Though the Chinese calendar designated 2009 as the year of the ox, the animal that most dominated the Amercan news media in the past 12 months was definitely the dog. From the Obamas' search for a White House–worthy pooch to California's abandoned-chihuahua crisis, here are dog stories that captivated our attention.
Mickey Rourke's chihuahua shot to fame after Rourke made an acceptance speech at the Golden Globes in January, thanking Loki for helping him return to the limelight and win the Best Actor award for "The Wrestler." The actor, who'd experienced years of failure, said, "Sometimes, when a man's alone, all he's got is his dog." Tragically, Loki passed away just weeks after Rourke's win.
This guard dog made January headlines after his owner was denied access to the New York subway. Estelle Stamm, 65, filed a $10 million lawsuit against the city, claiming the 120-pound mutt was a "service animal" because Stamm suffers panic attacks when not accompanied by Wargas. It was later revealed, however, that Stamm had written fondly of a previous dog's "tremendous killing power."
Stump the Sussex spaniel, age 10, was quite literally the underdog this February when — returning from a retirement forced by a mystery illness a few years ago — he unexpectedly won the Westminster Dog Show, the eldest dog ever to do so. Now, what was that saying about old dogs?
After Obama floated the idea of buying his daughters a hypoallergenic puppy, the media debate began: What are a president's obligations when choosing a canine? Rescue dog or not? Purebred or mutt? Obama pledged to choose a shelter dog, but, in the end, Sen. Edward Kennedy presented the dog in question as a gift in April. And so, controversially, the world was introduced to Bo, a Portuguese water dog.
The mine-sniffing mutts of Afghanistan
It was revealed this year that more than 150 dogs are now deployed in war-torn Afghanistan as sniffer dogs for landmines. The German shepherds, trained by Afghan soldiers, have helped clear 60 percent of the country's landmines since a dog-training program was set up in 1989. Although the work sounds hazardous, only five dogs have lost their lives in 20 years of operations.
In August, owner Cathy James rushed this Australian cattle dog to the vet after noting that Polly was apparently stuck to the door of her fridge. Animal surgeons removed 1,000 magnets from the dog's stomach, prompting James to admit that Polly had always been a "curious eater."
Jenny and Mandy
In August, these Canadian canines helped save their elderly neighbour Gert Mombourquette after she began choking on a square of chocolate. Owner Kevin Murphy said his dogs made "unusual barking and whining noises" until he checked on Mombourquette and found her collapsed on her porch.
Not every canine story of 2009 was heart-warming. After Oreo, a pit-bull mix, survived being thrown from a Brooklyn rooftop in 2008, she becsame known as the "miracle dog." But the abuse left Oreo overly aggressive despite months of therapy, and this November, the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals put Oreo to death amid furious debate.
California's crowds of chihuahuas
The chihuahua's status as an accessory in the arms of celebrities like Paris Hilton and in movies like Legally Blonde drove the breed's popularity to new heights in California, but then fantasy met reality — and news broke in December that the state's shelters are being overrun by a tiny army of unwanted pets.
In December, a Jack Russell terrier named Prima Donna was overwhelming voted the winner of a German reality-TV contest (à la "America's Got Talent") for walking on her hind legs, jumping through hoops, and chasing her tail. Can Susan Boyle do that?