Terrifying stories of people who were killed by their own pets

We love animals. Animals are cute. They make awesome YouTube videos. They can also be homicidal, owner-eating psychopaths. 

The truth is that a lovable dog, cat, or black mamba can, under the right circumstances, turn on the one who feeds it. And because humans are poorly equipped to defend against teeth, claws, and venom, that means Whiskers vs. Caretaker doesn't always turn out in favor of Caretaker. So if you wake up late one night to discover Fido watching you while you sleep, just remember it's not cute. He might be waiting for his breakfast, but he might also be thinking that if you don't get up soon to open that can of Blue Wilderness, you'd probably make a tasty substitute.

When man's best friend isn't

Twenty-two-year-old Bethany Lynn Stephens, of Virginia, loved her two dogs, who lived temporarily in a kennel at her dad's house. Stephens would return home a few times a week to walk them, and friends said she and her dogs had a "significant bond." 

But one day in December 2017, Bethany and her dogs didn't return from their walk. A day later her father discovered her body in the woods — and the two dogs were guarding it.

Lots of people refused to believe the dogs actually killed Stephens, and there was speculation that perhaps they'd been protecting her from a larger animal or from a human attacker. But according to People, authorities could find no evidence of either alternate scenario. Stephens had defensive wounds on her arms and puncture wounds that were consistent with a dog attack, not an attack by a larger animal or a human. Also they were eating her, so there's that little indisputable detail.

Friends are still not convinced, though, and it remains unclear why two dogs described as "socialized" and "passive" would suddenly decide to kill and eat the woman who cared for them. Police believe the dogs' isolation in an outdoor kennel contributed to the attack, but a local veterinarian told the local CBS affiliate that "dogs don't typically just out-of-the-blue attack their owners, so there is typically some kind of provocation." What that provocation might have been, though, we'll probably never know.

Tiny (but actually gigantic) killer

There's a reason why a snake is the villain in the Garden of Eden story, and why more than half the American population says they fear snakes more than public speaking. Snakes are not cuddly, lovable, or affectionate. A snake is a coiled muscle specifically designed to strangle things to death, and it does not have the capacity for thoughts like, "This guy feeds me, maybe I should not kill him."

When 31-year-old Dan Brandon's mother found him dead in his bedroom, she had no idea what had killed him, although the fact that he kept 10 snakes and 12 tarantulas was kind of suspicious. According to The Guardian, the coroner said Brandon's lungs showed evidence of asphyxiation. The killer: an 8-foot rock python named "Tiny." (Yep!)

Brandon's mother told investigators Tiny was sometimes aggressive but insisted the snake actually "loved" Brandon. Now, given that snakes don't really show any evidence of loving their own kind, much less a member of another species, that's an odd statement — but then the coroner went so far as to say he thought Tiny was "coiling around [Brandon] in an affectionate way." Okay, maybe it's sort of nice to imagine that Tiny killed the man who cared for her out of an excess of love and affection, but come on. Snakes have affection for digesting rodents and sitting on warm things, and that's pretty much where the line is drawn, right?

Bambi grows up

So we've established that snakes make terrible pets, but at least they're still mostly accepted as animals people can keep in their homes legally without too many questions about things like owner safety or sanity. But people who keep wild animals are a different kind of crazy — sure, there's such a thing as responsible exotic animal ownership, but even responsible exotic animal owners can get complacent and forget that the once lovable little thing they raised from a tiny baby is now a 550-pound sociopath with antlers.

According to Texas' Marshall News Messenger, 67-year-old Gerald Rushton was feeding his pet European red stag in 2010 when it pinned him to the fence, gored him, and then trampled him to death. The officers who responded to the 911 call had to shoot the deer before they could get to Rushton, but by then it was too late.

Rushton had owned the stag since it was a fawn, when it was no doubt fuzzy and cute and presumably had a rabbit pal named Thumper, which in retrospect would have made a much better pet than a quarter-ton stag, but who's judging? "Any animal that can bite you or gore you … they are dangerous," game warden Chris Green told reporters. Which sort of excludes all pets, actually, but maybe ones that can gore you in particular should be removed from your bucket list of pet ownership.

Beneath Fiona's adorable exterior is a psychopathic killer

If you use any form or social media whatsoever and have not been living under a pile of ore in a Minecraft village, you've seen videos of Fiona the baby hippo, the adorable, frolicking bundle of hairless joy that will one day bite the head and shoulders off someone caring for her. Because that's what hippos do. Because they're freaking killers, okay?

According to International Business Times, Marius Els kept a pet hippo on his farm in South Africa. "Humphrey" was a baby when Els adopted him and was said to eat apples from his caretaker's hand. "I can ride him like a horse," Els said in a video he produced to honor his gigantic, homicidal pet.

Els' first clue about Humphrey's dangerous nature should have been the cows the hippo attacked and killed on one occasion, and if that wasn't enough it should have been the canoeists Humphrey attacked and drove into a tree on another occasion, but Els continued to insist that his pet was lovable and "gentle" right up until the day his body was found. The 2,600-pound animal "savaged" his owner and left him in the river where, ironically, Humphrey himself had been rescued as an orphan after a flood. So, the next time you are ooh-ing and ahh-ing at adorable Fiona videos, just remember you're watching a serial killer in training. Beware.

The teddy bear is a horrible lie

Like hippos, snakes, and European red stags, bears are not cuddly. You might have once had a teddy bear that said otherwise, but make no mistake, your teddy bear was nothing but a horrible lie. Teddy bears should come with claws, teeth, and a nasty disposition, just so children don't get lulled into a false sense of security about how dangerous real bears are.

In the fall of 2009, Kelly Ann Walz was cleaning out her pet bear's cage when it decided it wasn't satisfied with the shovelful of dog food she'd just pitched into the corner as a distraction. In front of her children and a neighbor, the bear attacked and savaged her to death. 

According to the LA Times, the bear was just one of a menagerie that also included a lion, a cougar, a leopard, and a jaguar. Owners of exotic animals typically keep dangerous predators in double-sided cages, so they can isolate the animal in one side while they clean out the other. For reasons that may never be clear, Walz didn't feel the extra precaution was necessary. But since the family declined to comment on Walz's death, we're never really going to know what compelled her to think a shovelful of kibble was enough to protect her from the teeth and claws of Freddy Freaking Fazbear.

Who needs a puppy when you can have a black mamba?

Okay, so corn snakes, yes. Pythons, eh, as long as they're not overly affectionate, yes. Tarantulas, that's totally weird but whatever. Black mambas? No, no, no, no.

If you're not familiar with the black mamba, here's a refresher: The black mamba is one of the deadliest snakes in the world. It's also one of the fastest snakes in the world. And looking into its mouth is like staring into a black vortex of death from which even light cannot escape, so there's that.

But they make awesome pets. Just kidding! They do not make awesome pets. They make terrible pets. You know that doesn't stop some people from keeping them as pets.

According to CBS New York, Aleta Stacy and her boyfriend kept 75 exotic snakes in their home, and one day Stacy was found dead in her bedroom with black mamba bites all over her arm. Now there were some fishy details to this story, including the strange fact that she did not call 911 despite knowing that a black mamba bite typically kills within 20 minutes. This led lots of tabloids to speculate that Stacy's death had been a Cleopatra-style suicide, which like all tabloid theories doesn't have much evidence to support it. But whether a simple, if ill-advised, exotic pet or a bizarre suicide method, the question remains: Why on Earth are people allowed to keep black mambas as pets? Jeez.

The Legendary Black Beast of Meow

Dogs are descended from wolves, which explains why they sometimes go rogue. But cats — cats are descended from, um, cats. So it's not like the cat's ancestors ever hunted us for food or anything. In fact it's a safe bet that sitting on keyboards, attacking feet, and sticking butts in our faces are pretty much the worst human-directed offenses they've ever really been able to dream up.

So when you hear about someone getting killed by a cat, you might be forgiven for thinking of felines flying through the air like that rabbit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. The real story is only slightly less terrifying. 

We could call this guy "Unfortunate Man Who Appeared in the World Journal of Clinical Cases," but that's kind of awkward so let's just call him "Unfortunate Man." Sixty-eight-year-old Unfortunate Man was bitten by his pet cat, which is something pet cats do when they're annoyed, like if you disapprove of them sticking their butts in your face. Six weeks later he died because of a common bacteria called Pasteurella, which caused an aortic aneurysm that ruptured and led to severe sepsis.

This type of cat-bite complication is more likely to occur in people who aren't very healthy to begin with. (Unfortunate Man was a heavy drinker.) Still, there's no way of knowing if cats will one day develop the ability to inject Pasteurella at will, like black mamba venom. Because if they could, you know they would.

Seriously, just get a ladder

If you're the owner of a fruit tree of any kind, or if you just like to steal fruit from your neighbors, you've experienced the frustration of not being able to get at the choice peaches, cherries, or coconuts growing at the very top of the tree. If it's a coconut tree, pretty much every coconut is out of reach, so you get the idea. And if you've ever pondered having a monkey to go pick that fruit for you, you were probably pleased with your brilliant idea. But there are some problems with that plan.

First, monkeys are jerks that like to throw poop when they're upset. But if you can get past the whole poop-covered-monkey-paws thing then, sure, maybe you could get one to pick fruit for you. Just stick with peaches and cherries because they're less likely to turn into lethal projectiles when your monkey gets mad at you and doesn't have any spare poop on hand to throw.

According to the Orlando Sentinel, 76-year-old Malaysian Mat Hussin Sulaiman was waiting patiently beneath a coconut tree when his trained monkey lobbed a coconut hard enough to break his neck. And that's the end of that story.

Snowball's revenge

Most of the time when humans die at the hands (or paws or fangs or hooves) of their pets, people react with shock and horror. But sometimes people are all, "That dude totally deserved it," which is what they say mostly when they have no freaking idea and just want to be righteous.

Anyway, there was this whole "justice for Snowball" thing that happened after 77-year-old Carl Hulsey got butted to death by a 100-pound, curly-horned buck goat named Snowball in 1991. According to the Chicago Tribune, some reports say Hulsey was training Snowball to be a "watch goat," and evidently the training involved beating the poor thing with a stick in order to make it as "ornery" as possible.

Snowball's final stand actually ruptured Hulsey's stomach, killing him. Then when the county decided Snowball was dangerous and needed to be put down, outrage ensued. One caller even told officials that "What happens to the goat happens to you," without any sense of irony whatsoever. Snowball got a stay of execution and went to live at an animal shelter, where he promptly became not-a-buck-anymore, courtesy of a veterinarian. Sources did not say if any county animal control officers also ended up neutered and living at an animal shelter, though it wouldn't be surprising if they slept with their legs crossed for a while after the whole Snowball affair finally blew over.

Eat Wilbur before he eats you

That scene in Hannibal, you know, the one with the pigs? That was total fiction. Pigs (usually) don't eat people.

According to MPR News, in 2012 69-year-old Terry Vance Garner went off to feed his hogs and never came back. When his family went looking for him, they found a few "pieces of his body" and his dentures in the hog pen. Because some pigs apparently have a taste for human flesh but are discerning enough to avoid eating fake teeth.

No one knows if Garner just tripped and fell into the hog pen or if he had a heart attack and then fell into the hog pen, but you have to hope it was the latter because if he actually died before he got eaten then that does make this story just a touch less horrible.

MPR News said the local pathologist was "unable to identify a cause or manner of death," which is really rather unsurprising when you consider that dentures don't generally reveal much about a person's biology, but bless them for trying. Now go have yourself some pork chops and try not to think too much about what actually happens between farm and table.

There's a reason we say rats are vermin

Parents spend countless sleepless nights worrying about car accidents, stranger abduction, childhood cancer, drowning, and all those other common (and sometimes less common) things that might take a child's life. Almost no one thinks their child will be killed by his pet rat.

According to CBS News, 10-year-old Aidan Pankey developed severe stomach pains two weeks after adopting a rat from Petco. There was no evidence he'd been bitten by the animal, but he developed a severe streptobacillus moniliformis infection (also called "rat bite fever") and died the day after he was admitted to the hospital. The rat was later found to be a carrier.

Aidan's parents unsuccessfully sued Petco, which argued it couldn't prevent rat bite fever in the rats it sold and said it warns consumers about the potential risks. It also asks customers to sign release of liability forms at check out, absolving the company of responsibility in the event of "illness, injury, or damage," which frankly does seem to downplay the whole "death is possible" aspect of rat ownership. Nevertheless, the jury sided with Petco and the family got nothing to soften the blow of losing a child to a five-dollar pet rat. So here's a tip, people: Rats are vermin. Don't keep them as pets.

Qualified love

Once vilified and hunted nearly to extinction, today wolves are making a comeback both in the wild and in the imaginations of human beings, where they're sometimes romanticized as symbols of the wild west. Some people love the idea of wolves so much they keep them as pets, which you probably will not be surprised to hear is generally a mistake.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 50-year-old Sandra L. Piovesan kept nine wolf-dog hybrids in a cage in her backyard, and once commented to a neighbor that "they give me unqualified love." Unfortunately their unqualified love had some unknown qualifiers, and she was found dead in their cage in July 2006.

It's unclear what provoked the attack, but wolf-dog hybrids are notoriously unpredictable, and a 50-year-old woman is generally not a match for a pack of nine anything, particularly nine unpredictable half-wild animals. The animals mauled her and she likely bled to death, thus proving that symbols of the wild west should remain wild in the west, and probably not be bred to domestic dogs.

So to sum up, here's an open plea to the pet owners of the world. Dear pet owners of the world: A pet is something you can pet. If it has venom, huge teeth, or is capable of 25 pounds per square inch of constricting pressure, if it weighs more than 500 pounds and has antlers, or is a hybrid or a hippo, it is not a pet. You have been warned.