New Zealand's appetite for bizarre animal stories is insatiable

A firefighter turned "dog whisperer", the mystery of the South Island black panther and wild otters in Southland all made headlines this year as the captivation of quirky animal tales endures.

When a King Charles spaniel pup fell into a Papamoa stormwater drain last month, the distressed owners said they were left with no choice but to dial 111.

Cue Sam, described as "a bit of a dog whisperer" by senior firefighter Frank Ramage.

"She climbed down the drain ... I think people normally picture us climbing up trees to rescue cats, but not this time."


Meanwhile, a Northland woman who thought she had given her beloved basset hound to a "good home" last month found it for sale weeks later on Trade Me for $900.

The mother-of-three had reluctantly given away the pedigree hound after a string of tragic events meant she could not keep it, however when she saw it advertised she demanded it be returned as she never intended for money to be made out of her misfortune.

In October, police dog handler Pete Kinane said his best mate - 5-year-old German Shepherd, Gus - saved his life by taking a stab to the lung during an arrest in dense Northland bush.

It wasn't just dogs making headlines this year. A car-surfing cat in Whangarei was found safe in July after being missing for a month.

Lilly the brown burmese went missing after Maunu resident Amy King noticed a flash of brown in her rear vision mirror while driving her daughters to football training.

She was also spotted by neighbours, clinging on as Ms King drove past their lounge window.

Meanwhile, mid-Canterbury's elusive black panther may have moved further south.

In October, a delivery driver spotted what he described as a large cat-like animal feeding on road kill just outside Fairlie.

The description was remarkably similar to a number of other sightings of the panther-like animal - roughly the size of a labrador dog, with a round head and distinctive long tail.

Department of Conservation officials have consistently stated the animals are large feral cats.

Further south, Invercargill natural history teacher and author Lloyd Esler said he was a "cold hard sceptic", but was starting to believe otters may have made themselves at home in Southland.

There have been no official sighting of the mammals in the wild in New Zealand.

But over the past decade, Mr Esler said he had spoken to 11 people who had seen something small, speedy and otter-like in southern waterways.

"They all described an animal about 2ft (60cm) long, of which half that length was tail. It had legs, a flattish face and swam. There is nothing that fits that description apart from an otter."