUST ONE COULD ONCE ATTRACT A CROWD.

A historical photo of nurses leaning down to feed a black squirrel
Library of Congress // Public Domain

The American cities of the 1800s weren't great places to catch a glimpse of wildlife, squirrels included. In fact, the animals were so rare that in the summer of 1856, when a gray squirrel escaped from its cage inside a downtown New York apartment building (where it was surely living as someone's pet), it merited a write-up in The New York Times. According to the paper, several hundred people gathered to gawk at the tree where the squirrel took refuge and try to coax the rodent down. In the end, a police officer had to force the crowd to disperse. The paper did not document what happened to the poor squirrel.

15. IN THE 19TH CENTURY, THEY WERE TASKED WITH TEACHING COMPASSION.

A boy doing homework with a squirrel on the table.
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In the mid-1800s, seeking to return a little bit of nature to concrete jungles, cities began re-introducing squirrels to their urban parks. Squirrels provided a rare opportunity for city slickers to see wildlife, but they were also seen as a sort of moral compass for young boys. Observing and feeding urban squirrels was seen as a way to steer boys away from their "tendency toward cruelty," according to University of Pennsylvania historian Etienne Benson [PDF]. Boy Scouts founder Ernest Thompson Seton argued in a 1914 article that cities should introduce "missionary squirrels" to cities so that boys could befriend them. He and other advocates of urban squirrels "saw [them] as opportunities for boys to establish trusting, sympathetic, and paternalistic relationships with animal others," Benson writes.

But young boys weren't the only ones that were thought to benefit from a little squirrel-feeding time. When the animals were first reintroduced to parks in the 19th century, feeding squirrels was considered an act of charity—one accessible even to those people who didn't have the means of showing charity in other realms. "Because of the presence of urban squirrels, even the least powerful members of human society could demonstrate the virtue of charity and display their own moral worth," Benson writes. "Gray squirrels helped reshape the American urban park into a site for the performance of charity and compassion for the weak." Even if you were too poor to provide any sort of charity for someone else, you could at least give back to the squirrels.

BONUS: THEY USED TO HATE TAX SEASON TOO.

A colored lithograph shows men and dogs hunting squirrels in a forest.
Currier and Ives, Library of Congress // Public Domain

Though notably absent from big cities, much of the U.S. was once overrun by squirrels. The large population of gray squirrels in early Ohio caused such widespread crop destruction that people were encouraged—nay, required—to hunt them. In 1807, the Ohio General Assembly demanded that citizens not just pay their regular taxes, but add a few squirrel carcasses on top. According to the Ohio History Connection, taxpayers had to submit a minimum of 10 squirrel scalps to the town clerk each year. Tennessee had similar laws, though that state would let people pay in dead crows if they couldn't rustle up enough squirrels.

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Forget Horns: Some Trains in Japan Bark Like Dogs to Scare Away Deer
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In Japan, growing deer populations are causing friction on the railways. The number of deer hit by trains each year is increasing, so the Railway Technical Research Institute has come up with a novel idea for curbing the problem, according to the BBC. Researchers there are using the sound of barking dogs to scare deer away from danger zones when trains are approaching, preventing train damage, delays, and of course, deer carnage.

It’s not your standard horn. In pilot tests, Japanese researchers have attached speakers that blare out a combination of sounds designed specifically to ward off deer. First, the recording captures the animals’ attention by playing a snorting sound that deer use as an “alarm call” to warn others of danger. Then, the sound of howling dogs drives the deer away from the tracks so the train can pass.

Before this initiative, the problem of deer congregating on train tracks seemed intractable. Despite the best efforts of railways, the animals aren’t deterred by ropes, barriers, flashing lights, or even lion feces meant to repel them. Kintetsu Railway has had some success with ultrasonic waves along its Osaka line, but many rail companies are still struggling to deal with the issue. Deer flock to railroad tracks for the iron filings that pile up on the rails, using the iron as a dietary supplement. (They have also been known to lick chain link fences.)

The new deer-deterring soundtrack is particularly useful because it's relatively low-tech and would be cheap to implement. Unlike the ultrasonic plan, it doesn’t have to be set up in a particular place or require a lot of new equipment. Played through a speaker on the train, it goes wherever the train goes, and can be deployed whenever necessary. One speaker on each train could do the job for a whole railway line.

The researchers found that the recordings they designed could reduce the number of deer sightings near the train tracks by as much as 45 percent during winter nights, which typically see the highest collision rates. According to the BBC, the noises will only be used in unpopulated areas, reducing the possibility that people living near the train tracks will have to endure the sounds of dogs howling every night for the rest of their lives.

Deer aren't the only animals that Japanese railways have sought to protect against the dangers of railroad tracks. In 2015, the Suma Aqualife Park and the West Japan Railway Company teamed up to create tunnels that could serve as safer rail crossings for the turtles that kept getting hit by trains.

[h/t BBC]

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