10 ‘Ooh' and ‘Aww' Worthy San Diego Animal Stories From 2020

From wonderful wildlife to perfect pets, this year was full of memorable moments from our animal friends

From left to right: A bobcat that survived the Ramona Fire, Edward the rhino, and a local puppy that was featured in Puppy Bowl 2020.

It’s been quite a year with historic wildfires, an election for the ages and, of course, the coronavirus pandemic but despite the bustle and rollercoaster ride brought upon us by 2020, some cute stories on our furry friends and wild neighbors gave us the pause we most definitely needed.

From heartwarming animal adoption stories that will have you checking out what pets are available now to remarkable progress made in the animal kingdom, here’s a look at 10 noteworthy articles from this year:

Koala-Sniffing Rescue Dog

Koala sniffing dog in Australia.
San Diego Zoo Global
Smudge the Koala Dog sniffs out survivors in Australia.

It was a rough start to 2020 for Australia as wildfires ripped through the Blue Mountains region of New South Wales. While thousands of acres of land charred in the unforgiving fires, wildlife suffered as they attempted to flee from the danger.

Lending a helping hand, San Diego Zoo Global researchers stationed in the Land Down Under provided relief for koalas whose homes were devastated in the blaze. One member of their koala search and recovery team was Smudge, an adorable pooch who had a nose for sniffing out the marsupials.

Smudge used his remarkable sense of scent to aid his human counterparts in locating koalas, who were then rescued from the fires and placed into safety.

Local Puppy Bowl Superstar

Portraits of puppies during Puppy Bowl XVI

As winter progressed, we grew closer to Super Bowl LIV and munched on delicious snacks as the country witnessed the Kansas City Chiefs beat the San Francisco 49ers for this year’s title.

While sports fanatics looked on at the football game, animal lovers flipped the channel to Animal Planet to watch Puppy Bowl XVI. Adorable pooches barked and “tackled” one other as information about their adoption was made available in between matches.

Among the fluffy and cuddly contestants was former rescue dog Bobby, who hailed from San Diego’s own Helen Woodward Animal Center.

Therapy Dog Helps Frontline Workers

An undated image of Richochet, the therapy dog.
Courtesy of Family
An undated image of Richochet, the therapy dog.

While the coronavirus pandemic kept loved ones apart amid stay-at-home orders, one sunny golden retriever made connections virtually to lift the spirits of frontline workers who have been at the forefront in the battle against the virus.

Richochet, a San Diego-based pooch who enjoys surfing, is a therapy dog whose owner offered digital calls with the goldie. Health care and essential workers looking for a sense of peace during a time of uncertainty were able to schedule a call with the dog via FaceTime or Skype.

The switch to virtual calls made for a safe way to connect with a tail-wagging pooch to provide frontline workers a bit of a break from their busy norm.

Chicken and Dog Scuffle Live During NBC 7 Forecast

Ginger and Dolly NBC 7's Dagmar Midcap's pets
NBC 7's Dagmar Midcap
Ginger the chicken and Dolly the dog caused quite a stir during NBC 7's Dagmar Midcaps weather forecast.

Just 20 seconds into one of her 4 p.m. weather hits, NBC 7 meteorologist Dagmar Midcap had an on-air mishap when two of her beloved pets were involved in brief drama.

Ginger the chicken was minding her poultry business as Midcap began to discuss humidity in the region when Dolly the dog instigated a scuffle. Confused viewers could hear the chicken peep in the background as Midcap rushed to her aid.

Dolly, who was full of energy and used it to “tap dance” on Ginger, got a time-out after Midcap apologized profusely for the unexpected spar.  

San Diego Zoo Welcomes Rare Pygmy Hippo Calf

Endangered Pygmy Hippo Born at San Diego Zoo

For the first time in 30 years, a pygmy hippopotamus was born at the San Diego Zoo in April. The bouncing baby boy was born to 4-year-old pygmy hippo, Mabel.

A month after his birth, the calf was already exploring water and successfully showed his hippo instincts to close his nostrils and hold his breath under water.

“Mom and calf are doing very well, they said – and the calf is nursing and getting lots of attention from the first-time mother,” San Diego Zoo Global said in a statement at the time of the announcement.

An Important 1st Birthday

San Diego Zoo Global
Birthday celebration geld in Edward’s honor. Edward, a southern white rhino, turned one-year-old today (July 28, 2020).

July proved to be a special month at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park since it celebrated the birthday of the zoo’s first rhino calf conceived via artificial insemination.

One-year-old Edward, a southern white rhino, romped around the grounds of the Safari Park without a care in the world as he munched on his favorite hay in celebration of his birthday. Zoo staff and volunteers made fun birthday banners and cardboard cutouts for the occasion, which was more than just a birthday.

“We aren’t just celebrating his birthday but also are celebrating the significance of his birth,” Barbara Durrant, Henshaw endowed director of Reproductive Sciences of San Diego Zoo Global. “Edward’s…birth validate our techniques of semen freezing, ovulation induction and artificial insemination.”

Beloved Therapy Dog’s Ailing Health Keeps Him From His Practice

A black and white dog rests his head on a green table in a park
Joe Little, NBC 7
Chopper the Biker Dog has slowed a bit after almost 11 years of service as a therapy dog.

One of San Diego’s most paw-pular therapy dogs had a rough year with his declining health. Additionally, the 11-year-old Boston Terrier was unable to visit hospital patients or go to any events due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Chopper the Biker Dog has been battling Cushing’s Disease and anemia for nearly two years and his health took quite a toll on the pooch. Before the pandemic hit, Chopper still had the energy to make appearances and cheer hospital patients up but as the year progressed, his health declined.

“He’s got the age. It’s just a matter of when things are going to take a turn for the worst,” the pup’s owner, Mark Shaffer, said as he held back tears. “I don’t know. I get too emotional thinking about it. I just want to really cherish the time we have together now.”

One-Eyed Cat Finds Forever Home in Couple

An orange cat rests with its head inside a plastic protective cone
Neota Bradley
Jack the cat rests in his new Point Loma home after being adopted from the San Diego Humane Society

A Point Loma couple logged onto Amazon for something but ended up taking a virtual detour and ended up adding a new member to their family – a one-eyed cat named Jack.

The feline was eligible for adoption at the San Diego Humane Society and was in search for his forever family when John and Neota Bradley stumbled upon him. For them, it was love at first sight.

The couple scheduled an online interview with the animal shelter and ended up taking Jack home with them. It was a purr-fect outcome for the trio.

Clear the Shelters Successful With 1,000+ Adoptions

A woman holds a grey cat in her arms while standing in front of her home.
Joe Little, NBC 7
Linda Smith holds her Layla after adopting her during the annual Clear the Shelters event.

Although this year’s Clear the Shelters event was held differently due to the pandemic, it proved to be just as successful as years prior with more than 1,000 animals in San Diego County being adopted.

NBC and Telemundo’s annual Clear the Shelters event was held as a month-long affair in August this year to give people time to adopt animals. This year, the San Diego Humane Society and other local shelters held their adoption processes virtually to adhere to COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Still, animal lovers in San Diego County showed their support and welcomed dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and even rats to their forever families.

Wildfire Survivor Treated for Injuries, Released Back Into Wilderness

A juvenile bobcat was treated for burn injuries and infections after it survived the El Dorado Fire in Yucaipa.
San Diego Humane Society
A juvenile bobcat was treated for burn injuries and infections after it survived the El Dorado Fire in Yucaipa.

As the year progressed, so did the danger of wildfires in California as humidity decreased and winds increased. It was a historic year for California wildfires as families rushed out of their homes and into temporary evacuation sites for shelters.

For wildlife, that wasn’t a viable option and many critters were in harm’s way in their own habitat. One such unfortunate soul was a young bobcat who survived the Ramona Fire.

The poor feline suffered burns on all of her paws and was emaciated upon her discovery. She also had singed whiskers and ears but after careful treatment at the San Diego Humane Society’s Ramona Wildlife Center, the bobcat recouped and was even released back into the wild weeks later.

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