From a wandering pig named after a Philly-born movie star, to an emotional support alligator, to crime fighting dogs, these are the Pennsylvania animals who made us say “Who’s a good boy?” and “Who’s a good girl?” in 2023.
Nothing lights up the internet and social media quite like an animal story. And in Pennsylvania this year, we’ve had our share of great ones.
There was Ella the rescue dog, who finally found her forever home after seven years. A newly-adopted pig named Kevin Bacon went on the lam and caused quite a stir. And let’s not forget about Yoda, the Belgian Malinois who helped police capture escaped murderer Danelo Cavalcante.
There are more good boys and girls where they came from. Let’s take a look back at the coolest Pennsylvania animals we met in 2023:
Angel of Empire
It’s been a long time since the commonwealth could lay claim to a Kentucky Derby winner, and Pennsylvania-bred horse Angel of Empire almost pulled it off back in May. After a big victory at the Arkansas Derby in April, the three-year-old from Blackstone Farm in Pine Grove, Schuylkill County, was a third place finisher at the Kentucky Derby. Angel of Empire was shut down following a busy race season, but recently began training for next year, with an eye on the Breeders’ Cup.
As animal adoption stories go, the story of Ella the rescue dog belongs in the tearjerker hall of fame. Ella had been at the Animal Resource Center in Bloomsburg for seven years, waiting to find her forever home. In late October, a woman named Kaitlyn came in to meet Ella. As the pair bonded, the shelter said Kaitlyn began crying and kept looking down at Ella’s neck. She then pulled up a picture of her late dog Jo wearing a bandana, revealing a special connection to Ella. “This bandana that Ella is wearing, it’s Jo’s,” Kaitlyn told shelter staff. “I donated them all here when he passed. I like to think of it as Jo’s stamp of approval, knowing it was meant to be.” After seven long years, Ella finally found her person and was adopted by Kaitlyn. We’re not crying, you’re crying.
Kevin Bacon (the pig)
Nothing brings people together quite like a search effort for a missing pet, especially when the wayward critter is a newly-adopted 200-pound pig named Kevin Bacon. Chelsea Rumbaugh’s family already had three piglets when they brought Kevin Bacon home on Oct. 13. The next morning, the pig named in honor of the Philadelphia-born actor had broken out of the family’s barn near Gettysburg. “My first thought is, ‘I’m never going to get this pig back,’” Rumbaugh told us back in October. “We were told he was across the street at a campground where there’s a creek. I put my boots on and I’m trudging through this ice cold creek trying to see if he’s fallen in the water or gotten stuck or something like that.” Word spread on social media and even Kevin Bacon, the actor, posted about finding Kevin Bacon, the pig. Thankfully, the porker was lured home with a Benadyl-infused sticky bun.
Sure, the Eagles lost the Super Bowl and the Phillies were knocked out in the National League Championship Series, but at least Stache, a Sealyham terrier from Chester County, took top honors at the 2023 National Dog Show. Stache won best in show in the annual competition, becoming the first of his breed to do so. Stache’s owner, breeder, and handler is Margery Good of Goodspice Kennels in Cochranville. “He just gave a wonderful performance,” Good said after Stache was crowned winner at the dog show, which aired Thanksgiving on NBC. “He stretched his little short legs and hands and flew around this ring.”
Super Bowl Sunday 2023 didn’t turn out the way Eagles fans hoped it would. All was not lost on that February day, however. The country fell in love with Tailen Hurts, a pit-Staffordshire pup from the Brandywine Valley SPCA, who competed with Team Fluff in this year’s Puppy Bowl. Tailen, aka River, arrived at the shelter from a cruelty/neglect seizure, but has since found his forever home.
Tucker, a trusty brown Labrador, was hailed as a hero for helping authorities in northwestern Pennsylvania capture a homicide suspect who escaped from Warren County Jail on July 6. Tucker began barking loudly when he came upon Michael Burham on the property of his owners, Cindy and Ron Ecklund. When the Ecklunds came outside to see what Tucker was barking about they immediately recognized Burnham and called 911. Burham fled but was captured less than two hours later, looking wet, dirty, and “worn-out,” police said. Tucker was on hand at the press conference sporting a new collar and had a bucket of tennis balls, a few new toys, some treats from a well-wisher, and a coupon for a spa day. He also had a ribeye steak in the fridge waiting for him at home. “He’s always been such a great dog. He was protecting us. And you can’t ask for a better best friend than that,” Cindy Ecklund told reporters.
WallyGator had been spotted around Philadelphia before. But the working emotional support alligator caused its biggest stir to date at Citizens Bank Park in late September when Wally’s person, Joie Henney, of Jonestown, Lebanon County, attempted to bring the gator into CBP to watch the Phillies host the Pirates. Both Joie and WallyGator were denied entrance to the game. Citizens Bank Park’s policy on support animals is posted on the Phillies’ official website, and states, “Guide dogs, service animals, or service animals in training are welcome. All other animals are prohibited.” A little more than a month later, Wally made friends with a big googly-eyed orange creature across the street. Henney told The Philadelphia Inquirer last year that WallyGator helps him battle depression and that “he likes to give hugs.”
In the end, it was a Belgian Malinois named Yoda who helped authorities capture escaped murderer Danelo Cavalcante after a grueling 14-day search for the armed suspect in Chester County. After Cavalcante was located hiding out in a wooded area, the Customs and Border Patrol team released the search dog to pursue him. The dog subdued Cavalcante in a struggle, leaving him with a bleeding scalp wound. He was first bitten on the forehead, then the dog clenched his thigh and held on, said Robert Clark, supervisor of the US Marshals fugitive task force in Philadelphia. That’s when Cavalcante submitted, and officers got him in handcuffs. From the time law officers moved in to the time they captured Cavalcante took about five minutes, according to Pennsylvania State Police Lt. Col. George Bivens. And officers say Yoda played an important role in preventing Cavalcante from using the rifle he had with him. Good dog, Yoda.
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