From the Oxford Mail Perfect Pet competition winner Alfie the dog who loves a morning cuppa to some heartbreaking rescue stories with happy endings, these are the top animal stories of the year.

The UK's Happiest Hound proved a howling success for one owner in Oxfordshire.

National pet company Trusted Housesitters launched a competition across the UK to find the official Happiest Hound, inviting owners and pet sitters to submit their most adorable, happiest pooch pics.

The official top dog was Paris from north Oxfordshire – who, as you can see, is clearly living life on cloud nine.

Oxford Mail: Paris is UK's happiest dog

Paris is a happy older lady whose owner, Kara, said: "Retirement definitely suits her – she doesn't look her age at all."

In April, the Oxford Mail invited people to send in photos of their pets to be in with a chance of winning a £50 prize.

We featured 140 pets in the paper including Elaine Barclay’s dog Patch who was described as "handsome and smart".

But in June pensioners Raymond and Jenny Tinson were "over the moon" when it was announced that their Cockapoo Alfie had won the Oxford Mail Perfect Pet title.

The 11-year-old from Abingdon has developed a taste for tea and loves a morning cuppa.

"Yorkshire Tea is his favourite and he has a cup of tea in the morning after his dry biscuits and one in the evening," said Mr and Mrs Tinson's son, Kevin.

Oxford Mail: Perfect Pet winner - Jenny and Ray Tinson with Alfie

"It started out with him trying to drink other people's tea and now he gets one made for him - he's got his own mug and he takes three sugars."

However, this year the RSPCA also recorded an "alarming" 73 per cent rise in the number of puppies being abandoned after a spike in demand during lockdown.

Oxford Mail: Oxford Mail Perfect Pet winner Alfie loves a cuppa

Some 3.2million households in the UK bought pets during the Covid lockdown as a way to combat social isolation, treat the family or boost exercise.

But sales declined after restrictions were lifted, leading to a surplus of puppies.

The RSPCA urged pet owners to seek help if they are struggling to take care of their pets before letting problems escalate.

In other news, a four-year-old dog found semi-collapsed tied to a gate in a field covered in bruises and wounds was happily loving life after being found a new home in Oxfordshire. 

The black lurcher was taken to Blue Cross’s animal hospital in Grimsby, for treatment before he was transferred to the charity’s rehoming centre in Burford,  where the team named him Frank.

Vets found he had a catalogue of injuries including a swollen head with several large wounds.

Oxford Mail: Frank recovering at Blue Cross and at his new home

Frank was transferred to Burford where his lovely nature meant the team were quickly able to find him a new home.

Desperate owners also abandoned their dogs in a cage alongside a heartbreaking note asking whoever found them to take care of them on May 4.

The pair were dumped by the side of the road between Northmoor and Stanton Harcourt in a broken cage.

Alongside them was a sad note which read “Please feed and look after me. My owner is struggling to look after me".

The poorly pair were discovered by a member of the public who contacted the RSPCA.

One of the dogs, a young male spaniel now named Rudy with a leg deformity, was cared for by the animal welfare charity.

However, a second dog a black terrier, who escaped out of the ramshackle cage ran away when the member of the public who found them tried to pick it up. 

Sadly these were not the only dogs being abandoned.

A young mother and her nine-week-old kitten were found dumped outside a charity’s rehoming centre in a taped-up banana box.

The pair were covered in fleas when the team at Blue Cross in Burford opened it.

The team named the mother Chiquita after the brand of banana and the kitten Mr Del Monte.

Both were found loving new homes quickly and settled into their surroundings well.

Mr Del Monte, was renamed Joey by his new owner Amy who said: “Joey has settled in so well and from day one of bringing him home, has strutted around the house like he owned the joint."

Oxford Mail: Cat was abandoned in a banana box

Four kittens were also found abandoned in a cardboard box along with a heartbreaking note from the owner which said: "I'm sorry".

The eight-week-old kittens were named after the characters in the Monsters Inc movie  - Sully, Boo, Randall and Roz - by the team at Blue Cross in Burford.

They had no food or water and would not have survived if they had not been found.

They have gone on to foster homes.

Oxford Mail: Derek Bird won Photo of the Week with this pic

And Oxford Mail Camera Club members proved that we really are a nation of animal lovers with their heartwarming and hilarious pictures on the theme of pets.

But the picture that really made us smile and won Photo of the Week was taken by Derek Bird of his dog's anxious face as it peered over a blanket at a very scary ball.

Animals do the funniest things…