Top 10 Pet Stories of 2009

7 min read

PetMD looks back at the year in pet news

By VLADIMIR NEGRON

December 22, 2009

#10 The Teacup Pig Craze

When the potbellied pig craze reached fever pitch in the '90s, tens of thousands of pigs were bought by unsuspecting suburbanites as pets. The only problem, the cute little piglets eventually grew up -- some weighing as much as 300 pounds once fully matured. This caused many owners to dump their potbellies into pig sanctuaries, where some estimate as many as 250,000 pigs ended up. Pig breeders, however, refused to let go of such a lucrative opportunity and continued to try to engineer smaller and smaller porkers. Then in 2009 demand soared for the new, so-called teacup pigs, which breeders claim typically weigh between 30 and 65 pounds. Suddenly posh celebs such as Paris Hilton and David and Victoria Beckham were buying teacup piggies to add to their animal collection. Critics warn the idea of miniaturizing a pig is a zoological contradiction and may lead to another wave of abandoned piggies by unscrupulous animal craze fanatics.

#9 HAPPY Act Proponents Seek Tax Deductions for Pet Owners

The Human and Pets Partnered Through the Years (HAPPY) Act introduced by Rep. Thaddeus McCotter of Michigan in July brought much praise and controversy. If approved, H.R. 3501 would amend the Internal Revenue Code to allow an individual to deduct up to $3,500 for "qualified pet care expenses." Those who disapprove of the bill argue there are more important issues facing the country today and better use of taxpayer dollars, but as the unemployment rate continues to rise and the state of the economy remains relatively unchanged, proponents of the act insist that pet owners should also see some relief from the government -- just as banks, investment firms, and the auto industry have received theirs. To many pet owners, their animals are more than just household additions -- they are members of the family. The bill is currently in the House Ways and Means Committee and should be addressed in 2010.

#8 Animal Cruelty Case Reaches U.S. Supreme Court

The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America protects our right to free speech, except when dealing with certain inexcusable subjects, such as animal cruelty. So when pit bull breeder Robert J. Stevens of Virginia was sentenced to three years in prison for selling videos containing graphic footage of organized pit bull fighting, his representatives argued that his case was based on a statute that was too loosely defined: the Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law. While many cases based on this statute have surfaced since it was enacted in 1999, United States v. Stevens is the first of those cases that has reached the Supreme Court. Many U.S. citizens are now torn between the sanctity of the First Amendment and the horrors of animal cruelty.

#7 First Cancer Drug for Dogs Approved by FDA

Veterinarians everywhere were thrilled when the first U.S. drug developed specifically for the treatment of canine cancer was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in June. Palladia, chemically known as toceranib phosphate, helps by killing canine mast cell tumors (the second most common tumor type seen in dogs, according to Pfizer) and/or by cutting off blood supply to the tumor. Prior to this approval, veterinarians had to rely on human oncology drugs, without knowledge of how safe or effective they would be for dogs. Palladia will be available for use in early 2010.

#6 The $155,000 Puppy

When BioArts International, a California-based biotech company, delivered the first commercially cloned pet to his owners in January, a new cloning market seemed likely, if not inevitable. The couple who won an auction in order to have Lancey, a Labrador Retriever, created paid a whopping $155,000 to have the "original" Lancelot's DNA implanted in an egg by South Korean scientists. And though the birth of the cloned Lacey occurred without a hitch, BioArts announced in September they would no longer offer dog cloning services due to the unscalable bioethics, unpredictable results, and the insignificant size of the market, among other reasons. Moreover, one of the South Korean cloning specialists has now been identified as Hwang Woo-Suk, a controversial cloning pioneer who has been accused of faking human cloning evidence. The pet cloning market, fraught with ethical and economic viability issues, seems not meant for commercial success -- at least not this year.

#5 Horror in the Hills: Coyote Snatches Celebrity Pup

It wasn't long after Jessica Simpson's dog was snatched by a coyote in Los Angeles in September that she took to Twitter to call out for help. "My heart is broken because a coyote took my precious [maltipoo] Daisy right in front of our eyes." she tweeted. "HORROR! We are searching. Hoping. Please help!" Simpson even took to FindToto.org, a national pet recovery phone service, to assist in the search-and-rescue efforts. Alas, the search was called off just a few days later and Daisy is presumed dead. It's hard not to feel empathy for a fellow pet owner in distress.

#4 Pet Obesity Expands in the U.S.

Considering Americans are constantly inhaling hamburgers, supersized sodas, and other unhealthy treats, it wasn't very surprising to hear our pets were also overweight. But to hear that over 50 percent of dogs and cats in the U.S. were either overweight or obese was downright disturbing. The findings released in February by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention found that 7.2 million dogs were obese, while the number of obese cats was at a staggering 15.7 million. Because chronic, incurable, and generally preventable diseases such as diabetes and arthritis caused by obesity are largely preventable, Americans should work harder to keep their pets healthier and more fit in 2010.

#3 Rachel Alexandra: First Filly to Win Preakness Since 1924

History was made on Saturday, May 16, when Rachel Alexandra, the three-year-old filly hailing from Churchill Downs, won the 134th Preakness Stakes, handily outrunning the boys. The last filly to win the Preakness was Nellie Morse in 1924. Although Rachel Alexandra was unable to race for the Belmont (the last leg of the Triple Crown) a few weeks later, she showed that horse racing was no longer a boys-only club.

#2 Swine Flu Comes After Our Pets

The H1N1 virus has run rampant among our companion animals in 2009, infecting ferrets, birds, cats, and most recently a dog. In most cases these animals caught the virus from their owners. It was especially sad when a cat in Oregon died in November from influenza-related pneumonia. This was the first reported case of a domestic cat or dog dying as a result of the swine flu infection. Fortunately, there have been no confirmed cases of pets passing the virus back to people. However, that is not to say that it is not plausible. Pet owners are advised by the CDC to take the same precautions with their animals as they would with family members. Minimize contact with pets with flu-like symptoms (or until 24 hours after the fever has passed), wash hands frequently, and cover coughs and sneezes with disposable tissues. Let's hope following these simple hygiene tips will prevent a more deadly H1N1 strain in 2010.

#1 The First Family Gets a Dog

What do you get a couple of kids who have just been uprooted from their home in Chicago to a strange new place? Well, if you are Barack and Michelle Obama, you get them a dog. "Sasha and Malia, I love you both so much, and you have earned the new puppy that's coming with us to the White House," said President Obama during his victory speech in 2008. But choosing a First Dog for Sasha and Malia was harder than just going to the local D.C. pound and picking a cute mutt. The President and his wife needed to consider Malia's dog allergies. So after careful consideration, and intense speculation from the media, Bo, a Portuguese water dog, was brought to the White House in April -- a gift from the late Senator Ted Kennedy. The decision to forgo a shelter dog may have left some animal activists growling, but the Obama family seems genuinely happy with Bo. Maybe the President will decide to bring Bo a canine friend next year -- maybe one that's from a shelter this time.

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