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Roboteers This short story is one of the adventures of the Roboteers. You can read more of their adventures on this very website.

Some of our cases are quite tricky to solve, some are quite simple but most of them end up having quite a simple answer. The problem is that people often miss that answer because the evidence doesn’t fit their assumptions. They follow how they think or imagine it must have happened and try to prove that, rather than investigate what’s in front of them.

Photo of a small, brown dog

Photo by Humane Society of the United States on Flickr. Cc:By-SA

If you look at a problem with an answer in mind you will often try to fit the evidence to that and if that isn’t the answer it becomes a mystery as to how it happened. If you look at the evidence without trying to fit it to a particular solution you often find the actual answer becomes quite obvious.

A good example of this is the case about the dog that didn’t chew.

The dog that didn’t chew

We were approached at school one day by a girl in year 7. She seemed quite upset about something and at first we thought she just wanted help with a bully or something (we get a lot of that). Her name was Isabella.

“Are you OK Isabella?” I asked as she approached.

“Not really.” she sniffed. “It’s my dog.”

“Has it gone missing?” Martin asked eagerly, thinking this would be a missing pet case – he liked those.

“No, no. He’s at home.” Isabella replied through a snotty nose.

“Oh, OK.” Martin said dejectedly, “So how can we help you then?”

“I don’t know if you can.” she replied. “But I’m desperate.”

“Wow thanks!” muttered Martin, “Nice to know you think we’re that good!”

“Martin, hush!” I hissed and then to Isabella, “Why don’t you tell us what the problem is.”

Isabella explained that she had been nagging her parents for a dog since they moved into their house, three years ago. They were in a flat before and the landlord didn’t let them have dogs. Anyway a month ago, her parents gave into her constant nagging and bought her a dog. They got it from a rescue centre at the other end of town.

“Chocolate is gorgeous,” Isabella said, “He’s two years old and he came here when his owner moved to another part of the country but their new house was too small.”

“What type of dog is he?” Tim asked.

“I don’t know.” Isabella said with a shrug. “I think he’s a mixture of a lot of different breeds. He’s called Chocolate because of the colour of his fur.” With this she whipped out her ‘phone and showed us endless photos of the dog. He was lovely but I’m not sure we needed to see all the photos. Clearly Isabella loved him.

“So is he a good dog then?” I asked.

“Oh he’s brilliant. Wouldn’t hurt a fly.” she replied excitedly. Then her face dropped as she said “At least I think so.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“My Dad says he’s naughty and that we…” at this she started bawling and we couldn’t understand what she was saying. We calmed her down and eventually we got her to speak without crying. It seemed her Dad had laid down strict rules that they could only get a dog if Isabella helped looked after it and if it was well behaved. Everything seemed to be going fine until two weeks ago when Chocolate started barking at all hours of the day. No matter what they tried he wouldn’t stop and he only barked when they weren’t in the room.

“It was like he was being good while we there but as soon as our backs were turned, he would start barking again.” Isabella said. “Then one morning we found the legs of Dad’s armchair had been chewed. Dad was furious and he put Chocolate outside overnight as a punishment. Two days later, Chocolate had been back in the house again and another chair got chewed. Then we found one of the bookcases chewed. Eventually Dad said that if Chocolate didn’t stop chewing things he’d have to go back to the rescue centre!” at this she started crying again but to be fair, I could see why.

“So I guess you don’t think Chocolate is chewing things?” Tim asked.

Isabella shook her head. “But Dad does and Mum has said that it must be Chocolate so unless he stops we’ll have to send him back. She says that if we don’t our furniture will all be ruined. Yesterday the bottom of our curtains got scratched as well.”

“So what do you want us to do?”  I asked.

Isabella threw her arms around me “Oh thank you!” she exclaimed. “I knew you’d help me!”

“Wait, wait” I said pushing her off. “I didn’t say we would or even if we could. I just want to know why you are telling us. What do you think we can do?”

“Oh sorry.” she said. “I just want you to find out why Chocolate is doing this.”

“But won’t that prove he’s doing it and then you’ll have to get rid of him anyway?” Tim asked. I glared at him in case it upset Isabella again but I knew he was right.

“I’ve been reading up on this.” Isabella replied,”Dogs tend to chew furniture because they are stressed or upset about something. If we can figure out what that is then maybe we can help him stop doing it and then I can keep him.”

“Have you suggested this to your parents?” Martin asked.

She nodded again. “Yes, but Dad says he doesn’t want to waste time but if I can find out why then I think I can persuade Dad to let me get Chocolate some help.”

“OK so how do you think we can find out why he’s chewing stuff?” Tim asked. “We don’t know anything about pet behaviour.”

Isabella stood solemnly and shrugged. “I was hoping you’d have an idea of how you could do it.”

Giving it some thought, I asked “Will your parents let you install a webcam in the house? Whatever we do we need to see if there are any patterns to when Chocolate chews and barks. If it happens when you are all out of the room it has to be something none of you can see.”

“I don’t think they will.” Isabella sniffed. “Dad says he’s taking Chocolate back at the weekend. That only gives us three days.”

“Unless the chewing and barking stops.” I said and Isabella nodded. “Ok can we see your house then?”

“I think it would be a bit strange for me to suddenly invite all of you round.” Isabella replied. “They’ve never seen any of you before. I could probably get away with you, Priya, because we’re both in the choir.” Tim and Martin looked at me. I hadn’t told them I had recently joined the choir and they had been wondering why I was so busy lately. Isabella continued “I could say you are coming round to practice.”

“OK, how about tonight?” I asked. “Give me your address and I’ll come round later.”

“Couldn’t you come round straight after school?” she said.

“I need to tell my mum where I’ll be and I want to pick something up first.” I said.

“Oh OK.” she said glumly.

“Don’t worry, we’ll sort this out.” I said, smiling and then we went off to our fifth period classes.


After school

After school I went home, got changed and then popped round Tim’s to collect my secret weapon: Sugar the Robot. Tim wasn’t too happy about me taking Sugar but once Sugar found out about the case he said it was the only solution. So I took Sugar in a sports bag to Isabella’s house.

We had to fake some singing practice. That was quite easy as Isabella had been in the choir longer than me and so I said she was helping me to learn the part I had to sing as she knew it better.

As far as I could see the room was pretty normal. Chocolate was a very enthusiastic dog and very friendly. He didn’t seem unhappy or stressed at all so I wasn’t sure if Isabella was right. There had to be some other reason he was chewing stuff.

I took some photos while Isabella’s parents were out of the room, made some notes and then made my way home. The sports bag with Sugar in was beside the sofa and I deliberately left it there. Isabella knew it was there but not why, just that it couldn’t be moved. She said would make sure it wasn’t moved and bring it to school tomorrow.


Back at Roboteers HQ, which was a room in Martin’s garden shed, I filled the rest of the team on what I found.

“The dog seems friendly and didn’t go anywhere near the stuff that had been chewed.” I said. “I couldn’t see anything that would make him upset either.”

“But you’re not a dog expert.” Tim said.

“True,” I replied, “but I did the best I could. Here’s some photos of the chewed furniture.” I showed them the photos on my ‘phone. Tim zoomed in on a couple.

“How big is this dog?” he asked. I held out my hand beside me to indicate Chocolate’s height. “So a bit less than average then?” he continued. “These scratch marks look small, so do the teeth marks.”

“Yes I thought that but some of the others are bigger – these two scratches on the sofa are definitely the same size as his claws.”

“So, it might be something else but if it is, that’s likely to have the same size paws as the dog?” Tim said. Then he got a bit serious. “How was Sugar?”

“He’s fine.” I said. “Don’t worry. Also it’s possible that the marks come from different animals. Those bigger ones could be from Chocolate.”

“You told Sugar to keep quiet?” Tim said, ignoring what I said about the marks, “Nobody can know he’s there or that he’s alive.”

“Relax Tim. He’s going to keep quiet and it’s just for one night.”

“I know. It’s just he’s never been away from me. What if the dog chews him?!”

I laughed. “Don’t be silly. If the dog goes near him, Sugar can defend himself!”

The next day at school, Isabella gave me back the bag – much to Tim’s very visible relief.

“I don’t understand why you left a bag of Tim’s P.E. stuff in my house though?” said Isabella.

“There was a secret camera in there too.” I lied. “You didn’t move the bag did you?”

“No.”

“Or look in it?” spluttered Tim.

“No.” Isabella said crossly. “I am eleven you know. I know how to do what I’m asked to do. Especially when it’s important!”

“Sorry,” said Tim, “I was just worried about my football boots.”

“So when will you be able to find out anything?” Isabella said eagerly.

“We’ll look at it tonight.” I said.

“Can I come?”

“Not tonight.” I said, “But we’ll give you any video or photos that we think may help you. Everything else we’ll delete.”

“OK.” she said and then ran off.

“Do you think we’ll find out what she needs?” Martin asked.

“I don’t know,” I said, “let’s hope so, for her and for Chocolate”


The answer is easier than you think

At break the next day Isabella practically sprinted to speak to us.

“Well?” she asked, “Did you find it? Do you know why Chocolate is chewing stuff?”

“Not really,” I said, “But we know why he’s barking.”

“Oh OK.” she said glumly, “That helps but he doesn’t always bark and it was the chewing I was more worried about.”

“Don’t worry, “ I smiled. “We can’t find out why he’s chewing stuff because he’s not doing it.”

“What?” she said.

“Look at this.” Tim said and started playing a video on his ‘phone. It showed the view from the sports bag and showed the corner of the sofa. Suddenly a small head appeared under the sofa and a mouse dropped out from within it. The mouse was followed by another. The second one scampered to the sofa leg and started chewing it, shredding bits of wood which it then carried back into the sofa again.

“It’s was mice!” Isabella shouted. “We have mice!”

“Yes.” I said, “All the chew marks are too small for Chocolate anyway and here,” I showed her a screenshot photo from the video, “you can see the mouse chewing the chair leg.”

“Why didn’t we spot that bit about the size of the marks?!” Isabella cried out.

“It’s probably because you were just jumping to the same conclusion. Chocolate was the last thing to change and so it must be him that was doing it. Even you, who didn’t want to send him back, were still thinking there must be a reason it was him and not that it wasn’t him at all.”

“So what do I do now?” She asked.

“Well you can tell your parents for a start.” Martin said.

“But how do I explain the photos? I’m not sure they’ll be too pleased that I let you put a camera in our house.”

“So don’t show them.” Tim said. Isabella looked at him, blankly. “See in this photo,” he held another screengrab up, ”you can see where the mice enter the room – behind the bookcase.”

“OK I see it..” Isabella said, puzzled.

“Well if you look at the video here you can see that even when you are in the room, Chocolate is staring at that spot. He knows the mice are there but he gets told off when he barks. So he’s doing what he’s told and keeping quiet.”

“Oh he’s very good like that.” she exclaimed.

“Anyway, “ Tim continued, “tell your parents that you saw him doing this and when you looked you saw the scratch marks that go behind the bookcase. Those cannot have been made by Chocolate. Hopefully they’ll investigate and find the mouse hole.”

The bell went and we had to go. Isabella hugged us all one-by-one and ran off.


All’s well that ends well

Two days later Isabella sent me a text saying that she’d showed the bookcase to her Dad and he had pulled it away. Behind it was a mouse hole in the skirting. After that it all fell into place. The larger scratch marks were from Chocolate but it looks like he was trying to get at the mice when he did them.

They blocked up the mousehole but the mice kept getting in. In the end they got pest-control in and they inspected the whole house. They found another way in for the mice and blocked that one too.

So Chocolate was allowed to stay and the Roboteers solved another case. In the end it was a case that was quite simple if you look at the evidence and don’t imagine you know what happened until you have figured it out.

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