Once a week.
Subscribe to our weekly newsletter.
Dogs, cats, other pets: would they eat you if you died?
Would your dog, cat, or other pet eat you if you died? The truth about if — and how soon — our animal friends start to see us in a different light.
Things would be so much simpler if we could converse with our pets and really know for certain how they think and what they feel. As it is, we’re always left squinting at the dividing line between understanding and anthropomorphism. And we’re left wondering what a pet’s affection means and how deep it runs. Which is to say, would they eat us if we die?
Erika Englehaupt of National Geographic decided to dig through case studies to find a clear answer. And she sort of did. You may not like it. She examined 20 cases of what’s euphemistically called “indoor scavenging” published in scientific journals, and also a 2015 study that compiled 63 such reports.
Okay, let’s be clear. Some of this is disturbing. You have been warned.
There’s a basic scenario in these cases: Someone with a pet dies alone and is undiscovered for a period of time. By the time the body is discovered, there are parts missing and a pet is just sitting there, usually perfectly normally.
Who's Worse, Dogs or Cats?
Most of the cases Englehaupt reviewed were of dogs, by a large margin, though there were some cases in which cats were implicated. Cats have a reputation for eating their dead owners, and Englehaupt has heard from EMTs that it’s pretty common, but most of the documentation is canine-related. There are even a few reports of hamsters and birds chowing down. (BuzzFeed reports a particularly grotesque case in which a hamster made a burrow in a drawer from human skin, fat, and muscle tissue.)
It may just be that cats are more chill than dogs in this as in everything else. There’s a report from the Journal of Forensic and Legal Medicine about a 2010 case where an aneurysm victim’s face had been eaten overnight by her dog while her cats didn’t so much as a nibble.
What’s on the Menu?
It depends first of all on how much flesh is exposed. Typically, the face is eaten first, starting with the more detachable bits like the nose and lips. 73% of the cases Englehaupt looked at reported face bites, with only 15% involving the abdomen. Certainly, the longer the pet goes without proper food, the more it eats.
Forensic anthropologist Carolyn Rando, Ph.D. tells BuzzFeed, "Yes, your pets will eat you when you die, and perhaps a bit sooner than is comfortable. They tend to go for the neck, face, and any exposed areas first, and then, if not discovered in time, they may proceed to eat the rest of you.” There was that 2007 case in which that a Chow and a Labrador survived for a month on their owner's body, leaving only bits of bone and the top of the skull.
But Only After a Respectful Mourning Period, Right?
Um, depends. Usually, but…
In a 1997 case, when police retrieved the body of a man who’d committed suicide by shooting himself in the mouth, they noticed bite marks around what remained of his face. As they transported his normal-acting, cooperative German shepherd to an animal sanctuary, the dog vomited up what was clearly his owner’s skin and beard hair.
The 2015 study found that in 24% of all the cases they examined, dogs had begun eating their masters in under 24 hours — and some of them even chose to do so in spite of having normal dog food available.
A factor may be a specific dog’s nature. The forensic examiner in the above 1997 case, Markus Rothschild, suggests, “One possible explanation for such behavior is that a pet will try to help an unconscious owner first by licking or nudging, but when this fails to produce any results the behavior of the animal can become more frantic and in a state of panic, can lead to biting.” This may be more likely to occur in an anxiety-prone, fearful canine, according to Rando, “So it’s not necessarily that the dog wants to eat, but eating gets stimulated when they taste blood.”
It may also be as simple as the appeal of fresh meat. Anyone who’s cut up fresh chicken for a pet knows how much more they like that than they do canned or dry food.
Some dogs may not even wait until you’re dead — passed-out drunk may be good enough. Rando describes a 1994 study to Buzzfeed: “The case involves a middle-aged woman who got too drunk and passed out. Her dog, a red setter, had started biting her face while she was unconscious. She later died, but the dog couldn't even wait a whole day to munch on his owner — and started chewing on her face within 16 hours of the woman last being seen alive.”
But Surely My Snugglebug Wouldn’t Eat Me.
Oh, yes, he would. Researchers have found no connection between an animal’s reported closeness to its owner and its likelihood of consuming his or her body. Instinct — or hunger — apparently trumps love, according to Rando. Whatever that really means to a pet.
What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
We’ve mapped a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way. Take the virtual tour here.
See the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
Astronomers have mapped about a million previously undiscovered galaxies beyond the Milky Way, in the most detailed survey of the southern sky ever carried out using radio waves.
A new study shows our planet is much closer to the supermassive black hole at the galaxy's center than previously estimated.
Credit: NAOJ<p><em>Arrows on this map show position and velocity data for the 224 objects utilized to model the Milky Way Galaxy. The solid black lines point to the positions of the spiral arms of the Galaxy. Colors reflect groups of objects that are part of the same arm, while the background is a simulation image.</em></p>
Apple sold its first iPod in 2001, and six years later it introduced the iPhone, which ushered in a new era of personal technology.