Some were touching, some aww-inducing, and some just plain hilarious. But what ties TODAY.com's top animal stories of the year together is that they touched your hearts in a big, furry, slobbery way. Check out 11 of the compelling creature comforts that got you clicking.
1.Black Lab Hawkeye, who lay down and mourned at the casket of his owner, fallen Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson. Sometimes it's hard to express pure emotion in words. That's why we have photos like this, taken during Tumilson's funeral service in Rockford, Iowa. We reported it Aug. 25.
2. The ssssearch for the missing Bronx Zoo cobra. She has a name now, Mia (as in missing in action), and when she was found, having slithered her way into a hiding spot in her home, everyone breathed a sssssigh of relief. We had fun following her on Twitter, though, and when a peacock went missing from the same zoo, we all thought, maybe they're headed for an ark?
3. In April, we learned of the sad passing of Knut the polar bear, who drowned in his enclosure (even Knut friend Newt expressed his condolences). The icon for the green movement wasn't the only four-legged celeb we lost: Pete the pardoned moose from Vermont met his end in October.
4. Every year, the world's ugliest dog is chosen and this year, holy hairball, that's an ugly dog! We're sure Yoda, um, has a great personality.
5. This story,Diver is almost swallowed by whale shark, is a pretty good reason not to go in the water. The incident, captured on camera, happened in Mexico in July.
6. Oh sure, everyone thought. Like it's really possible that husky on the Internet is actually talking. And then Mishka the talking husky came on TODAY, and she told Ann Curry "I love you," and just admit it: You were impressed, too.
7. Willow the cat, missing 5 years from Colorado, turns up in New York City. September provided this strange tale: Just how did this plucky calico kitty travel more than 1,600 miles to the mean streets of NYC? There were lots of theories, but in the end, all that mattered was that Willow was reunited with her family.
8. What's better than penguins? Penguins in sweaters! These birds got covered in hand-knitted jumpers in October after an oil spill left them covered in a slick; the clothing kept them from preening their contaminated feathers.
9. Harper the beloved handicapped puppy. Few stories have touched the hearts of animal lovers quite like the tale of Harper, the puppy born deformed and rescued after being found discarded in a garbage bag. Water therapy, massage, and a lot of love helped heal the energetic pup, whom we discovered in September; today, Harper can walk and run.
10. Hotel lobby cat loses free reign. Oh, the indignity! For nearly 80 years, a free-roaming feline has walked the halls of New York City's famed Algonquin hotel. But Matilda III has had to be tethered to her post, as city guidelines prevent an animal from walking around where food is served.
11. Zoo split up same-sex penguin pair. It's a typical boy-meets-boy-penguin story: Pedro and Buddy, enclosure-mates at the Toronto zoo, had exhibited what keepers there called homosexual behavior. But despite their affection for each other, the boys had to be separated so that the endangered birds could mate with girl partners. Over 34,000 of you weighed in on the penguins' plight. But fear not; this love story has a happy ending: Pedro and Buddy will be reunited in spring 2012.
Is your favorite TODAY animal story of 2011 on this list? Are you pining for the rock-pooping pug, Yvonne the runaway German cow or Oskar the blind kitten? Check out more pet stories here and in our Animal Tracks blog and tell us in the comments which tales won a place on your list – and in your heart.