Since 2013 is just getting started, let’s take a look at some of last year’s most memorable pet stories.

The healing power of pets continues

The country was rocked by news that a gunman had taken the lives of 20 children and six school staffers in Newtown, Conn. Messages of love and support have been flowing into the small town, but it was a group of therapy dogs that made headlines for lending their healing power to grieving families. Heidi Ganahl, founder & CEO of Camp Bow Wow dog daycares, wanted to help the healing continue for a long time. Bow Wow Buddies Foundation, her company’s nonprofit organization, has joined forces with the Institute for Human-Animal Connection to provide two weeks of on-site support from therapy dogs trained by Freedom Service Dogs of America. The foundation also is raising money to train four therapy dogs that will live with therapists in Newtown, providing support at schools and public events for years to come.

“In addition to pets, kids are another passion, so it was really neat to be able to combine the two and I hope we can expand to not just Newtown but other areas as well,” Ganahl says. “A lot of people will open up when they are petting a dog, so having a therapist there is pretty important, too.”

The skies still aren’t quite so friendly for pets

cat in crate

Major airlines transport thousands of pets each year without incident. But news about their missteps travels fast. In September, model Maggie Rizer’s golden retriever died from heatstroke after a cross-country flight from New York to San Francisco. A few weeks after Rizer shared her story, JFK airline employees removed a cat named Xiaohwa from its crate during a security inspection and the cat got away. Xiaohwa remains lost, and her owners visit JFK regularly to distribute flyers in the hope of recovering their cat.

Xiaohwa’s disappearance prompted another frustrated cat owner to take action. Karen Pascoe of San Jose, Calif., recently created a petition on asking the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) to change its policy on handling animals. Her recommendations include implementing a policy for screening pets at various checkpoints, providing enclosed areas for people with pets, using experienced animal handlers and developing a process to assist pet owners in the event of an accident. Currently, the petition has more than 100,000 signatures. Pascoe’s petition also pays tribute to Jack, her own cat, who spent 61 days lost at JFK Airport before being found. Jack later had to be euthanized because of severe dehydration and malnutrition.

“These are simple steps that will prevent heartbreak, enhance safety, and reduce the TSA’s liability with traveling pets,” Pascoe says.

Thanks to Hurricane Katrina, pets fare much better after natural disasters strike

people carry dogs through flooded streetWhat a difference seven years makes. When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, local and federal agencies were unprepared to handle its devastating toll on people, property — and pets. But countless heartbreaking stories led to substantive changes, including the 2006 Pets Evacuation Transportation Standards Act, which requires local and state emergency plans to address the needs of pet owners during major disasters.

While it helps to be your own first responder when natural disasters strike, it’s nice to know that pet owners have more options when storms like Sandy strike.

Pets with disabilities teach us power of endurance

Dog with wheelchair

Pets remind us to seize the day — every day. I was reminded of that powerful lesson after interviewing people who care for special needs pets. The story was inspired by a partially paralyzed pooch named Hope (at right). Although a mysterious injury robbed Hope of her ability to walk, her spirit has never faltered. A chair donated by Walkin Wheels helps her get around with ease and will, hopefully, help her find a forever home. (A previous story about Hope offers adoption info for the Georgia pooch.) In the meantime, she continues to live each day to the fullest and challenges others to do the same.

“Don’t be afraid to take the challenge; it will enrich your life,” says TJ Jordi, director of the Cheatham County Animal Control in Pegram, Tenn., whose mascot is a partially paralyzed pooch named Scooter. It’s not their fault that they are high maintenance, but don’t be afraid to take that leap. The dog isn’t.”

Uggie the Jack Russell terrierEvery dog deserves a happy ending

A cute little pooch named Uggie captured moviegoers’ hearts with his award-winning performance in “The Artist.” But Uggie’s own rags-to-riches story could make a great movie.

According to Uggie’s IMDb profile, the Jack Russell terrier was surrendered by previous owners for being “too wild.” The high-energy breed does require plenty of physical and mental stimulation — as well as strong leadership. Fortunately, animal trainer Omar von Mueller saw Uggie’s potential and harnessed that wild streak, to the delight of moviegoers. While a neurological disorder has forced the pint-sized pooch into retirement, Uggie serves as a sweet reminder that rescues deserve a happy ending, too.

Cats + social media = Magic

Blessed with an undeniably dour expression, a seemingly sour puss named Tardar Sauce has the ability to melt hearts across the Internet. Labeled the “Grumpy Cat,” Tardar now has her own website and merchandise with phrases such as “I had fun once. It was awful.” Fortunately, Tardar revealed that she’s really not all that grumpy (see her video below). She’s also using her newfound Internet fame to pay it forward with donations to rescue groups.

Of course, Tardar’s not the only frisky feline frolicking in the limelight. An 8-year-old rescued tuxedo cat named Henry has created a frenzy by starring in short films as a philosopher named Henri, “Le Chat Noir.” He originally gained fame after winning the inaugural Internet Cat Film Festival in 2012. Now, the moody cat’s existential musings have generated more than 3.2 million views on YouTube. There’s also an online retail store filled with T-shirts, mugs and other melancholy gear. And yes, he has a book deal.

“I’m alive, and I’m not a dog,” Henry notes in his latest clip, “The Worst Noel” (below). “Perhaps I should be thankful.”

Click for photo credits

Photo credits:

Cat in crate: Dave77459/Flickr

Carrying dogs: alecperkins/Flickr

Dog with wheelchair: Christina Simpson

Uggie: Joe Klamar/AFP/Getty Images