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The Odd Truth, April 14, 2003

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The Odd Truth is a collection of strange but factual news stories from around the world compiled by CBSNews.com's Brian Bernbaum. A new collection of stories is published each weekday. On weekends, you can read a week's worth of The Odd Truth.

Lizard Boy Laid To Rest

BANGKOK, Thailand - A woman in central Thailand held a funeral for a monitor lizard believed to have been the reincarnation of her 12-year-old son, who died in a road accident nearly two years ago, a report said Monday.

Jamlong Taengnian, 53, and her relatives gathered at the family's house on the outskirts of Bangkok for the ceremony following the death of the reptile Saturday afternoon, The Nation newspaper reported.

A photo of Jamlong's deceased son, Charoen, was placed beside the reptile's lifeless body. "I am so sad. I feel as if I have lost my son a second time," Jamlong was quoted as saying.

Hundreds of people had visited the house in Nonthaburi, about 6 miles north of Bangkok in recent years to see the lizard allegedly possessed by the dead boy's spirit and thought to bring good luck.

The lizard was first found lying under a photograph of Charoen during his funeral in June 2001 and reportedly followed the boy's parents to their home.

Jamlong named the lizard Yui, her son's nickname, and allowed it to sleep in her bed and gave the lizard milk and yoghurt, her son's favorite foods, reports said.

Monitor lizards, which have gray skin marked by yellowish scales, live near water and are good swimmers and tree climbers. They are not aggressive.

Utah High Court Approves Atheist Prayer

SALT LAKE CITY - An atheist who sought to pray in City Council meetings for deliverance "from weak and stupid politicians" got the blessing of the Utah Supreme Court on Friday.

The court ruled that if officials in Murray, Utah, want to pray during government-sponsored events, the opportunity to pray must be equally accessible to all who ask.

The Supreme Court's 4-1 ruling reversed the dismissal of a lawsuit that Tom Snyder, 71, filed in state court in 1999.

"Thanks to the Supreme Court for reaffirming that constitutional protection," Snyder said. "There should be no government preference for one religion over another or a preference for religion over non-religion."

He and his lawyer have been pursuing the lawsuit since 1994, when Snyder filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Salt Lake City suburb for allowing other pre-meeting prayers but refusing to let him offer a prayer addressed to "Our Mother, who art in heaven."

Among other things, the prayer asked for deliverance "from the evil of forced religious worship now sought to be imposed upon the people ... by the actions of misguided, weak and stupid politicians, who abuse power in their own self-righteousness."

Friday's ruling was based on a 1993 decision that upheld Salt Lake City's right to hear prayers during official events as long as the opportunity to deliver the prayer was nondiscriminatory.

Salt Lake City chose to end public prayer rather than deal with the inevitable problems.

Farmers Chip Chickens

VALLEY CENTER, Calif. - The owners of ranches where employees tossed live chickens into wood chippers won't be prosecuted on animal cruelty charges.

The District Attorney's Office announced Thursday that Arie and Bill Wilgenburg, brothers and owners of Escondido-based Ward Poultry Farm, didn't commit a crime because a veterinarian from the U.S. Department of Agriculture gave them permission to use wood chippers to destroy the birds.

"Once they asked and were given permission, there was no criminal intent," said Gayle Stewart, a district attorney's spokeswoman. "It's an industry standard to get rid of hens like this."

Bill Wilgenburg said he was doing what experts told him to do with the old, unproductive hens.

"As a farmer, we did what we thought we had to do to the best of our ability based on what industry experts told us," Wilgenburg said.

He said he thought he was doing the right thing, until county Animal Services investigators arrived at his ranches.

Those investigators were called in February to a Ward ranch in Valley Center by a neighbor who said workers were dumping loads of live chickens into a wood chipper. Investigators also learned another Ward ranch in Potrero was destroying hens in a chipper.

The two ranches used chippers to destroy at least 30,000 hens at each of the two ranches, authorities said.

Pet Owners, Parents Warned Of Hungry Escaped Owl

LONDON - London police on Monday warned owners of small pets to be on the alert for a large, hungry bird of prey that escaped from its owners while being exercised in a park.

Jazz, a European eagle owl, has not been seen since Saturday, when he broke free from his leash in east London. He "flew away in a distressed state after some crows went for him," the Metropolitan Police said in a statement.

Police appealed to residents to report sightings of Jazz, described as dark brown and 20 inches tall, with a 6-foot wingspan. The European eagle owl is the world's largest species of owl, and has been known to hunt foxes and small deer.

Police said hunger might drive Jazz to hunt rabbits, cats "or even small dogs."

"It is unlikely that he would attempt to catch small children as he lives with children at home," police said. "However we advise people, particularly children not to approach him as he could be dangerous if felt threatened."

The bird's owner, Mark Triphook, said Jazz "can normally go without food for a little while before he gets desperately hungry.

"He's very good natured which means he's not frightened of people which is the downside when he's hungry because he won't be scared off," Triphook said.

Have You Seen Mojo?

ELKHART, Ind. - It's been two years since Mojo the cat scampered off and vanished, but Lisa Hoogenboom hasn't given up hope that she'll someday find her beloved tabby.

Hoogenboom has placed classified ads with the cat's photo in her local newspaper ever since Mojo disappeared. And to keep tips rolling in, she's also offering a $1,000 reward to the person who finds the feline.

The black-and-white cat ran off two years ago when the pet carrier Hoogenboom was carrying him in broke between the car and their front door after a trip to the vet.

Mojo bolted and hasn't been seen since.

Although some people have told Hoogenboom she's crazy to care so much about a cat to keep up the search for so long, she said they just don't understand the love that exists between animal owners and their pets.

"We don't have kids that live with us. Pets become your family members. Wouldn't you keep looking for your kid? You wouldn't give up," she explained.

A Slot In The Face

TULALIP, Wash. - Debra Hughes' euphoria didn't last long. She thought she had won $12,000 at a slot machine in a Tulalip, Washington, casino. But resort officials told her the jackpot was mistake, because the machine was in the demo mode. That's a way technicians test machines that have been serviced. The demo mode is supposed to be switched off before customers start feeding coins into the slot machines. While the casino is refusing to pay, the slot machine maker Multimedia Games is promising to make good on the jackpot. Company CEO Clifton Lind says they'll give Hughes the $12,000. But Hughes says this time she won't start celebrating until she gets the check.

Somebody's Got To Do It

PROSSER, Wash. - Think you've got a dirty job? Be glad you're not Ernie Munck, who spends much of his day "arming cows." He's a large-animal veterinarian in Washington state. A big part of his practice is taking care of cows that have an intestinal blockage. Short of surgery, Munck says the best way to treat the malady is to stick his arm way up the business end of Bessie and remove whatever is getting in the way. While it may seem like a pretty disgusting way of making a living, Munck says arming cows isn't so bad. He notes on a cold day at least one hand will be warm.

Horsing Around

COLUMBUS, Ohio - She doesn't call herself a horse whisperer, but Sheila Ryan says she can communicate with the animals.

Attendees at a horse convention here packed Ryan's booth to buy her videotapes after her presentation Friday at the 10th annual Equine Affaire in the Ohio Expo Center on the state fairgrounds.

Ryan, 44, owns HorseSense, a holistic healing organization based in Barrington, R.I.

She uses metal dowsing rods and studies spiritual points on the animal to communicate.

Debra Najecki said Ryan figured out why her horse, Lacy, wasn't behaving at a horse show. Najecki had been joking about the horse being too slow during a ride, and the horse was offended, she said.

"They understand everything," said Najecki, of Chepachet, R.I., who now works for HorseSense.

Ryan communicated with the horse, who told her, "I'm older than you think I am," Najecki said. A veterinarian confirmed the horse was 25, not 15 as she thought.

Ryan has a bachelor's degree in psychology. She says she has communicated with dogs, house cats and even a mountain lion before turning to horses three years ago.

Not everyone is a believer.

"I can't buy it. No way she's talking to horses," said Peg Shearer of Ann Arbor, Mich., who watched most of Ryan's hourlong presentation Friday at Equine Affaire. "I just don't see any science behind it. But she is glib."