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The ASPCA's top 10 dog and cat stories of 2013

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Too often, the stories published in this column focus on outrages against dogs, cats, and other members of the animal kingdom that are our companions. As the holiday approaches, it is my pleasure to share some upbeat stories, courtesy of the ASPA, that have captured national attention and illustrate the remarkable impact dogs and cats have on our lives. Here, in no particular order, are the top 10 dog and cat stories for 2013.

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  1. Oh Joy! – The ASPCA’s last remaining feline saved during Hurricane Sandy, Joy, finally found a home about a year after she was first rescued and brought to their Emergency Boarding Facility. Her adopter is a Sandy survivor, too, so imagine how lucky they both must feel to have each other.
  2. A boy and his dog – After rebounding from the unspeakable cruelty and neglect she suffered as a puppy, Xena the pit bull mix was later rescued by the Hickey family and their eight-year-old son, Jonny, who is autistic. Before Xena came into his life, Jonny very rarely communicated with others, and sought comfort in solitary activities. Jonny has since forged a miraculous connection with Xena that has truly brought him out of his shell. Xena was named ASPCA “Dog of the Year” at the Humane Awards.
  3. Cat-domination of pop culture – In terms of animals, 2013 was definitely the unofficial year of the cat. Grumpy Cat and Lil Bub reached epic new levels of stardom and shined the spotlight on how amazing special needs cats can be. Felines also invaded film festivals from Sundance to Cannes. And cat lovers even voted a kitty to be the new Monopoly game piece.
  4. Two [Portuguese Water] Dogs are better than one – The First Family learned firsthand this year what many of us have known for years: Dogs are kind of like potato chips; you can’t have just one. Bo officially welcomed a new kid sister named ‘Sunny’ in August. Once again, we were all captivated.
  5. Taking a bite out of dog fighting – Working with various animal welfare agencies as well as local, state and federal authorities, the ASPCA played leading roles in the raids of two major dog fighting operations – one in Missouri and another than spanned Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Texas. As a result, hundreds of animal victims were saved from horrific abuse and neglect, and human eyes were opened about the horrors of dog fighting.
  6. A healing feline – Earlier this year, we learned about Koshka the cat. A stray in southern Afghanistan, he struck up a friendship with Staff Sgt. Jesse Knott at his base. When a suicide bomber attacked a nearby military convoy, killing two of his close friends, Koshka stayed by Knott’s side, helping him through one of his darkest moments. Staff Sgt. Knott’s duty in Afghanistan has since ended, and Koshka now peacefully resides at home with him in Oregon. Koshka was honored as the ASPCA “Cat of the Year” at the Humane Awards.
  7. Tornado survivors – From the dogs found alive in the rubble more than a week after the tornados that struck Washington, Ill. and surrounding areas in November 2013, to the exemplary work of shelters like Central OK Humane and the OKC Animal Welfare Division to reunite people with their missing pets after the Moore Okla. tornado back in May, we’ve seen time and again that even the scariest of natural disasters cannot shake the bond between pets and their people.
  8. Closing the puppy mill loophole – In 2013, the ASPCA championed a new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rule bringing Internet dog sellers under federal regulation. Every year, thousands of puppies are sold over the Internet and shipped to consumers like any other product. Websites advertising happy, healthy puppies commonly conceal a grim reality: they’re often fronts for puppy mills—large-scale, commercial breeding operations that rear dogs in overcrowded, unsanitary conditions with complete disregard for the animals’ well-being. This year, the USDA finally stepped into the Internet age by issuing a rule that brings breeders selling animals to consumers sight-unseen under the regulatory umbrella of the Animal Welfare Act. That means for the first time, USDA inspectors will be watching over those animals who’ve been ignored for too long.
  9. The journey to recovery begins – Opening in March, the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center at St. Hubert's Animal Welfare Center in Madison, N.J. is the first center dedicated strictly to providing behavioral rehabilitation to canine victims of cruelty, such as those confiscated from puppy mills and hoarding cases. In June, a previously fearful troop of Dachshunds became the very first graduates of the center and all went on to be adopted by loving families.
  10. Heart-warming news – In 2013, science proved what we’ve all known for years: pets are good for your heart. In May, findings from an American Heart Association study told us that having a pet – particularly a dog – is associated with a decreased risk of heart disease, fewer heart attack risk factors and increased survival rates. Like you really needed another reason to go out and find your new best friend.
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