Normally on Fridays, we use this space wrap up all the weird "Florida Man" stories of the week, but this has been an incredibly devastating and depressing week for the Sunshine State. So this week and this week only, we bring you all of the happy and heartwarming stories that happened in Florida.
This week: A tiger gets its first taste of freedom outside a cage, a police force has a special birthday surprise for an autistic boy, a three-legged puppy trains to become a therapy dog, and other warm and fuzzy news.
Rescued Tiger Experiences Freedom for First Time at Florida Sanctuary
For 12 years, Hoover the tiger lived in a tiny, cramped cage while he was forced to perform for a Peruvian circus. Animal rights activists filmed the abuse, but Hoover's handler actually hid in the mountains for eight months to evade authorities.
Eventually, Hoover was rescued, and this week, he was transported to Big Cat Sanctuary in Tampa and allowed to roam outside a cage for the first time in his life.
Police Come to the Rescue at Autistic Boy's Unattended Birthday Party
Daniel Nicastro has spent his last two birthdays alone. The North Port 8-year-old has autism, and none of the other children he invited showed up to his parties. His parents feared that this year would be the same.
“No one called to say they were coming to his birthday party. Both myself and his father were heartbroken,” his mother, Carolyn Nicastro, told WFLA. “It’s hard when no one shows up.”
So his parents decided to reach out to the local police force, hoping that an officer or two might stop by. Daniel looks up to police officers.
Well, more police than expected showed up, and they came bearing gifts. Daniel was ecstatic.
“The police is my favorite characters... They save people from getting damaged or like stopping robbers robbing a bank,” Daniel told WFLA.
Next month, the North Port Police Department plans to hold a megacelebration for Daniel and other kids in the area who have a difficult time making friends. In the meantime, other parents in the area have reached out to Daniel's parents to set up play dates.
Clearwater Marine Aquarium Opens Sanctuary for Rescued Sea Turtles
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is home to many rescued sea turtles that can't be returned to the wild. One in particular had found fame after appearing as a turtle named "Mavis" in the kids movie Dolphin Tale 2. The actual turtle is named Harold, and he has a visual impairment that would prevent him from living safely in the wild.
The aquarium opened its new turtle habitat this week. It's named Mavis's Rescue Hideaway in honor of Harold's character. In the video above, you can watch as crews create the habitat and eventually release the turtles into their new home.
Officer Adopts Puppy He Found Trapped in Sewer Drain
St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Dep. James Gettings was on duty when he heard whimpering coming from an unknown source. After searching for the sound, he came across a golden retriever puppy trapped in a sewer drain.
The 8-month-old pup had to stand on its hind legs to keep its head above water and couldn't pull himself out of the drain. Gettings rescued the pup. The dog was taken to the local humane society, where he was given several baths and given a clean bill of health. An owner never came forward, so Gettings adopted the dog himself.
The pup's new name is Puddles. Gettings' 2-year-old daughter is especially excited about the family's new addition.
Pup With Three Legs Trains to Become a Therapy Dog
Doc, a Lab-Rottweiler mix, was born in Wisconsin. He was born without a proper shoulder bone in one of his front legs, so that leg is shorter than the others and doesn't work properly. The leg will eventually have to be amputated.
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Lake County resident Jes Street flew to Wisconsin earlier this year to adopt Doc. The single mom and nursing student tells Bay News 9 that she plans to train Doc as a therapy dog.
"One of the reasons that I got a dog like Doc is so that I could use him as a therapy dog, to be with these kids at the hospital that I hope to work at someday," she told the station.
Street hopes Doc will be an inspiration to children learning to live with disabilities. "I think he'll be able to resonate with them, and I think they’ll... be empowered by seeing him be able to get around and seeing that he's happy," she tells the TV station. Street has also set up a GoFundMe page to help pay for Doc's eventual surgery.