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The Odd Truth, Aug. 28, 2002

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.

Painting The Town Tomato

BUNOL, Spain - The world's biggest food fight painted the Spanish town of Bunol red on Wednesday as 35,000 revelers pelted each other with 120 tons of ripe plum tomatoes in the annual "Tomatina" festival.

In an hour-long frenzy, the small town's central street was transformed into a blur of flying fruit as Spaniards and visitors from around the globe hurled tomatoes and cavorted in the shin-deep pools of puree which give the "Tomatina" its name.

"This is probably the craziest place on earth right now," gasped Paul Vandergraaf, a 21-year-old American student from St. Louis, Missouri, as ketchup dripped from his dreadlocks. "I promised myself I would come here once. It's been amazing!"

On the stroke of noon, a rocket gives the signal for a procession of six dump trucks each bearing 20 tons of tomatoes to inch through the adrenaline- and alcohol-fueled crowds.

The trucks tip huge piles of tomatoes -- and a few hapless passengers -- from their backs, and waves of cheering partygoers drive into the piles of fruit, flinging them in every direction.

When no whole tomatoes remain, revelers scoop up handfuls of juice, pips and skin to hurl.

Locals say the Tomatina, which caps a week-long festival in the eastern Spanish town some 230 miles from Madrid, began as a spontaneous food fight between a group of young locals having lunch in the tiny "People's Square" in 1945. (Reuters)

The $5 Million Feline

TORONTO - A couple who say Air Canada lost their cat on a flight from Toronto to San Francisco is seeking $5 million in compensation in the largest-ever lawsuit filed over a pet, the Toronto Star reported Wednesday.

The newspaper said Andrew Wysotski and Lori Learmont, former residents of Oshawa, Ontario, are suing Air Canada and Continental Airlines, which handled baggage for the flight in San Francisco, as well as 10 workers who were on duty when the animal, a 15-year-old tabby named Fu, went missing.

"What most people don't know is that if they (an airline) lose or kill your pet in transit, their liability is generally limited to $14 per pound, the same as if your pet was a mere suitcase," Wysotski a self employed artist, told the paper.

Fu was one of five cats traveling with the couple. They said a second crate was badly damaged and litter was scattered in the third crate, which had two cats inside. The fifth cat rode with the couple in the passenger cabin. (Reuters)

Ailing Pet Shop Offers Rental Dogs

HONG KONG - In another sign Hong Kong's economy may be going to the dogs, a local pet shop is renting out pooches by the week in a bid to bring in more business.

Shop owner Danny Tam said his strategy of "rent first, buy later" could also cut down on the growing number of dogs being abandoned because their owners have grown tired of them.

"This allows consumers to decide if they really want to keep pets and it also helps generate business," Tam told Reuters in a telephone interview Wednesday, shouting over the noise of yelping dogs in the background.

Tam said his business has grown five fold since he launched the new marketing strategy in early summer and fewer than 10 percent of his dogs have been returned.

Rental charges vary from $90 to $180 a week, depending on the breed. But customers have to pay a deposit equal to the full value of the animal. (Reuters)

Whiskey Bottlers Demand More Bathroom Breaks

CLERMONT, Kentucky - Employees at the Jim Beam bourbon distillery are sour over restrictions on bathroom breaks.

Workers on the bottling line are incensed that they're limited to four breaks for an eight-and-a-half-hour shift -- and only one of those can be unscheduled. Extra trips to the bathroom can result in reprimands. And workers with six violations can be fired.

The United Food and Commercial Workers Union says some of the 100 employees have urinated on themselves because they're afraid to leave the line. Some wear protective undergarments. Others feign illness to go home to avoid demerits.

The state has slapped the distiller with a citation. Jim Beam appealed, and a hearing officer is expected to decide whether to sustain or overrule the citation. The commission's decision can be appealed in court.

Jim Beam says its policy strikes a balance between employee needs and the company's productivity needs. (AP)

Big Top PETA

WASHINGTON - A weeping circus elephant will join a "Party Animals" public street art exhibition in the U.S. capital after a judge ordered organizers to honor the free speech rights of the sculpture's animal rights sponsors.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and Washington's Commission on the Arts and Humanities clashed over the anti-circus message of PETA's pachyderm, decked out in performance finery with a tear rolling down its cheek.

In a play on the age-old circus announcement, the blanket on its back reads, "The Circus Is Coming, See SHACKLES, BULLHOOKS, LONELINESS, All Under The 'Big Top'."

PETA, which alleges that circuses routinely mistreat and abuse the elephants and other animals in their care, plans to attach a shackle to the creature's leg to underscore its message once it is installed in a prominent location. (Reuters)

Golfing Restrictions Tee-Off Inmates

CARSON CITY, Nev. — When some Nevada prison inmates who wanted to work on their golf game started to build a driving range, the state prison director got a bit teed off.

Now it's a baseball field.

Prisons Director Jackie Crawford said convicts at the prison system's 100-inmate Tonopah Conservation Camp got the idea for their own driving range after volunteering time to build one for the city of Tonopah.

"Our inmates made a beautiful driving range for the city," Crawford said when asked Friday about the convicts' activity. "Then they said, 'Why not make our own?"'

Crawford quickly stopped such talk.

"I can assure you that there are no golf courses at our prisons," Crawford added. "Not under this director."

Softball's another matter, she said, adding, "That's something all the prisons should have. It helps expend energy." (AP)

Crocodile Crush

BANKOK, Thailand - Could this be the start of a new weird pet craze in Thailand?

The country has recently been in the news for the giant pet cockroach fad and now a crocodile is making news.

One man admits to sleeping with his pet crocodile as a source of comfort and companionship.

The croc-fancier says he caught the 88-pound, three-foot-long crocodile on a fishing trip a few years ago and one thing led to another.

He says his pet, named Kheng, would follow him and scratch the mosquito net over his mattress as though "begging to join me." He says eventually he gave in and they've been bunk-mates ever since.

He says the reptile's an ideal pet and not as scary as people think. (AP)