Dogs have been companions to humans for centuries, but little do people know how some of them defied physics, contributed to extremely important scientific discoveries or simply – through the combination of nature and anomalies – stretched our sci-fi imaginations far beyond the limits of even Philip K. Dick. Here’s a rundown of some scientific, non-fiction cases of famous dogs that you might not have heard about.
Xinxiang, the Runaway Pig Dog
It takes a lot to make stoic China flinch these days, but Xinxiang, a pedigree breed Chinese hairless dog did just that, earning a reputation as a pig-dog mutant that must have surely escaped from a laboratory. Xinxiang is the only dog on our list credited to “natural science”. But China residents were spooked when this pink, hairless dog sporting a Mohawk and leopard-like spots showed up around Xinxiang City— and it just so happened there was a nearby scientific research center.
Despite resembling an escaped genetic experiment gone horribly wrong, there are many “Xinxiangs” around the world, and they were originally bred to be a disabled person’s companion. Ironically, Xinxiang, the runaway Pig Dog, was an oddity. Most Chinese Crested dogs are introverted and aren’t known for gregarious behavior.
Before you assume Xinxiang can travel across continents, thus explaining her dozens of appearances worldwide, don’t be alarmed. Chinese Crested dogs pop up unexpectedly all over the place. One named Yoda won the 2011 World’s Ugliest Dog contest at the Sonoma Marin Fair. Before Yoda’s rise to stardom, he lived on the street and was thought to be a giant rat.
Laika, the Space Dog
Laika was once a female stray from Moscow before being selected as the passenger of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2, launched on November 3, 1957. Russian astronomers chose three-year old Laika because of her apparent ability to endure harsh conditions, including cold and starvation.
Laika’s breed was never confirmed, but she generally looked like a mix between a Terrier, Husky and possibly a Nordic breed. To prepare her for the ultimate science-defying leap around the world, she was housed in progressively smaller cages and then eventually released into orbit to serve as the first dog astronaut and a precursor to later human missions. While it would’ve been nice to report Laika landed safely and enjoyed a Buzz Aldrin-like legend, the truth is much more Old Yeller than Lassie.
It was long believed that she either died on day six from a lack of oxygen, or that she was euthanized via poison food capsule. In truth, details of her mission that were released only as recently as 2002 confirmed she died from overheating. Animal rights activists in 1957 expressed their outrage, and one of the scientists responsible for sending Laika into dead space eventually recanted for the decision after the fall of the Soviet Union. Russian officials of the modern age also showed their true heart, erecting a monument to Laika in Moscow, featuring a statute of a dog standing on top of a rocket. Neil Armstrong’s dog would’ve been proud.
Mira, the World’s First Cloned Pet Dog
We’re not just near the age of cloning, we’re in the age of cloning, and genetic clones are already walking among us. While canine scientists today are focusing on understanding psychology of our pets’ behavior to provide better care, it was a different time back in the ’90s. The world’s first “Frankenstein pet”, Mira, looks like any other dog. She’s part Husky, part Border Collie, and part Rottweiler. She’s also the living clone of a real dog. Mira cost millions of dollars to make and was the vision of our planet’s very own Dr. Frankenstein, Lou Hawthorne. This is one aspect of the future that pet technology will allow owners tolook forward to.
Hawthorne worked in cloning for 20 years and gave life to 20 other genetically engineered dogs. However, just as Dr. Frankenstein met his own dark fate, so too did Hawthorne. His own sense of guilt forced him out of the industry. For every one cloned pet, it is estimated that a high number of real dogs are put down. Up to 80 different dogs are required to create the genetic parts of one clone, and these numbers could only be filled by big dog farms.
Hawthorne told the press, “A cloned dog contributes to the happiness of a family but I do not think it is possible to do it without a huge amount of suffering to hundreds of others.” There have been approximately 200 cloned dogs brought into existence through modern science thus far and they all seem to be living rich, full lives, which are far more peaceful than “Frankenstein Pet” implies.
Naki’o, The Bionic Dog
Who said cyborgs had to be evil? Darth Vader and T-800 references notwithstanding, the first known bionic dog, Naki’o, is surely not evil but definitely part machine. The mixed breed seemingly lost all hope, as he lost his paws because of frostbite. He was abandoned in a foreclosed Nebraska home and discovered alone in a puddle of icy water. Not only did he lose his four paws, but he also lost the tip of his tail, shortly before being rescued and taken to an animal rescue center.
Before the miracle of modern science, Naki’o was left with rounded stumps and couldn’t play well with other dogs, as it hurt to stand and he could only manage to crawl on his stomach. Luckily, this stray was adopted by veterinarian assistant Christie Pace of Colorado Springs, who came up with the idea of fitting him with four prosthetic limbs. They’re not artificial stilts, but highly advanced prosthetics created to mimic the muscle and bone of dog limbs, allowing the pup to do everything that comes natural. Orthopets, the company that fitted Naki’o’s new paws, initially gave him two artificial back legs (made with mountain bike tire material), but was so impressed with Pace and Naki’o’s enthusiasm, they did his front legs too, free of charge. Not quite RoboDog, but he is on record as being the first canine to be fitted with a full set of bionic paws.
Dead Zone Dogs
If you’ve ever played video games like Fallout then the idea of radiation-affected mutant dogs might seem too silly an idea to be scary. However, there’s nothing fictional or funny about the reality of the Fukushima nuclear accident — and the dogs it has affected.
Scientists have speculated that the next generation of puppies living around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster zone are in living mutants dogs—and most likely vicious ones at that. Japanese officials are taking the threat seriously and are capturing hundreds of wild radiation-crazed dogs still living in the Fukushima no-entry zone, but are not succeeding in capturing the entire population. The dogs are reportedly becoming more antisocial and wild, as they do not interact with humans in the fallout zone.
Furthermore, if the nuclear-affected dogs have their own puppies, they will be one more generation removed from civilized dogs—wild canines with no experience around people whatsoever. The “dead zone dogs”, as they are nicknamed, are not responding to usual baited cage traps. Worse yet, as Kawasaki veterinarian Kunitoshi Baba states, “If infected dogs go outside the zone and attack people, disease could spread.” Photos of mutated animals from Fukushima have been spotted online, and one can only wonder and shudder at what a race of mutant dogs might look like in the real world. Probably not as horrific asthis spider dog fellow.
Phantom Black Dogs
Phantom black dogs have been man’s best departed friend for hundreds of years, with sightings going back before the 1500s. The Black Shuck, as some accounts called it, was a dog with “fiery, saucer-shaped eyes” and one that appeared as an omen right before one’s own death. Multiple sightings are reported of phantom black dogs even now, as far as England, Scotland, Ireland, Mainland Europe and even into Latin America.
Viewers who see the dogs claim the creature is much larger than a normal dog, approximately the size of a cow by some accounts, and also has devilish or Hellhound-like glowing eyes. The most common areas where phantom dogs are reported include electrical storms, ancient sites, and the execution sites of prisoners. Eyewitness accounts from the 1800s all the way to the present day have been collected in numerous books, with sightings still regularly reported, particularly throughout England.
Ironically, local urban myths of phantom cats are also coming out of Northern Ireland, Suffolk, and London, which a skeptic will note coincides with the “1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act” in the U.K. That undoubtedly led to many pet owners releasing their exotic animal collections into the wild, with one popular explanation of phantom dogs and cats being that the exotic breeds mated with domestic breeds, or long lost exotic and larger than average “pets” came out of seclusion to roam free. After all, everything looks biggerand creepier in the night.
Texas Blue Dogs
As if Texas didn’t have enough problem with Big Flying Birds and haunted hotels, there is also the legend of “Blue Dog”, which has merited comparisons to the mythical el chupacabra legend — a vampiric beast that feasts upon blood from livestock. The Blue Dog of Texas certainly did not look like a typical dog, given that it was hairless and had bluish skin. One eyewitness, Phylis Canion, claimed about the time she noticed the beast that some of her chickens were found dead and apparently drained of blood.
She did what any YouTube conscious citizen would have done next — make a video of the sight. In July of 2007, another one was found and sure enough, it looked just as bizarre. The dead animal’s body had unusually large ears, fanged teeth, and an almost elephant-like tint in the skin. Scientists heard of her story and decided to test the supposed chupacabra’s DNA but later found that it was not undead, and most certainly a member of Canidae, which is a coyote or Canis latrans, to be exact, and a relative of the common dog.
It gets more peculiar, as a second DNA test revealed the Blue Dog resulted from a coyote mother mating with a Mexican wolf father. The blue skin was most likely caused by a mite-related skin disease called sarcoptic mange. Nevertheless, Phylis Canion had the hybrid animal taxidermied and now proudly displays the closest thing we have ever found to resembling a chupacabra in her home.
Hitler’s Talking Dogs
It doesn’t get much stranger than talking dogs sponsored by the Nazis. Dr. Jan Bondeson of Cardiff University School of Medicine in Wales wrote a book on the Nazis’ ambitious dog experiment, and revealed that Hitler supported a German school that taught mastiff breeds to effectively talk to humans. According to reports, they did manage to train the dogs to learn a few words, mainly replying to questions like “Who is Adolf Hitler?” with “Mein Fuhrer!”
Speculation on why this was so important to Hitler revealed possible conspiracies to develop super-intelligent canine storm troopers, capable of communicating with soldiers. There was even talk of an “intellectual” Airedale terrier named Rolf who supposedly learned the alphabet, which he related with a series of paw-taps on a board, as well as other subjects. Beyond their plans for super intelligent evil dogs, the Nazis just happened to love dogs in general. Hitler himself owned two German shepherds named Bella and Blondi.
Another rumor reported that the Nazis learned of a rebellious Finland dog owner who trained his dog to parody Hitler’s ultra-serious salute, which only incurred the wrath of the Third Reich and provoked them into unsuccessfully hunting down the first ever canine comedian and his owner.
Demikhov’s Two-Headed Dog
There is something unsettling about the idea or the visual of a two-headed dog, and that’s probably because of Cerberus, the Hellhound with three heads. Or maybe it’s because actually witnessing a living, breathing two-headed dog is a perversion of nature. Of course, that’s not nearly as disturbing as witnessing a perversion of science, like Soviet scientist Vladimir Demikhov’s two-headed dog.
Demikhov successfully grafted the head and forelegs of a smaller dog onto a larger dog. Both heads were responsive and moved independently of each other. The operation was a success for at least four days until the dogs died.
The experiment was repeated 24 times and photos were taken to prove its success. However, Demikhov did more than merely experiment. He also pioneered organ transplant theory, was involved in lung and heart replacements in animals, and served as an army pathologist in World War II. Despite censure for unethical animal treatment in the 1950s, which resulted in a halt of all his experiments, he was later awarded an Order of Merit for the Fatherland prize and a USSR State Prize for his contributions to legitimate animal and surgical science.
The Russian Zombie Dog
Perhaps the only kind thing you can say about the Nazis is that they really loved their dogs in comparison to the Soviet Union, who conducted all sorts of radical and cruel dog science experiments. Dr. Sergei Bryukhonenko successfully revived a dead dog using a heart-lung machine called an autojector, creating the first zombie dog.
The scientist was able to pump the dog’s head back into operation, in essence returning it to life. To prove that the dog was actually aware of being alive, and not merely mechanically operating, the scientists provoked it into action and the dog head was shown — on video — licking a q-tip. A severed dog heart was also shown on video being kept alive through machinery. This happened prior to 1928, when video was officially released at the Third Congress of Physiologists of the USSR. We congratulate our brave Soviet dog subjects of year’s passed. Dogs are truly Science’s Best Friend too.