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8 Heartwarming Animal Retirement Homes

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Among the many animals who need homes are those that are considered "unadoptable" due to old age, illness, or disability. While many would-be pet parents looking for a long-term companion may pass them by, other folks relish the opportunity to care for these animals in need. Those are the founders, volunteers, and donors of specialized shelters that offer a home for the rest of these pets' lives. We highlighted a few of them in an earlier post; here are eight more animal retirement homes you should know about.

1. TABBY'S PLACE // RINGOES, NEW JERSEY

In 1999, upon learning that his beloved 15-year-old cat Tabby had terminal cancer, Jonathan Rosenberg decided to quit his day job and create Tabby's Place, a cat sanctuary in honor of his beloved pet. Currently, the Ringoes, New Jersey-based organization operates out of a single building with room for up to 95 cats. Rosenberg's long-term goal is to erect two more buildings on the sanctuary's eight-acre property—creating enough space to provide forever homes for up to 400 cats that are elderly, disabled, chronically or terminally ill, or in danger of being euthanized at another shelter. A staff of volunteers cares for the cats, some of which are available for adoption.

2. RYERSS FARM FOR AGED EQUINES // POTTSTOWN, PENNSYLVANIA

Ryerss Farm for Aged Equines in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, cares for aged, abused, and injured horses. Some are rescued from abusive situations, while others are given over after they reach age 20. However, there is a waiting list for horses that are not in emergency situations. The farm is open for public tours, and also offers internships, volunteer opportunities, and lessons in horse care and horsemanship. To learn more, you can watch this video about Ryerss Farm.

3. WOLFGANG 2242 // DENVER, COLORADO

Wolfgang2242 is not a charitable organization, but the Instagram account of Steve Greig, a Denver, Colorado man who opened his home to elderly animals and who promotes senior dog adoption. He has nine elderly dogs in his home, plus a pig, a rabbit, a chicken, and other animals who deserve love during their golden years. More than 600,000 Instagram followers love Wolfgang2242, too.

4. KINDRED SPIRITS ANIMAL SANCTUARY // SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO

Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary/Facebook

Kindred Spirits Animal Sanctuary in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a hospice for senior dogs, horses, and poultry. They're currently home to 20 dogs, three horses, and a variety of poultry, from the chickens Fred and Ethel to a peacock named Verdito. The sanctuary offers classes on all aspects of senior pet care.

5. VALLEY OF THE KINGS SANCTUARY AND RETREAT // SHARON, WISCONSIN

Valley of the Kings Sanctuary and Retreat/Facebook

Valley of the Kings Sanctuary and Retreat in Sharon, Wisconsin takes in abused, abandoned, or elderly exotic animals such as lions, tigers, bears, and wolves. The sanctuary is not open to the public, but you can become a member or sponsor an animal to help support the organization, which comes with visiting privileges.

6. OLD FRIENDS SENIOR DOG SANCTUARY // MOUNT JULIET, TENNESSEE

Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary in Mount Juliet, Tennessee provides guaranteed loving care to senior dogs for the remainder their lives. In addition to the 50 dogs who call the organization's main facility home, there are 150 more dogs in permanent foster homes in the area. If you live within 100 miles of Nashville, you can become a Forever Foster Home with the shelter's support. (You can read the stories of some of their dogs on Facebook.)

7. HOME FOR LIFE // STILLWATER, MINNESOTA

When a pet has a problem that makes it unadoptable, the alternative is often euthanasia. Home for Life, a nonprofit organization in Stillwater, Minnesota, offers a "third door" solution in its lifetime care facilities. Around 115 dogs and 85 cats live in a compound that consists of multiple buildings. Some are elderly or disabled, others have behavioral problems. The buildings each have multiple rooms and protected outdoor areas, and no cages are used.

8. THE STEVENSON COMPANION ANIMAL LIFE-CARE CENTER // COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS

The Stevenson Companion Animal Life-Care Center at Texas A&M's veterinary school in College Station, Texas is a place where hard-to-place pets can live once their owners are no longer able to care for them. It was endowed in part by Madlin Stevenson in 1993; when Stevenson died in 2000, her seven dogs, four cats, pony, and llama came to live at the sanctuary. Pictured above is Reveille VIII, Texas A&M's mascot from 2008 to 2015. Upon retirement from her position, she went to live at the Stevenson Center, where she is cared for by plenty of loving veterinary students.

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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Health
200 Health Experts Call for Ban on Two Antibacterial Chemicals
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In September 2016, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a ban on antibacterial soap and body wash. But a large collective of scientists and medical professionals says the agency should have done more to stop the spread of harmful chemicals into our bodies and environment, most notably the antimicrobials triclosan and triclocarban. They published their recommendations in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The 2016 report from the FDA concluded that 19 of the most commonly used antimicrobial ingredients are no more effective than ordinary soap and water, and forbade their use in soap and body wash.

"Customers may think added antimicrobials are a way to reduce infections, but in most products there is no evidence that they do," Ted Schettler, science director of the Science and Environmental Health Network, said in a statement.

Studies have shown that these chemicals may actually do more harm than good. They don't keep us from getting sick, but they can contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, also known as superbugs. Triclosan and triclocarban can also damage our hormones and immune systems.

And while they may no longer be appearing on our bathroom sinks or shower shelves, they're still all around us. They've leached into the environment from years of use. They're also still being added to a staggering array of consumer products, as companies create "antibacterial" clothing, toys, yoga mats, paint, food storage containers, electronics, doorknobs, and countertops.

The authors of the new consensus statement say it's time for that to stop.

"We must develop better alternatives and prevent unneeded exposures to antimicrobial chemicals," Rolf Haden of the University of Arizona said in the statement. Haden researches where mass-produced chemicals wind up in the environment.

The statement notes that many manufacturers have simply replaced the banned chemicals with others. "I was happy that the FDA finally acted to remove these chemicals from soaps," said Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute. "But I was dismayed to discover at my local drugstore that most products now contain substitutes that may be worse."

Blum, Haden, Schettler, and their colleagues "urge scientists, governments, chemical and product manufacturers, purchasing organizations, retailers, and consumers" to avoid antimicrobial chemicals outside of medical settings. "Where antimicrobials are necessary," they write, we should "use safer alternatives that are not persistent and pose no risk to humans or ecosystems."

They recommend that manufacturers label any products containing antimicrobial chemicals so that consumers can avoid them, and they call for further research into the impacts of these compounds on us and our planet.

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