25 animals that have been imprisoned or arrested

There have been some pretty cute criminals prowling the streets

By Kirstin Fawcett - Zoë Randolph
Published September 18, 2021 2:59PM (EDT)
Squirrel close up with a pigeon in the background (Getty Images/Sara Lynch/EyeEm)
Squirrel close up with a pigeon in the background (Getty Images/Sara Lynch/EyeEm)

This story originally appeared on Mental Floss.

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It might seem like a case of animals just being animals, but when eight donkeys in northern India ate nearly $1,000 worth of greenery in their small town, they did four days in the big house. (Perhaps part of the problem? They ate expensive saplings that were planted right near the jail. Rookie mistake.) But whether they harmed property or people, were in cahoots with human outlaws, or were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, these 25 other critters are proof that "crime" can sometimes be cuddly.

1. The pigeon that was arrested on suspicion of espionage.

In 2015, officials in India arrested a pigeon they suspected was a spy. The bird's body was stamped with a message written partly in Urdu — Pakistan's official language — and what appeared to be a Pakistani phone number. It had landed in a village close to the country's shared border with Pakistan, near the Kashmir region that's claimed by both countries and has been the subject of multiple wars between India and Pakistan beginning in 1947. Though there was a ceasefire in 1972, because both countries believe they have rights to the area, it's frequently the site of military clashes and infiltration.

So when a 14-year-old boy found the suspicious-looking pigeon so close to Kashmir, he turned it over to authorities. The officials took it to a veterinary hospital for X-rays, and though they couldn't find any concrete evidence of foreign fowl play, they kept the bird in custody, recording it as a "suspected spy" in their police diary.

That said, not everyone took the news as seriously as the Indian police did: In the days following the bird's arrest, Pakistani social media was flooded with memes depicting the feathered detainee as a slick 007 type, and amused internet users coined hashtags like #PigeonVsIndia and #IfIWereAPigeon.

2. The beaver that was apprehended for a destructive Christmas shopping season.

In December 2016, a wild beaver must have decided that forest trees weren't festive enough, because it wandered into a dollar store in St. Mary's County, Maryland, to browse Christmas trees and decorations. Workers noticed the animal knocking items onto the floor, and called the St. Mary's County Sheriff's Office.

Captain Yingling of the sheriff's office arrived on scene to prevent the "shopping" beaver from ruining the store. "The suspect attempted to flee the area but was apprehended by Animal Control," the sheriff's department joked on their Facebook page.

Instead of allowing the beaver to finish up its holiday shopping, the St. Mary's County Sheriff handed the critter over to a wildlife rehab center. As for the police, they said the quirky incident just marked another day on the job: "As a law enforcement officer, you just never know what your next call may be . . . " they mused on Facebook.

3. The foul-mouthed parrot in India that was arrested for repeatedly insulting his owner's stepmother.

In 2015, police in the Indian state of Maharashtra taught a foul-mouthed parrot named Hariyal a lesson in politeness after they "arrested" it for swearing at an elderly woman named Janabai. According to locals, the pet bird had picked up the rude habit from Janabi's stepson, Suresh Sakharkar. The two were embroiled in an ugly property dispute, and the latter had reportedly spent the prior two years training Hariyal to spout epithets whenever the estranged relation walked past his house.

The situation escalated, and Janabi, Suresh, and his bird were eventually called to the police station. "Police should investigate and seize the parrot," the embittered stepmother told Indian news channel Zee News. That said, Hariyal must have known he was in hot water, because he kept his beak shut. "We watched the parrot carefully but it did not utter a word at the police station after being confronted by the complainant," a police inspector told reporters.

Instead of locking Hariyal up, officials gave the parrot over to Maharashtra's forestry department, where he could presumably fly — and curse — freely for the remainder of his life.

4. The Squirrel that was arrested for "stalking" a German woman.

While walking down the street in the West German city of Bottrop in 2015, a woman realized that she had attracted a furry stalker: a tiny red squirrel. The animal was chasing her and acting aggressively. Frightened and unable to flee the rodent, the woman called the police for help. Authorities captured the squirrel, "arrested" it, and brought it back to the station. There, they discovered that the critter was suffering from exhaustion.

Police helped nurse the squirrel back to health by feeding it honey, and a spokesperson said the squirrel would be sent to a rescue center instead of languishing away in a cell for its stalkerish habits.

5. The bad monkeys in India that were imprisoned in "monkey jail."

In 2004, a rogue monkey became infamous for terrorizing residents of the city of Patiala, in India's northern Punjab region. The monkey was guilty of multiple crimes: It stole food from homes, ripped the buttons off people's shirts, threatened kids with bricks, and once even swiped someone's math textbooks and calculator. To keep the marauding jungle creature off the streets, officials sentenced it to "monkey jail" — a now-defunct detainment center in Patiala that was reserved for ill-behaving primates.

The "monkey jail" — which appears to have operated from 1996 until the mid-2000s — was located in the corner of a local zoo. The 15-foot-wide barred cell was secured with chain-link fencing and wire mesh, and had a sign that read: "These monkeys have been caught from various cities of Punjab. They are notorious. Going near them is dangerous."

Punjab is filled with countless wild Rhesus macaque (Macaca mulatta) monkeys. Some of the animals have moved into cities and towns in search of food, as humans continue to destroy their natural jungle habitat. Others were once used as animal guards, or trained as performing monkeys, and were set loose by their owners once they turned violent. Particularly ill-treated or mischievous primates have been known to destroy property and pester — or even attack — humans. But since Hindus revere Hanuman, the monkey god, killing the creatures is verboten.

Wildlife officers in Punjab took matters into their own hands by opening the monkey jail. They responded to public complaints by capturing the creatures with trapping cages and tranquilizer guns. Once the monkeys were locked up, there was little to no chance of "parole."

As of 2004, there were 13 jailed monkeys, all imprisoned for harassing people or committing petty crimes. Patiala's primate penitentiary was eventually closed, and authorities announced it was going to be replaced by "reform school" that's intended to train the monkeys to be less aggressive.

6. The cat who was detained for helping out with a prison break.

On New Year's Day 2013, a cat took the heat for scheming Brazilian inmates who were likely either planning a jailbreak or attempting to communicate with outlaws on the outside. The white feline was slinking around the main gates of a medium-security prison in Arapiraca — a city in northeast Brazil — when guards noticed that its body was wrapped in tape. They apprehended the kitty, and discovered that it was carrying items including several saws and drills, an earphone, a memory card, batteries, and a phone charger.

Prison officer Luiz de Oliveira Souza told reporters that the cat had been seen entering and exiting the jail before. It had been raised by inmates, and was often in the custody of one of their families. However, officials couldn't figure out which of the jail's 263 prisoners had tried to use the feline for their own nefarious purposes: "It's tough to find out who's responsible for the action as the cat doesn't speak," a prison spokesperson told local newspaper Estado de S.Paulo.

Following the cat's "arrest" and brief imprisonment, it was taken to a local animal shelter to receive medical treatment.

7. The tough prison pet that was actually a very good boy.

Unlike some animals on this list, Pep the dog was a very good boy. But in 1924, Pennsylvania governor Gifford Pinchot allegedly sentenced the dark-haired Labrador to a life sentence without parole. Pep was taken to Philadelphia's Eastern State Penitentiary, where officials jokingly gave him his own inmate number and mug shot. Reporters nicknamed the canine "Pep The Cat-Murdering Dog," as he was said to have killed the governor's wife's cat.

Thanks to all the media hype, Pep had quite the tough reputation. But a few years after the canine's imprisonment, the governor's wife, Cornelia Pinchot, set the story straight in an interview with The New York Times. Turns out, Pep had never murdered her pet feline; her family simply bred Labradors, and owned too many dogs. Pep, she said, was a gift to the prisoners to lift their spirits.

Today, researchers say that partisan journalists twisted the facts around, and that Pep was actually a beloved prison pet that freely wandered the hallways and was adored by all. As for the "life sentence without parole" part, the Lab was eventually moved to a newer prison; when he died, he was buried on its grounds.

8. The feisty donkey in Mexico that was locked up to settle a score.

In 2008, police in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas arrested a feisty donkey named Blacky after it bit a man in the chest, and kicked a second man trying to rescue him. Police apprehended the burro and locked it in the jail's drunk tank. "Around here, if someone commits a crime they are jailed, no matter who they are," said Officer Sinar Gomez.

Police said that the donkey would remain behind bars until its owner, Mauro Gutierrez, paid the injured parties' medical bills and salary for the days they missed work. The boisterous burro served three days in jail, and Gutierrez settled the score by paying Blacky's victims.

9. The bear that spent 15 years in prison.

In 2004, holidaymakers at a campsite in Kazakhstan found themselvesterrorized by a brown bear who repeatedly mauled visitors. Several ruined vacations later, the authorities were called in to do something about the situation. Unsure what to do with her, officials sentenced the bear to a 15-year prison term at a penal colony called Kostanay.

At Kostanay, the bear (who was given the name Katya), was the lone female among more than 700 male inmates. Life wasn't all bad for Katya, though. In addition to her cell, she was given her own pool and was cared for by her fellow prisoners. Katya remained in custody for the entirety of her 15-year sentence. In 2019, she was finally released to a zoo, where she was reunited with others of her own kind, including a male bear named Yashka who was reported to be "very happy to see her." While she's gone from Kostanay, she's certainly not forgotten. A large statue of her has been installed on the prison grounds.

10. The watch-parrot that was arrested as a member of a drug cartel.

Lorenzo, a bright green and yellow parrot living in Colombia who was prized for his speaking skills, didn't always know when to keep his mouth shut.

In 2010, Lorenzo aroused the suspicions of Colombian detectives, who began to think it probably wasn't a coincidence that he would squawk "Run, run, you are going to get caught!" every time police officers came near. The agents were right. In fact, it turned out that Lorenzo had been trained to shout the phrase as a warning for his owners, a group of drug traffickers, so that they could evade capture.

Wise to the lookout, detectives eventually managed to sneak past the bird without being seen. Once inside the safe-house, they found more than 200 weapons, a stolen motorcycle, and a stash of marijuana. Lorenzo was taken into custody along with four of the men he'd failed to warn.

11. The goat that was arrested for chowing down on the wrong yard.

In 2016, in the Indian state of Chhattisgarh, a goat was minding its own business and doing what goats do best: eating. There was just one problem. The petunias and cabbages the goat was snacking on belonged to a very important human — the distinct magistrate.

It wasn't the goat's first offense, either. The gardener who tended the magistrate's yard and ultimately lodged the complaint against the hungry trespasser had encountered the goat many times before. He'd even witnessed the animal leap over the iron gate that guarded the property. Finally fed up, the gardener called the police to report the offense. When officers arrived on the scene, they took the goat into custody and laid charges that could yield between two and seven years in prison, plus a fine. Luckily for the goat, it made bail and was released to its owner.

12. The monkey that was arrested for crossing the border.

When an Indian monkey was spotted roaming around Bahawalpur, Pakistan, in 2011, officials were dispatched to wrangle the animal. The monkey didn't go down without a fight, and deftly evaded the wildlife officials who tried to snag it. Eventually, the monkey was captured, and the Pakistani government was left to work out what to do with it. Was their captive an innocent traveler or something more nefarious? While some reports indicated that the monkey was suspected of spying, his capture may more likely have been motivated by India's recent detainment of a "spy" pigeon.

Officials ultimately concluded that the monkey posed no threat, but still decided against letting it go free. While the monkey didn't go to human jail, it was still sentenced to life behind bars by way of the local zoo, where he was named Bobby.

13. The alligator apprehended for an attempted break-in.

In May 2021, a woman in Osceola County, Florida phoned the police about "suspicious activity" in her backyard. The scene she described was an alarming one: There was someone hissing and scratching at her back door as if they were trying to get into the house.

When deputies arrived, they discovered that someone was in fact, trying to get in—or something, at least. The would-be trespasser turned out to be a 5-foot-long alligator the department later dubbed "Swampy Chomps." A struggle between gator and deputies ensued, as the giant reptile resisted arrest. Eventually, it was "apprehended, taken into custody, and safely released into another side of the lake," reported Sheriff Marcos R. Lopez in a Facebook video.

14. The cat that as arrested for breaking curfew.

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Thailand sprang into action, imposing strict curfews across the country and deploying police units to enforce them. Between 10 p.m. and 4 a.m., officers were sent to patrol the streets. Anyone caught outside their homes during that time could be arrested, fined, and jailed.

Apparently, news of the emergency law didn't make it to one particular cat, who was discovered out and about one night in blatant disregard of health and safety rules. Thai police booked the unfortunate kitty and posted its mug shot as a warning to all those considering ignoring the mandate. They even hung a sign around its neck for the photo that read, "I left my home after 10 p.m. in violation of the curfew." When it comes to public health, apparently, no one in Thailand is above the law!

15. The pig that was apprehended when he couldn't keep his tongue to himself.

Police in Shelby Township, Michigan, received a strange complaint in the summer of 2015: A marauding pig was wandering through a residential neighborhood. His crime? Licking lawn ornaments. A woman who'd been gardening got the first glimpse of the 175-pound porker, which came running toward her and sent her scurrying into her front yard before it got distracted by the shiny decorations. "We received a couple calls about a pig at large," said the deputy chief of police, who was on the scene. "After 25 years, just when you think you've seen it all, something new and exciting happens."

Officers nabbed the trespassing pig and stuck him in the back of the squad car. Luckily for the pig, it was returned directly to its worried owner rather than spending a night in the slammer. But while the neighbor didn't press charges for trespassing, the police were likely less than pleased about the large amount of feces they discovered in the back seat once the pig was safely home.

16. The cow that was arrested after going on the lam.

In March 2020, police in Pembroke Pines, South Florida, put out a surprising plea. The department needed help, it said, in finding a fugitive that had been evading capture for months. The slippery suspect in question wasn't a person, however—it was a cow. The wanted poster (yes, you read that right) described the 1600-pound brown and white Heffer as "faster than it looks." The leaflet also noted that the cow also had a penchant for jumping fences and cooling off in local pools.

A week later, authorities managed to track down the cow and put her scofflaw days to an end. Despite her antagonistic history, though, she wasn't charged with any crimes. In fact, the officers soon made peace with the troublesome runaway. "We wish the cow well on its future adventures," tweeted the Pembroke Pines PD.

17. The French weevils that were put on trial for their appetite.

It's no secret that the French take their wine seriously, but in the 16th century, damaging grapes could land you in court — even if you weren't human. That's exactly what happened to a swarm of weevils that made the mistake of tearing through a vineyard in Savoie back in 1545.

Being short on francs at the time, the weevils were appointed representatives to advocate for them in the trial. Rather than being sentenced, the court issued only an official call for prayers to be said "to implore pardon for our sins." The prayers seemed to be working, but 30 years later, the weevils returned.

At the second trial, a new defense attorney argued that the weevils actually had a better claim to the land than the farmers did, and refused to accept a compromise that would have put aside a separate plot of land for them. How the case was resolved, ironically, is lost to history: The last page of the records was destroyed, perhaps by insects.

18. The cow that was arrested for murder.

It isn't uncommon to see cows wandering unchaperoned around Nigerian cities. But in Lagos in 2005, one went rogue. As a bus driver stood by the edge of a road taking a quick bathroom break, the cow approached from behind and attacked, knocking the man to the ground. The vicious attack — made with both the cow's hoofs and long, pointed horns —proved fatal. Several additional witnesses were injured before the authorities finally managed to get the animal under control. "You know what it will take to arrest a mad cow?" asked one police officer. "We applied ingenuity."

Some onlookers called for the cow to be shot on sight, but the police chief opted to take the criminal into custody alive. The cow was held at the station and eventually released to its owner, who was charged with negligence.

19. The donkey imprisoned for bestiality.

In 1750, a scandal rocked the town of Savigny-sur-Etang, France, when a man and a "she-ass" were accused of fornication. Like today, bestiality was a crime and the man was put on trial, during which he was found guilty and sentenced to death. Unlike today, the unlucky donkey found herself in court, too [PDF].

During her trial, the animal's council mounted a spirited defense on her behalf. Their best evidence came in the form of several written statements signed by residents of the town in which she lived. The documents attested that she had been well-known for years and that "in word and deed and in all habits of life" she had been "a most honest creature." Happily, the court took these character witnesses to heart, and the "she-ass" was acquitted. The court rightfully found that "she was the victim of violence and had not participated in her master's crime of her own free will."

20. The loyal parrot that was arrested for his loud mouth.

One couple in northern Brazil raised their brightly colored parrot to do more than repeat silly phrases. The pair, who were running a drug operation out of their home, trained their pet to act as a lookout that would tip them off if they were in danger of being busted. When the authorities came near in 2019, the loyal bird did as it had been taught and obediently raised the alarm. "He must have been trained for this," said a police officer after the discovery. "As soon as the police got close he started shouting."

The parrot was taken into custody but knew when to keep its mouth shut. "So far it hasn't made a sound . . . completely silent," said a Brazilian journalist covering the story. Eventually, accepting they'd get no pertinent information out of the feathery accomplice, the police sent the parrot to a zoo so it could be trained to fly and eventually released.

21. The bovine that was imprisoned for a break-in.

In April 1932, two police officers were alerted to a burglary in progress. But when they arrived on the scene — a home in San Jose, California — there was no burglar to be found. After hearing a loud noise, the two officers discovered the trespasser. It wasn't a masked bandit making off with jewelry, as they might have expected. Instead, the pair discovered a large cow standing calmly in a flowerbed.

Despite the fact that the cow had no stolen goods to speak of, she was booked at the city jail and held overnight. The only problem? There were no cow-equipped cells, so the suspect was simply tied up in a vacant lot nearby. Perhaps she sensed her chance, because the next morning, she was nowhere to be found. Noted the Berkeley Daily Gazette, "Now she's a fugitive from justice and a warrant has been issued for her arrest."

22. The goat that was arrested for loitering.

Canadians love their Tim Hortons, and apparently, that affection is shared across species. In the early hours of a September morning in Saskatchewan in 2015, employees at the beloved coffee chain discovered a loitering customer that was disinclined to leave. The squatter in question was a goat, and he refused to go anywhere.

After being led outside several times, the stubborn goat, whose name was Goliath, returned again and again through the automatic doors. Finally, he was taken away in the back of a police car and spent the night in the local animal shelter. Goliath, who was originally from Alberta but was in town for an event with the University of Saskatchewan rodeo team, had a reputation as an escape artist (he'd gotten out three times before). This time, however, the team suspected that he'd most likely been stolen, potentially as a prank by a rival school.

23. The piglets that were imprisoned for murder.

Apparently, humans aren't the only species with crime families [PDF]. In 1457, a mother pig and six piglets were caught red-hoofed in the murder of a 5-year-old boy in France. The killing had been gruesome, and the locals believed someone had to answer for the crime, even if that someone wasn't human. The entire pig family was locked up and put on trial for the attack. When the verdict was handed down, only the adult sow was found guilty of the murder. Her sentence of death by hanging was hardly the first of its kind. Nearly a century earlier, another pig that had caused the death of a child was strung up for its dastardly deed — but not first before being outfitted in men's clothing.

The sow's six piglets were spared. The court chalked its pardon up to the innocence of the young, and to the bad example the children had been set by their mother.

24. The dog that was apprehended after a wild deer chase.

Finn the dog was on a walk with his owners in 2018 when they made a costly mistake: They let him off-leash. Not long afterward, Finn caught a whiff of a nearby deer and took off after it. Ignoring all calls to return, he tore off down the trail, along the road, through the grounds of a hospital, and beyond before Ontario police nabbed the pup and locked him in the back of a police car. Finn didn't serve any time for his misbehavior and the family was let off with a warning, but perhaps a sterner punishment would have served him well: Rather than feel guilty, Finn's owner reported that the dog seemed "pretty proud of himself."

The daughter of Finn's owner posted a photo on Twitter of the pup gazing forlornly out from behind the bars on the window of the police car. "He's a good boy," she said. "He just hates deer."

25. The chicken jailed for fowl play.

In 1474, a chicken made the grievous error of being mistaken for a rooster in the Swiss city of Basel. When the unfortunate creature laid an egg, the townspeople were horrified. Rather than assume they'd simply been mistaken about the bird's identity, the locals took it into custody and put it on trial. A cockerel laying an egg, after all, was a "heinous and unnatural crime," the court found. Why all the fuss? The accepted belief at the time was that an egg laid by a rooster would hatch a basilisk [PDF].

After a solemn trial, the misidentified chicken was found guilty and sentenced to be burned at the stake. On the day of the execution, a large group of townspeople and local peasants gathered to witness the poor creature's demise, no doubt relieved at having avoided disaster.


Kirstin Fawcett

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Zoë Randolph

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