Strange But True: Cats & Dogs

Siamese cats once exposed espionage - In the 1961, the Dutch ambassador to Russia, Henry Helb, noticed that his two Siamese kittens were arching their backs and clawing at one of the walls of his home in Moscow. At first, Helb imagined that the cats had heard a mouse in the walls. However, he then had a hunch that the cats heard something that he couldn’t, finding 30 small microphones hidden behind the boards. The cats had been able to pick up on the frequencies being omitted by microphones being switched on via radio waves. Helb and his staff took advantage of the surveillance and complained about household repairs or packages stuck in customs while standing in front of the mics. Coincidentally, repairs or solutions to the grievances would often be taken care of within 24 hours.

Labrador sentenced to life without parole - In the 1920s, Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary was one of the first prisons to isolate prisoners as a rehabilitation tool. Before Eastern State, it was standard to force inmate into silent labor with the goal of punishing the accused instead of reforming them. Pennsylvania Governor Gifford Pinchot wanted to help change the state of the U.S. prison system, believing that inmates could be reformed, and solitary confinement was not the best method. He sentenced “Pep the black”, a Labrador retriever who was a relatively bad-behaved dog, to life in prison for murdering his wife's cat. His crimes were fictitious, but the prison played along with the colorful tale to use Pep as a therapy dog. Pep had his mugshot snapped with his inmate number, C2559, and was allowed to freely around the cell block. The local newspapers took the backstory a little too seriously, with headlines painting the strange Life Without Parole sentencing of the dog as fact.

Once cats are adults, they only meow at humans - Animal behaviorists have concluded that adult cats don't meow at other cats. Cats often communicate through scent, body language, facial expression and touch. Cat sounds for vocal communication involve caterwauls for mating, chattering upon spotting prey, hissing to ward off an intruder or shrieking when hurt or terrified. The “meow” is a purely human-directed communication. Scientists believe cats have refined this “meow” language to converse with humans. The cats have learned that they cannot communicate with us the way they do with other cats, which is why they meow at humans to get our attention and alert us to their needs. The only other meowing in cat language is done between a mother cat and her kittens, used to solicit attention and care from the mother. Once the kittens are grown, the mews and meows would stop, however they appear to have adapted this behavior to continue to gain responses from their human providers.

Don, the talking dog of Berlin – In 1910, it was reported that the scientific sensation of the hour in Germany was the talking dog Don, a dark-brown setter belonging to a royal gamekeeper named Ebers at Thiershütte, near Hamburg. The dog was on exhibition in the Hagenbeck outdoor menagerie at Hamburg, where he was reported to be able to say six words. Don was said to have begun talking at a young age without training of any kind, and on day walked up to the dinner table pleading, “Haben, haben.” (“Want, want.”) The tone was not a bark or growl, but distinct speech, and increased in plainness from day to day as his master took more interest in the dog’s newly discovered talent. Shortly afterward, the dog learned to say “Hunger” when asked what he had. Then he was taught to say “Küchen,” (cakes,) and finally “Ja” and “Nein.” Don was then able to string several of these words together in sensible rotation and would say “Hunger, I want cakes,” when an appropriate question is addressed to him.