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The Best Animal Stories That Kept Us Going Through 2020

It's been a tough year, but our animal friends have brought us joy throughout.
Elena Eliachevitch via Getty Images

Most of us don’t want to reflect too much on the year that’s passed for obvious reasons, but actually, some truly wonderful things happened in 2020 – if you know where to look.

Here’s a month-by-month look at the animal stories that made us laugh, smile or cry (for nice reasons!) this year. They really got us through.

January: tortoise retired after epic sex drive saved his kind from extinction

It might seem like five years ago, but 2020 actually kicked off with a bang (or several, for Diego) who was able to retire and return to the wild at the ripe old age of 100 after saving his species from extinction.

In the 1960s, Diego was recruited along with 14 other giant tortoises for a captive breeding programme on the Galápagos Islands. At the time, this was almost the entirety of the endangered chelonoidis hoodensis subspecies of tortoise.

The programme has been such an unmitigated success that the population has swelled to more than 2,000, and Diego’s sex drive has been credited with the surge. According to some estimates, Diego fathered 800 children. Here’s to a happy retirement.

Diego the tortoise
RODRIGO BUENDIA via Getty Images
Diego the tortoise

February: puppy with a cheesy grin finds his forever home

A black Labrador puppy who went viral on Facebook for his sweet smile was re-homed in February thanks to his unique features.

Burreaux, the black Labrador pup, and his two siblings, Joe and O, were picked up by a Humane Society volunteer after the organisation’s director spotted the pups at a kill shelter. Initially, visitors to the shelter weren’t showing much interest in Burreaux, but that all changed when he started showing off his fabulous smile. He was re-homed by a local family not long after.

Elliot Mason, a dog behaviourist with Dog Behaviour Solutions, told HuffPost US Burreaux’s smile is likely what’s known as a “submissive grin,” which dogs sometimes do to show they’re not a threat.

March: gang of goats take over Wales in lockdown

March was full of surprises, but perhaps the most hilarious was seeing footage of goats taking over a town in Wales.

The wild herd of Kashmiri goats lived on the Great Orme headland, but moved into the town of Llandudno during the coronavirus lockdown, eating people’s hedges and running around the deserted streets like a bunch of unruly teenagers.

April: Olive and Mabel become internet sensations

2020 might’ve brought us coronavirus, but it also brought us Olive and Mabel – and for that we’ll be eternally grateful.

If you haven’t heard of them, the two dogs belong to sports broadcaster Andrew Cotter who has been keeping the internet highly amused throughout the pandemic with sports commentary of his dogs’ daily movements.

The pair are now so famous they’ve got a book out – what a difference a year makes!

May: singing husky wows us with his warbling

Three-year-old husky Kovu won himself global praise earlier in the year after he was filmed howling along to an acoustic version of Bill Withers’ 1972 hit, Lean on Me, sung and strummed by his owner Tate Hegstrom.

The pair have done several renditions together since then, including I’m Yours by Jason Mraz and Breakaway by Kelly Clarkson – they deserve a medal for providing the perfect distraction from the pandemic.

June: world hears the sound of a baby squirrel eating

Who knew this was the antidote to the doom and gloom the first half of this year brought? Hearts melted everywhere when people heard this footage of a seven-week-old red squirrel having a munch (and a subsequent squeak).

The video was captured by Dani Connor, a zoologist and wildlife photographer from London, who lives in North Sweden. According to Bored Panda, Connor has semi-adopted four baby red squirrels whose mum was hit by a car. The photographer visits them in the wild each day, giving them food and water, while also capturing them growing up.

July: Cathedral cat steals Dean of Canterbury’s milk during online prayer service

Throughout the pandemic, the cats of Canterbury Cathedral have kept us highly amused – but perhaps one of the greatest moments was when Tiger the cat proceeded to steal milk from the Dean of Canterbury’s tea service while he was delivering an online prayer.

A video shows the mischievous moggy sauntering up to the Dean and sitting on a chair nearby. Moments later he’s sat on the garden table, sticking his paw in a jug of milk and licking the residue off his furry fists.

August: cheeky cat finds internet fame after begging at Toby Carvery

From one cheeky cat to another. Cole Clark’s long-haired moggy, Tula, became a viral sensation in August when her owner shared a note from Toby Carvery that had been attached to her beloved (albeit, very greedy) pet.

The 11-year-old cat arrived home one weekend with a paper collar attached. “She’d come into the lounge and I could see something on her neck,” Clark, a primary school teacher, told HuffPost UK at the time. The paper collar read: “Does this cat have a home?”. On the back it said: “Always at Toby Carvery.”

The 41-year-old said she couldn’t stop laughing when she found the note. She later went down to the restaurant to let them know Tula wasn’t homeless and they told her how she spent hours each day meowing at staff and customers for food until they shared some with her. Oh Tula.

September: landmine rat awarded prestigious (and super tiny) medal

Magawa the five-year-old African giant pouched rat was awarded a medal for his life-saving efforts in September. Why? Well, the heroic rodent has been sniffing out landmines in Cambodia. He’s quite a Big Deal.

Rats are specifically suited to landmine detection because of their keen sense of smell and the fact they're light enough to step over the mines without setting them off.

Magawa received a PDSA Gold Medal, which is typically given to dogs and sometimes other animals for “outstanding acts of devotion or valour” in civilian life. So far, he’s the only rat to have been given the award.

Magawa the hero rat
APOPO / PDSA
Magawa the hero rat

October: black cat reunited with owner after eight years missing

In October, we brought you the wonderful story of Mo the cat, who was reunited with his family eight years after he first went missing. Mo stayed in a cattery on the outskirts of Swansea eight years ago, while his owners went on holiday. They were devastated to find he’d gone missing when they got back.

“We were utterly shocked and heartbroken when we found out that the cattery had lost Mo, our little black cat,” Izzy Harris, who was a teenager when her beloved moggy went missing, told HuffPost UK.

Izzy reunited with her cat Mo
Izzy Harris
Izzy reunited with her cat Mo

Harris and her parents searched for months for their little pet – printing flyers and posters, knocking on doors and putting adverts in the newspaper hoping to find him. But they had no luck.

Turns out, Mo had moved in with an elderly lady who lived near to the cattery. On October 21, the Harris family received a call from a volunteer at the Llys Nini RSPCA branch, from where they’d adopted Mo when he was a kitten.

“They said they had found a cat matching Mo’s microchip, and that he’d been living with an old lady near where he got lost,” said Harris, 23. “Unfortunately, the lady had passed away and the RSPCA had come to collect her cat, when they matched him with his original home – us!”

November: a shelter dog heads for the White House

After a dog-free hiatus under President Donald Trump, the White House is set to hear the patter of paws once more – and the public is pretty chuffed about it.

When Joe Biden won the 2020 US presidential election, animal lovers were thrilled to find out his two German shepherds: Champ, purchased from a breeder in 2008, and Major, adopted from an animal shelter, would be heading to the White House too. We love a happy ending.

December: pygmy possums found alive and well one year after bushfires

After bushfires killed or displaced more than 3 billion animals in Australia, it was feared the native pygmy possum had become extinct.

But December brought good news at last when one of the tiny marsupials, which lives on Kangaroo Island off the coast of South Australia, was rediscovered by conversationists in an “unburnt patch” of land.

Fauna ecologist Pat Hodgens told ABC the find is welcome news after a tough year. We’re not crying, you’re crying.

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