What do a burgling bear, a wily whale and rave-throwing raccoons have in common?
They’re all animal stories that delighted British Columbians in 2019 by making headlines.
There’s something about animal stories that resonates in a special way, by shocking or delighting us or tugging on our heartstrings.
They’re often the antidote to difficult news days filled with crime or disaster. And in a province as vast and critter-filled as British Columbia, we’re spoiled for choice.
So with 2020 fast approaching, it’s time to look back at some of the best stories that roared into your timelines or ruffled feathers around B.C.
The Metallica cougar
Vancouver Island is known as home to some of the highest concentrations of cougars in the world, so it’s no surprise they run into humans from time to time.
But it’s rare when a cougar encounter results in the big cat running away scared.
That’s just what happened when Duncan, B.C. woman Dee Gallant and her eight-year-old husky retriever, Murphy, ran into one of the animals while walking a logging trail
When Gallant came face-to-face with a cougar in July, she did what any metalhead would do: she pulled out her phone and blasted Metallica at the cat.
The 1991 Black Album classic Don’t Tread on Me did the trick, sending the cougar running off into the bush.
“I thought it was perfect because it gives him the message that I want to send, and it’s a really intimidating-sounding song,” Gallant told Global News.
But that’s not the end of the tale. After the story went viral, Metallica frontman James Hetfield called Gallant to give her his best wishes — and even sent her a selfie doing the heavy metal horns.
Mugsy the puppy disfigured by acid gets a new lease on life
This one is a sad story with a heartwarming ending.
At just 40 days old, Mugsy, a Maltese-Japanese spitz, was badly disfigured when she had acid thrown on her in Iran.
The attack left the poor pup with traumatic damage to her face, including a destroyed eye, misaligned jaw and missing lip.
Her Iranian family couldn’t afford treatment, so she was put up for adoption, and in late 2018, she was adopted by Sam Taylor of North Vancouver through Persian Paws Rescue and Loved At Last Dog Rescue.
In February, Mugsy got facial surgery from a specialist in Vancouver, which involved creating new nostril openings and using the tip of her ear to replace the bone and skin lost on the top of her nose.
The surgery was a success, and though Mugsy is still a shocking sight to see for many, she’s happy and healthy in a loving home.
Her owner also hopes the pup can be a spokesdog for rescue animals and help raise awarness about animal abuse.
White Rock raccoon party
There’s nothing like coming home from vacation to discover that someone had a party at your house and left the place a wreck.
But the offenders usually turn out to be unruly teens, not a pack of wild trash pandas.
That was the case for White Rock man Ken Rechik, who was in the middle of a holiday in Costa Rica in September when a neighbour called to tell him his home had been broken into.
Rechik hurried home to find about $4,000 worth of damage to his house, all caused by a gaze of raccoons.
The critters managed to get in through the ceiling of Rechik’s garage before moving on to the house — smashing their way through speakers, plants and glassware along the way, all the while leaving incriminating paw prints on the carpet.
Rechik said he plans to beef up security, but was left in the lurch when it came to insurance.
The return of the Chinatown Otter
It remains unclear if the second otter attack was perpetrated by the same animal, but in November the gardens were shut down again when an otter ate six of the fish living in its pond.
That’s despite enhanced security measures that were installed after the first otter incident in 2018, including a metal plate welded onto the garden’s gate.
Parks staff set up surveillance cameras and managed to capture a snapshot of the voracious little beast.
The garden’s pond was drained and the remaining fish were evacuated.
But despite a ’round-the-clock otterwatch, no one was able to capture the animal.
About a week after the otter got in, it vanished into the city again — like its predecessor, escaping after committing the perfect crime.
How close would you get to a skunk? What if the animal was in clear distress?
For many of us, the answer would be “not very close, thank you very much,” but for Mission, B.C. animal lover Tanya Krasuin, the answer was “as close as it takes.”
In March, Krausin spotted the little stinker stumbling around in front of her house with a plastic cup jammed onto its head.
She lept into action, wrapping her hands in plastic bags and going to work — getting into a tug-of-war with the skunk to try and remove the cup from its head.
“Honestly, I think he knew I was helping him. He knew it was his only chance. He wouldn’t have been able to get that off himself,” Krausin told Global News. “I was struggling.”
After a brief struggle, which included lifting the 25-pound animal off the ground by the cup, the skunk broke free and fled.
The whole incident was captured on video by Karusin’s sister, and in December she was named one of PETA’s “top animal rescuers” of 2019.
“Something so minor to us is deadly to somebody else. I just hope that people see that video and they go throw away a Starbucks cup or a Tim Horton’s Iced Cap cup, because that’s what it was similar to,” she said. “I hope they just take the lid off.
“It’s just sad.”
Bad bear breaks into car
It’s not unusual for police in Metro Vancouver to be called out to a vehicle break-in, but in September, officers in Port Moody found themselves responding to a very different kind of offender.
Police responded to a call on Ioco Road, where they discovered a black bear that had broken into a car — and then become locked inside, an incident captured on video.
“How does this even happen?” the person shooting the video asks. “How does a bear get into somebody’s car and lock the door?”
Police and the BC Conservation Officer Service were able to free the bruin, who was released without charge.
It was one of dozens of Metro Vancouver bear encounters in 2019, including another vehicle break-in in Anmore.
Police remind residents to keep their doors locked and keep garbage bins and other attractants secured, with the perennial reminder that a “fed bear is a dead bear.”
Grand theft orca
There’s nothing like a good fish tale to take home after a day on the waters, but they don’t always end with a fish head.
That’s how things turned out for a pair of Alberta tourists who’d headed to to Prince Rupert in June in search of Tyee Chinook salmon.
Blackfish Charters operator Cal Robinson took the men out for a trip when they hooked a massive catch.
But before they could reel it in, a hungry orca sank its teeth into the fish — prompting a once-in-a-lifetime tug-of-war.
The whale stripped the fish, leaving just the head and spine on the line, before swimming up to Robinson’s boat to say hello
“I think it was coming to say ‘Thank you,’” Robinson told Global News.
As for his clients, who lost out on likely their biggest catch of the day, Robinson said the duo were stoic about the grand theft orca.
Eagle vs. octopus
Few people are ever lucky enough to see a pair of natures top predator’s go head-to-head, and it’s even more unlikely when one of the animals rules the sky while the other spends its days deep beneath the sea.
But in December, a group of B.C. fish farmers caught just such an unusual encounter on camera: an eagle and an octopus locked in a deadly embrace.
It happened near Quatsino, outside a salmon-farming operation owned by Mowi Canada West.
“The octopus was trying to drown the eagle, and we couldn’t just stand there,” John Ilett told the Victoria Times Colonist.
The video shows the bald eagle half-submerged in the water, its wings spread wide and its body hopelessly snared by the brightly-coloured octopus.
Eventually the farmers intervened, using a net to separate the two creatures.
It’s unclear how the encounter began, but Mowi says both creatures survived. The eagle flapped off to a tree branch to dry out, while the octopus slipped back to the depths without its feathered prey.
Two-legged dog with a warrior spirit
Here’s another pup-centric tale of animal perseverance.
Roo is a rescue dog who, like Mugsy, came to B.C. from Iran. Roo was born without her front limbs, but it’s never slowed her down.
“She was born without front paws, so she’s got sort of what looks like a chicken wing on the left side… and on the right she has what I call a drumstick, a three-quarter-length leg, and she sort of used it to thump around a little bit,” owner Julie Horncastle told Global News.
The pup learned to hop along on her back legs, which is where her name Roo, short for kangaroo, came from.
Horncastle tried out several other mobility aids, including a wheelchair which Roo hated.
Then, in March, she got a major upgrade: a prosthetic front limb that straps on to her “drumstick,” developed with the help of an Abbotsford veterinarian and an animal orthopedic specialist from Salt Spring Island.
“She had a few weird first steps — she wasn’t sure what to do with it. And then we went out in the parking lot and I walked away a few steps and she came thumping after me and just took to it right away,” said Horncastle.
Since then, Roo’s story has travelled around the world with international donors stepping up to help pay for the prosthetic and share how her story has inspired them.
“For a dog to bring a whole world and a community together, I was just beside myself,” Horncastle said.
“I didn’t know what to expect, but I never expected that.”
Bear gives mountain bikers the ride of their lives
People get into mountain biking for the adrenaline rush, but it’s rare that the thrill is sparked by a chase with their lives on the line.
In October, a group of riders on Mount Seymour’s TNT Trail found themselves in just such a fight-or-flight encounter.
Brad Martyn told Global News he and a group of friends were on their bikes when they saw a black bear about 150 metres away.
“I said, ‘go, go, go!’”
The group put their pedals to the metal and bombed the trail, stopping about a kilometre downhill. But when they turned around, their pursuer showed little sign of giving up the chase.
The group lifted their bikes over their heads to make themselves larger, yelled and threw objects at the bear, which prompted it to back off somewhat.
Then they hopped back on and made a break for it — finally managing to lose the bruin on a faster section of trail.
“If he had really wanted us, he could have caught up and got us fairly easily,” said Martyn.
“I’m still not sure why he chased us. Maybe he wanted to play or something.”