If you're reading this, then you're probably aware: Dogs rule. This year, a handful of canines rose above the rest, making headlines for their actions — whether facing imminent danger to save lives, enduring unimaginable physical hardships, or simply making us laugh. A look at nine of the year's most newsworthy pups:
1. Chicago's comfort dogs
After the unimaginable events that befell Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14 that left 27 people, including 20 children, dead at the hands of suspected gunman Adam Lanza, a team of golden retrievers was deployed from Chicago to the picturesque town. About 10 specially trained dogs, including Chewie, Ruthie, and Luther, made the 800-mile journey to sit with children and adults during masses and funerals. "Dogs are nonjudgmental. They are loving. They are accepting of anyone," says one handler. "It creates the atmosphere for people to share." The Chicago comfort dogs are notable not only for this caring venture but also for helping those who suffered through Hurricane Sandy and the tornado that hit Joplin, Mo., in 2011.
2. The puppies that kept a lost boy warm
This year, dogs made headlines for offering emotional support and also physical aid, in particular to a young boy who got lost in the woods. Kyle Camp, a 10-year-old with Down Syndrome, went missing on Oct. 16. After his parents searched for him for two hours to no avail, they called the police. A determined team of about 150 volunteers and police officers searched the forested area around the Camps' house all night long. A state trooper helicopter even scanned the area from above. The next morning, 18 hours after the boy went missing, two searchers followed the Camp family dog, which had caught a scent, along a creek in thick brush. A half mile from his home, the dog located Kyle huddled with four of his family's puppies. Kyle was wet and without shoes, but he was safe, and officials say they believe the four puppies kept him warm through the cold, fall night.
3. The hero dog that lost its snout saving two girls
One dog's heroism so disfigured her sweet little face that her photo is often preceded by a warning. This canine's story started with a motorcycle careening through the streets of Zamboanga City, Philippines, earlier this year. Young cousins Dina Bunggal, 11, and Princess Diansing, 3, stepped unknowingly into its path. A mutt named Kabang came out of nowhere and jumped in front of the motorbike, stopping it in its tracks, and saving the little girls from serious injury. The driver and the girls emerged with superficial wounds, but Kabang wasn't so lucky. Her head landed on the motorcycle's front wheel and as the wheel rolled forward, Kabang's upper snout was ripped right off. Her story quickly went viral and when local doctors could do no more to help her, specialty surgeons from the University of California, Davis, flew Kabang to their facilities, where she'll endure six to eight weeks of treatment to repair her face. The cost of her surgeries, which could top $20,000, will be covered by her many supporters who have started an online fundraising campaign.
4. The dog who waited patiently while his kid owner played
Sometimes it's the little things that dogs do that make us appreciate them all the more. A video from England that made the rounds earlier this year perfectly illustrated the unwavering loyalty that makes so many people love dogs. In it, little Arthur is out for a stroll with his best friend, Watson the dog. The toddler notices a tempting puddle, so he places the leash on the ground and plunges right into the mud. And Watson? The mature, 12-year-old pup just waits patiently where Arthur left him, while his little owner has his fun. Loyal and adorable: Watson hit it out of the park.
5. The dog stranded and rescued at 14,000 feet
In August, a couple hiking in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado stumbled across a German Shepherd whimpering and tucked into rocks along a trail near the top of Mount Bierstadt. Unable to move the injured pup on their own, the couple patched the dog up and left it with provisions before returning to ground level, where they created a Facebook page and went on web chat rooms to ask for help. Soon enough a group of volunteers returned to the mountain. When one set couldn't locate her, another tried again the next day. Amid a snow storm at the top of the mountain they found the shivering and battered dog. Nine hours after setting off on their mission, the rescuers delivered the abandoned pup safely to the vet. The volunteers said after all she'd been through, the dog was surely "the miracle dog of the century."
6. The dog at the heart of a $60,000 custody battle
Knuckles, a half-beagle, half-pug, New York dog was so beloved by his owners that he became the very expensive focus of their heated custody battle. After Craig Dershowitz and Sarah Brega ended their four-year relationship, Brega took Knuckles, or "Knux" as he is affectionately known, with her to California. By May, Dershowitz, desperate to get his "son" back, took drastic legal action. He hired two private investigators and took to the internet to solicit funds to help with legal fees. Dershowitz said he co-raised the dog, paid for its medical bills, and had rightful ownership. But Brega, who quickly lawyered up, claims her ex "unconditionally gifted" the dog to her. What has ensued is a cross-country legal fight that has already cost Dershowitz $60,000.
7. The stray dog that finished a 1,100-mile race across China
During an arduous 1,100-mile, 24-day biking race across mountainous China, a diminutive stray dog latched onto the group of athletes after they offered her a chicken leg. But after three days of loyally running alongside the speeding cyclists, the mutt, who they called Xiao Sa, or Little Sa, was accepted as an official part of the team. "I think we have definitely moved beyond food," said one cyclist remarking on the dog's curious motivation. While the small white-and-tan dog did most of the running, at times, when the athletes had to trek back down the mountains, at speeds that would surely leave their new little friend in the dust, she was hoisted up into a makeshift box on the back of a bike. The dog's persistence became the group's motivation as they tried to complete the task themselves. "She injected power unto us," said one cyclist. Upon finishing, Xiao Sa was taken to a vet and declared healthy. She was later adopted by one of the cyclists, which, really, is the least the humans could do.
8. The dog that saved its own life by calling the police
We've often heard the tale of the puppy that proves its "man's best friend" status by saving its owner's life. But this year, there was George, a 2-year-old basset hound in West Yorkshire, England, who reworked the well-worn script a bit, literally calling for help to save himself. Home alone, George had knocked the phone to the floor and was strangling himself with the handset's cord when he apparently dialed 999 — England's 911 equivalent — in a panic. The operator heard only frantic gasps and, assuming someone was desperately sick or reeling from an attack, sent police to the house. The dog was found and rescued from the cord. "Incredibly, you could see where his paw print was on the phone," said the neighbor, "he literally saved his own life."