There isn’t much a heartwarming animal story can’t fix.
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Many USA TODAY trending stories have focused on the happenings of creatures both rare and extraordinary, connecting readers with animal tales they may have otherwise missed.
Some of the top animal stories of 2023 include the adoption of a massive cat, a golden retriever farm in Vermont and the birth of a giraffe without spots.
You might not remember every single animal-centered story that made you feel things in 2023, but the good news is that we’ve compiled the year’s best in one handy spot.
Here are 12 of the best, fuzziest animal stories of 2023.
January: Ohio dog sets record Guinness World Record
At the age of 23, Spike the chihuahua mix earned the title of world’s oldest living dog from Guinness World Records. The dog, who hails from the small town of Camden, was informally adopted by Rita Kimball in 2010 after she saw him hanging out in a grocery store parking lot.
“He had been shaved up his back, had bloodstains around his neck from a chain or rope, and looked pretty rough,” Kimball said. “The clerk in the grocery told us he had been there for three days, and they were feeding him scraps. … When we left the store and entered the parking lot, he followed.”
Kimball took the tiny pooch home and the rest was history.
She decided to name him Spike because he had a big attitude despite being “small and friendly.”
The record-holder spends his time taking long walks with his owner, enjoying Braunschweiger sausage with cheese for dinner and waiting to take his weekly evening bath.
Spike just celebrated his 24th birthday.
February: Dog famed for living with coyotes in Nevada reunites with family
After living with a pack of coyotes in the Nevada desert for six months, a 4-year-old bull terrier named Hades was reunited with his family just in time for Valentine’s Day.
The Cabada family of Las Vegas fought to prove they were Hades’ rightful owners after a bitter battle ensued between them and the women who rescued him from the wild.
After nine days of reviewing photos, videos, and documentation from the family, a nonprofit shelter caring for the pup determined Hades did belong to the Cabadas after all.
“It was a very emotional reunion,” Kelsey Pizzi, a spokeswoman for the Animal Foundation, told USA TODAY at the time. “As soon as he saw his family, he ran right over to them … He just kept jumping into everyone’s arms.”
The family spent Valentine’s Day celebrating the return of their pup by baking a cake.
“We got him some Valentine’s treats, he’s here, home in his big old fluffy bed,” Christy Cabada said at the time.
March: Husky with lopsided grin finds forever home
One shelter dog’s unique looks made finding a home for him rather difficult. Harvey, a husky with an off-kilter muzzle, spent months in a Southern California waiting to be adopted.
Most of the families that came around to adopt a pet would either ignore Harvey after a glance or say he was ugly. A shelter employee decided to lend Harvey a helping hand by sharing some of the canine’s best attributes on Facebook.
“Harvey is a quiet and mellow husky who gets along with other dogs and loves treats,” according to the post. “He has a facial deformity that doesn’t bother him but gives him a crooked smile. I think it makes him even more endearing.”
It didn’t take long for the shelter to get a bite.
A Seattle woman by the name of Sherry Lankston came across the post, she commented that Harvey’s sweet face had her “swooning.”
“I saw the post and shared a joke with my husband. I’m like, ‘I found our second dog. His little wonky smile melted my little wonky heart,’” Lankston told USA TODAY.
Lankston and her family drove over 1,000 miles to meet Harvey in person. They realized they were going to adopt Harvey as soon as they saw him.
Lankston said Harvey’s “deformity” is actually his superpower.
“That smile is literally one in a million,” she said. “He’s gonna get away with so much trouble.”
April: Adoption of massive cat in Virginia
It didn’t take long for someone to show interest in giving Patches, a 40-pound gray and white kitty, a fur-ever home, despite his unique health challenges.
The Richmond Animal Care and Control campaigned hard for Patches, with clever captions and pictures on social media to entice a potential owner.
“Did you wake up today and say, ‘Let’s adopt the largest cat anyone has ever seen? If so, we have the cat for you,’” the shelter wrote in a Facebook post on April 19.
People who expressed interest in adopting the “pretty sweet kitty” were asked to send the shelter an email with their home information and a written commitment to help Patches “get to a safe and (healthy) weight,” USA TODAY reported.
Patches was adopted later that same afternoon, the shelter confirmed in a video saying the cat was “leaving the building.”
Christie Chipps Peters, director of Richmond Animal Care & Control, told USA Today the following morning that the feline was doing well in his new home.
“We are so happy to have found him a committed companion who will help him get to a healthy weight,” Peters said.
May: Giant snapping turtle found in the Chicago River becomes internet sensation
A Chicago resident took to the internet to document the sighting of a massive snapping turtle while they were sunbathing in the Chicago River, naming it Chonkasaurus.
Since the clip was first posted in May, it has been viewed over 900,000 times.
“Great to see this beast thriving here on what was once such a toxic river, but is slowly getting cleaned up and restored,” Joey Santore, who shared video of Chonkasaurus on X, wrote in the post.
“Somebody planted a bunch of native plants up the river from here, too,” he said. “I can only wonder (what) this thing’s been eating.”
Santore decided to take the bit one step further by adding hilarious commentary about the surprise sighting as he kayaked along the river and chatted with another person about the giant reptile.
“That’s a massive turtle … look at that beast,” Santore is heard saying in the post as the turtle rests on rocks. “Hey, how ya doing guy? You look good, you’re healthy.”
June: Video shows 28-year-old chimpanzee catch first glimpse of sky
A 28-year-old chimpanzee named Vanilla melted hearts in June after video showing her see the sky for the first time after spending her life in a cage.
Save the Chimps, a Florida sanctuary that captured the moment on video, had offered Vanilla a new home after the animal sanctuary where she lived in for 24 years closed down.
Vanilla was among four primates relocated to Save the Chimps.
“Vanilla was a bit more apprehensive when the door opened to this new world” unlike some of her chimpanzee counterparts, who strolled right in, Save the Chimps previously told USA Today.
“She sat in the doorway until Dwight, the alpha male, encouraged her to join him.”
The heartwarming video shows Vanilla leaping into Dwight’s arms while taking in the sky for the first time in her life.
Keep looking up, Vanilla.
July: Divers spot unique underwater creature in Taiwan
Divers documented a rare encounter with a deep sea creature off the coast of Taiwan in June.
The oarfish, characterized by a scaleless body covered in silvery guanine are usually found 200 to 1,000 feet below the surface, making the sighting highly unusual. The underwater creature, also known as Regalecus glesne, can be found pretty much anywhere except the Arctic.
The viral video, originally published by diving instructor Wang Cheng-Ru in June, shows the group coming upon the deep-sea fish in shallow water off the coast of the Ruifang District on the northeast corner of the island, USA Today reported.
“Many amazing animals can be found off Taiwan’s northeast coast … but it was my first encounter with a giant oarfish,” Cheng-Ru told Newsweek.
Guinness World Records once named the oarfish the “longest bony fish in the world.”
In 1963, an oarfish was caught in New Jersey that was an estimated 50 feet long, and in 1885, a 600-pound specimen was caught in Maine.
August: Giraffe without spots born at Tennessee Zoo
Kipekee isn’t like any giraffe you have seen. She’s better.
The giraffe, born at Brights Zoo in Limestone, Tennessee on July 31, is the only known giraffe to be born without any spots, zoo officials previously shared with USA TODAY.
The last known sighting of a pattern-less giraffe was in Tokyo over 50 years ago. The animal, considered an endangered species, was added to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List in 2018.
Mutation in one or more genes might be the cause of Kipekee’s unusual coloring, Sara Ferguson, a wildlife veterinarian and conservation health coordinator at the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, told National Geographic.
She was also the only one of her siblings born with a solid brown coat.
Brights Zoo Director David Bright confirmed with NatGeo in August that Kipekee’s coloring was definitely a surprise, but stated that “she’s healthy and normal.”
The zoo decided to make the announcement of the rare giraffe’s birth a tad more exciting by allowing the public to vote for one of four names on Aug. 22, landing on Kipekee a week later. Kipekee’s name means “unique.”
Zoo officials hope all the attention Kipekee has gotten since her birth will help conservation efforts.
“The international coverage of our pattern-less baby giraffe has created a much-needed spotlight on giraffe conservation,” Tony Bright, the founder of Brights Zoo, said in a press release. “Wild populations are silently slipping into extinction, with 40% of the wild giraffe population lost in just the last three decades.”
September: Baby burro rescued after its mother was killed
A baby burro got a second chance at life after it was rescued by an Arizona state trooper.
The day-old foal in question narrowly avoided death after its mother was hit and killed by a car on Sept. 5 near Lake Pleasant, about an hour north of Phoenix, USA TODAY reported.
The baby burro had a few minor injuries and remained in the area where his mother was killed. As soon as Arizona Department of Public Safety trooper Sgt. Roger Hansen got the call, he went to pick him up.
He knew the young foal wouldn’t survive by itself in the wild so he contacted Stacie Thomas of One Step Wild Burros and Mustang Rescue in New River. Thomas agreed to take in the foal if Hansen could get him to the rescue, so Hansen carefully loaded up the little burro in the back of his patrol vehicle.
The baby burro settled in with a nursing burro not long after getting to the sanctuary.
“The little guy quickly settled in and adjusted to his adoptive mom, and has been eating, running, and playing just like a little burro should,” according to a Facebook post by the Arizona Department of Public Safety. “Ms. Thomas’ grandson even named the little burro “Roger” in honor of Sgt. Hansen.”
October: Gallery of funniest animal photos showcased in global competition
A host of animals from all over the world, including two tangoing horses and a kangaroo air guitarist, made the image and video lineup of the 2023 Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards.
The global competition was made up of a “wonderful eclectic mix of hilarious wildlife,” USA TODAY reported.
All the photographs, taken by both professional and amateur photographers, were “all hilarious and sure to raise a cackle or a chuckle and wonder at the wonderful wildlife we share this world with,” officials said in a statement.
The shortlist consisted of 41 standalone photographs, three videos and three portfolio entries chosen from thousands of entries. Winners were announced on Nov. 23, with the top image winning a one-week safari in Kenya.
November: Golden retriever farm in Vermont goes viral
One Vermont-based couple’s love of golden retrievers inspired them to create a one-of-a-kind experience for dog-lovers.
A Golden Dog Farm in Jeffersonville, Vermont hosts an activity called “The Golden Retriever Experience,” also called a “happy hour,” where you get to hang and cuddle with a group of golden retrievers for a while, USA TODAY previously reported.
The one-hour sessions allow guests to bask in the company of at least 10 dogs from Butternut Goldens, all while they enjoy snacks and refreshments.
Golden Dog Farm owners Doug and Becca Worple said that the overwhelming success they have experienced so far did not seem like a given when they decided to take on the venture in early 2023, when bookings were few and far between.
That all changed when a video about the experience made it to the TikTok account of travel influencer @mydarlingpassport, racking up 5.6 million views.
“We went to bed on a Thursday night and Friday morning we woke up and everything was sold out,” Worple said. “We then immediately added more dates and those sold out. Then we added more dates.”
The experience is currently booked through the last couple days of the year, but you might get a chance to hang with these goldens in the new year. If you book early.
“People are so happy when they’re here, they have this childlike joy on their faces,” Worple said. “People cry because they’re so happy.”
December: Young Indiana girl rescues Arctic duck
A young Indiana girl is the reason why a rare Artic duck named Rosealini was able to make it back home.
The 1-pound, long-tailed duck was found in the middle of the road a couple days before Christmas Eve, according to Hancock Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation, a non-profit wildlife rescue and rehabilitation group that took in the displaced bird on Dec. 22.
The wildlife rescue group determined that Rosealini was a female sea duck, which are “normally found in the Arctic and northern coastal regions, USA TODAY reported.
As for how Rosealini ended up in the area of from Greenfield – about 25 miles east of Indianapolis – much less on the road, is anyone’s guess.
“There are a few small retention ponds in the area where she was found, but no real bodies of water. She was literally in the middle of town,” Jen Hancock, founder and director of the rescue foundation, previously told USA TODAY.
Rosealini did not appear to be injured. but was immediately taken to the shelter.
Hancock told USA TODAY that the duck was very weak and was given “TLC, R&R, anti-inflammatory medication, and some good food.”
“Once she regained her strength and finished her meds, she was more than ready to be wild again,” said Hancock.
Rosealini was released back into the water Tuesday, where she could be seen taking several dives and paddling in videos shared by the shelter on Facebook.