Miami, Florida - A 99-year-old woman was sleeping peacefully at 2:00 in the morning, this past January, when she started to wake up… something furry was under her chin. When she opened her eyes, she saw a strange creature, about two feet long, curled up on her chest. Screaming, she pushed the creature off her chest and grabbed the phone to call for help.
Cathy Mogari, a family friend, rushed to the old lady’s house. Still frightened, the woman managed to tell Cathy that the animal had escaped into the attic. Cathy climbed up to take a look and saw a furry brown monkey-like creature with a long tail. Because of her experience with exotic animals, she knew what it was - a kinkajou! (Related to raccoons, kinkajous live in rain-forests in Central and South America. They are nocturnal tree-dwellers and use their long tails as extra arms. Though they’re usually timid, they can give a nasty bite.)
Not sure exactly how to catch a kinkajou, Cathy found a few videos of kinkajou sounds online. When she played the videos, the kinkajou peered out of the attic. Cathy used cherries as bait to lure the frightened animal into a cage and took it to an animal hospital. After a local news station ran a story on the kinkajou, the hospital received a call from Ray Fernandez, the kinkajou’s owner. Ray’s exotic pet, named Banana, had escaped about a week earlier, when he had moved her into a temporary cage. Ray had set out a trap for his runaway kinkajou, but, until he saw the news story, had given up hope of finding her.
Shortly afterward, Ray and Banana were reunited. Ray was very relieved at finding his exotic pet, and Banana seemed happy to be safe at home again!
A little girl sits quietly in a children’s hospital, trying not to cry from pain. Suddenly the door to her room opens and in comes… a horse! But this horse is less than three feet tall, about the size of a big dog, and she is wearing a tux! The little girl’s face lights up with surprise and pleasure. Jumping up, she wraps her arms around the little horse’s neck.
This is Magic, a mini horse who works for Gentle Carousel, a non-profit volunteer group based in Florida. Gentle Carousel raises and trains mini horses, who can be taken indoors and can go into hospitals to visit suffering patients. Over the years, Gentle Carousel’s horses have visited children suffering from cancer and comforted the victims of school shootings. They’ve helped elderly patients in nursing homes and met wounded veterans and police officers. Magic and her sister Valor have even been made honorary sheriff’s deputies for their work with the community.
Once, Magic visited an elderly woman - a patient in a nursing home - who had not spoken in years. But when the woman saw the tiny horse, she cried, “Isn’t she beautiful!” The director of the nursing home burst into tears. “I love you,” she told the woman. “I love you too,” the woman replied. The woman has been able to speak ever since then.
This is just one example of the help these little horses can give. Gentle Carousel has expanded over the years. In addition to their base in Florida, they now have bases in California and New York and even one in Greece. These horses might be little, but they are filling a big need!
Lompoc, CA - Six years ago, on the Christmas eve of 2009, Erika Tamayo brought home a special Christmas present for her kids - a bright little Chihuahua! The Tamayo family named the dog Cisco, and over the next few years, he became a close companion to Erika’s three children: Marina, 15, Anthony, 11, and the baby, 11-month-old Gabriel. Marina in particular loved the little dog.
Then one day this past September, during a storm, Cisco escaped from the Tamayos’ yard and disappeared. The family searched the neighborhood and put out flyers, but the weeks passed with no sign of their beloved dog. Though the family didn’t know it, Cisco had been found by someone, and was placed in a shelter run by Companion Animal Placement Assistance (CAPA). October passed and then November, and the Tamayos had just about given up on finding Cisco.
On December 4, the Tamayos went to watch the Lompoc Christmas parade. Volunteers of CAPA were in the parade with three dogs from the shelter. As the CAPA volunteers and dogs passed the Tamayos, little Gabriel tried to crawl toward them. Erika laughed and called, “Cisco, where are you?” One of the shelter’s dogs abruptly turned. Erika saw him and recognized him. “That’s Cisco!” she told her husband, Lelo. Then all the Tamayos started yelling, “Cisco!” At that, Cisco started to drag his handler over to the family. After a quick meeting, Cisco had to get back to the parade. The next day, the Tamayos visited the shelter and were reunited with Cisco. After hugs all around, Cisco went home with the family, who were thrilled with their early Christmas present!
LAFAYETTE, LA - Phillip Dupont, a veterinarian, wanted a dog - a Louisiana Catahoula Leopard dog. So he and his wife Paula paid $50 for Melvin, who was supposed to be a purebred Catahoula. Melvin turned out to be a mutt, but the Duponts were glad they had bought him, because he grew into the best dog they’d ever had.
Eventually, age began to affect Melvin, and the Duponts were faced with the thought of parting from him. Phillip, however, had heard of a company in South Korea called Sooam Biotech Research Foundation. For a hefty price, they could clone a favorite pet and make a genetic twin. This twin would look and act very similar to the original pet. Phillip and Paula talked it over with their family and decided that if they couldn’t have Melvin, they would at least have his twin! Phillip sent Sooam a few of Melvin’s cells and a payment of over $100,000 to begin the cloning process, and soon they had a pup in the making. That puppy died from distemper, so Sooam started over. This time, they got two puppies, both healthy, and the Duponts flew to South Korea to pick them up. Now Phillip and Paula had three Melvins on their hands. They named the pups Ken and Henry.
Melvin has since died, and the Duponts now are left with only two of him. Though many people might not want to spend a hundred thousand dollars on a pet clone, the Duponts are very satisfied with their decision to spend that amount cloning a Melvin twin. They are even considering cloning him again and giving the new copy to their grandson!
Early one morning this past September, workers from KIST Livestock Auction began loading cattle into a trailer. KIST, located in Mandan, North Dakota, had sold the cattle at an auction the day before, and now the cattle were headed to their new homes. But as the cattle were driven up the ramp, one cow broke loose. She swung around, charged past the workers, and made her way through the gate to the Mandan Strip, a nearby highway. Police were called, and for an hour and a half, they helped the workers chase the runaway. Finally, the cow ran into a fenced cornfield owned by KIST. The workers locked the gates behind her and went back to their jobs.
During the next few weeks, workers tried to lure the cow from the cornfield by putting water out, but the cow proved very skittish, coming out to drink and quickly disappearing again. Finally after a full month, the workers discovered the reason for the cow’s strange behavior. One day, the cow came out to drink as usual, but this time she was leading a little calf! About three weeks old, he looked exactly like his mother. The workers were surprised to see the new arrival. “We thought she was just hiding by herself, but she was hiding something good,” said Jesse Kist, one of the workers. The cow was recaptured shortly thereafter, and is being kept at KIST so she can raise her calf. Both of them are doing well. The cow is still very protective of her calf however, charging at anyone who dares to come close!
Tillie is an Irish setter and spaniel mix who lives with her owner, B.J. Duft, in Vashon Island, Washington. Two years ago, Tillie met a young Basset hound named Phoebe at dog daycare. The two hit it off, and when Duft noticed this, he decided to adopt Phoebe. Since then, the two dogs have become best friends and are never apart.
This past September, Phoebe slipped out of Duft’s house. Tillie, who would never run away by herself, followed Phoebe to keep track of her. The two dogs wandered for several miles until they reached a remote wooded area. Then Phoebe fell into an old cistern. Concrete rubble was piled at one end of the cistern, and though Phoebe could stay out of the water by sitting on it, the cistern was too deep to jump out of. Phoebe and Tillie didn’t know what to do.
Duft was not too worried when he found that the dogs were gone - they had slipped off several times before and had always turned up in a day or two. But as the days went by with no sign of them, Duft got a little worried and contacted Vashon Island Pet Protectors (VIPP), a nonprofit animal rescue group. Amy Carey, a volunteer at VIPP, determined to do all she could to find the dogs, but after a week went by, it seemed there was no hope. Then VIPP was contacted by Joe Curiel. He said he had seen a red dog on his property several times in the last week. When he approached the dog, it ran back into the woods. With this clue, Amy and her team began to search the woods around his house, calling as they went. Finally they heard a small bark in response. They quickly tracked down the dogs. Tillie was sitting beside the cistern where she had been waiting for days, not willing to leave her friend, except to look for help! The dogs were not hurt, though they were starving and scared.
Shortly after, the dogs were reunited with Duft, who was not surprised at Tillie’s loyalty: “She’s a very caring, loving, nurturing dog,” he said. “And the two of them are best friends.”
When Maria Colon woke up on the night of August 5, she could hardly breathe. Her house in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania had caught on fire. As Maria’s lungs filled with smoke, she shouted to her service dog, a yellow lab named Yolanda, “Danger! Danger!” Maria, who is blind, had practiced this word with Yolanda every day, teachng her how to respond. Maria had a special phone with a button that Yolanda could push to dial 911. With all that training, Yolanda knew just what to do. Rushing over to the phone, she called 911 and then led Maria safely out of the burning building.
This is not the first time Yolanda has come to the rescue. Last year, Maria fell in her house, hit her head, and was knocked out by the blow. When Maria didn’t wake up, Yolanda called 911 and waited till emergency responders arrived. And in 2013, Yolanda proved her worth too...
Maria awakened one night to hear strange voices on the floor below. Burglars had broken into the house! Beside her bed, Yolanda was awake too. The dog got up and went out of the bedroom, closing the door behind her. Barking and growling, Yolanda chased the burglars out of the house. But for some reason, the burglars had turned the gas on. Gas fumes began to fill the house. Quickly Maria called the police. They were on their way, she was told. Someone had already called! Without any direction, Yolanda had chased the crooks away and then called the police. Now that’s a smart dog!
In a sea tunnel in Hartlepool, a town in northern England, two dogs were discovered, abandoned by their owner. They were sent to the Stray Aid Center, a shelter for dogs. The larger of the two, a nine-year-old Staffordshire bull terrier, they named Buzz. The other, Glenn, a white Jack Russell terrier, was about ten and was completely blind. The bond between the two dogs quickly became obvious. If separated, even for a few minutes, both dogs would bark and whine, anxious and distressed at being apart. And when the two dogs were brought to their kennel, the staff noticed something else about them. As they neared the kennel door, Buzz nudged Glenn in the right direction. Once inside, Buzz stayed close to Glenn, guiding him around the kennel. When feeding time came around, Buzz led Glenn to their dishes. Buzz was acting as Glenn's seeing eye dog!
The shelter spread Buzz and Glenn’s story and it went viral. Hundreds of people applied to adopt the dogs. It wasn't long before a suitable new home was found for Glenn and Buzz.
Although it is unusual, other dogs also help guide their dog friends. In Waterford, Michigan, a blind Akita named Kiaya lives with her owner and two other Akitas, Cass and Keller. Adopted from a shelter, Kiaya, now 10, struggled with glaucoma for two years before her left eye had to be removed. Eight-year-old Cass immediately began to help Kiaya, guiding her around the house and lying beside her, guarding her blind side. Then a year later, Kiaya lost her other eye to glaucoma, and two-year-old Keller stepped in to help as well. Since then, Keller and Cass have proved to be very valuable friends, sleeping beside Kiaya at night, and guiding and guarding her when she gets up.
In the African country of Tanzania, a giant rat scampers along a dusty field. Almost the size of a cat, he cannot see well and relies mostly on his strong sense of smell. Suddenly he stops, sniffs excitedly, and begins to scratch the ground. He has discovered a mine!
This rat is a member of the HeroRats - a special group of carefully-trained rats that finds land mines and other explosives that have been buried for years but will explode if stepped on. Every year, about 800 people are killed and 1200 injured by land mines. Millions of acres of land lie unused because people risk their lives if they walk there. Traditional methods of finding land mines are to use metal detectors and search dogs, but metal detectors are slow and cannot distinguish between a mine and a tin can. This is where the HeroRats come in. Smaller than search dogs, they are easy to keep and transport. The rats are too light to set off the land mines, but large enough to be easily seen in the field where they work.
One of the HeroRats is named Ararat. He quickly progressed through the training stages, passed a difficult test, and is now one of the star members of the team. Wearing a little harness and working with two handlers, he sweeps methodically through the field, scratching whenever he detects a mine. Every time he successfully finds a mine, he gets a reward - a bite of banana or a peanut. One HeroRat can clear about 200 square feet an hour - an area that would take a human with a metal detector over forty hours to clear. After a few hours on the job, Ararat goes home to bed. (Because the rats are nocturnal, Ararat works only during the morning, and his ears and tail are coated with sunscreen to protect against skin cancer.)
Miles away, in a lab in Tanzania, one of Ararat’s cousins is also working to protect people. Julius is a member of a group of rats who find tuberculosis in people. Tuberculosis kills many more people in Africa than land mines and is difficult to detect. A lab technician must look at samples of saliva from suspected patients under a microscope. It is a slow process and does not always work to catch the disease. But Julius and his co-workers work much faster than people could and can identify even slight traces of tuberculosis. Julius works in a special cage where trays of saliva samples are slid in front of him. Quickly smelling each one, he identifies suspicious samples by sniffing and scratching. These samples are then tested in a lab. The rats find about 44 percent more tuberculosis cases than the lab technicians do. In a country where most rats are hated and eaten for dinner, these HeroRats are saving lives and showing just what a rat can do if given the chance!
On January 16, 2014, a badly burned cat was rushed to vets at an animal clinic in Raleigh, North Carolina. The cat, Russell, was barely alive, with the fur burned off his face and feet. Russell's frantic owner, Leta Mae Strickland, told the vets the sad story: Four days before, her house had caught fire and burned to the ground. Leta had tried to rescue her pets, but it was impossible. Leta assumed all her pets had died, but four days after the fire, someone had heard cries coming from the wreckage and had dug out the kitty. Could they do anything for him?
The vets set to work on Russell, and slowly he improved. Over the next year, Russell’s burns started to heal, most of his fur grew back, and he began to eat and walk around. Russell kept getting better, and soon the friendly cat decided he would help out his fellow patients!
Russell began to make the rounds at the clinic, comforting animals in pain, cuddling up to homesick dogs, and welcoming frightened newcomers. This past May, an orphaned baby deer named Darla was brought in. Russell stayed by her side and slept beside her until Darla moved to a rehabilitation center, to be prepared for release into the wild. Sometimes staff have to confine Russell so he will get the rest he needs - he’s too busy with his job! The vets don’t know when Russell will be able to go back home, but the happy cat does not seem to mind. He loves his job and his new friends and is content to stay where he is!