Man's best friends . . . indeed.

A herd of ostriches streaking through Clifton, emus on the loose in Great Falls and Damascus, a skunk paddling around a Brookeville swimming pool, ducklings dashing about on the terrace at the Kennedy Center--locally, it was a wild and wacky year for our furred and feathery (or leathery) companions in the animal kingdom.

Herewith, our nominees for the Top 10 Animal Stories of 1999, gleaned largely from the annals of the Animal Watch column that appears in the Weekly and Extra sections of The Post.

Billy Goat's Too Gruff

The owner of a farmers market in Mount Airy called animal control to report an aggressive goat outside his establishment, preventing the market from opening. The 133-pound goat was said to be head-butting would-be customers and attempting to bite them. The caller further reported that one of his employees was trapped in her car because as soon as she would try to get out, the goat would charge her, horns down. Animal control arrived on the scene and captured the riled-up animal, which was transported to the county shelter and put up for adoption.

Dinner Isn't Served

A Gaithersburg family needed a shovel and a surfboard to get the attention of a 12-foot-long snake bent on eating their scraggly little dog, Dusty. On a hot July night, the tiny terrier trotted out to the back yard to do his business, crossing paths with the huge predator. Much thrashing and yelping ensued. The alarmed family ran out to find Dusty in the snake's coils, fighting for his life. For 15 horrific minutes, the family battled the giant reptile--described variously as a boa constrictor or Burmese python--with the creature lunging at them while refusing to let go of their 20-pound pooch. Finally, stunned senseless by blows from both surfboard and shovel, the snake dropped Dusty. A neighbor who ran over with a .22-caliber rifle took care of the rest. Dusty, his fur bloodied and matted, was rushed to the vet, where he got some TLC and a nifty haircut.

Your Tax Dollars at Work

Not your ordinary cat-stuck-in-tree tale: A resident of Groveton called Fairfax County animal control to report a cat stuck in a maple tree. Not just stuck but wedged way, way down between two trunks of the massive tree, in a space barely two inches wide--an unfortunate turn of events that, according to the official case report, was "causing the animal's hind paw pads to turn blue." A veterinarian was summoned and helped animal wardens sedate the terrified feline.

Then county firefighters, also called on to render aid, "used a hydraulic spreader and wedges to separate the trunks enough . . . to free the cat." Now here's the rub: The traumatized cat was taken to the local animal hospital where--again, according to the official report--it was "treated and neutered."

And as if that weren't enough, the owner of the offending maple was "advised to put a pillow between the tree trunks to prevent future events of this kind."

Kitty's Sticky Situation

When a four-month-old kitten failed to show for breakfast one morning at its Northeast Washington home, a basement-to-attic search was launched. Hours later, mewing was heard outside. There was the prodigal kitty, its head stuck inside a plastic coffee mug--described as "an insulated no-spill cup with a narrow top and a wide bottom." The family tried to pull the tight-fitting mug off, but it wouldn't budge.

A Humane Society officer was called to the house, and she held the kitten while the father of the family used a hand saw to cut the bottom off the cup. Then he lathered the kitten's head with butter and pushed it back through the tiny opening in the top.

Dusty's Worst Nightmare

A cargo clerk at Reagan National Airport alerted authorities after noticing a suspicious box--suspicious because it said "Live Venomous Reptile" on it. Authorities traced the box to an apartment in the Mount Vernon section of Fairfax County, where they found 130 snakes of various types. A resident of the apartment was charged with unlawful possession of poisonous snakes.

Going for the Gold

A homeowner in Chevy Chase who found a bat swimming in the toilet "put the lid down and called for assistance." Animal control arrived and quickly confirmed there was, to be sure, a bat in the john. The mouselike mammal was still alive though apparently no longer doing the freestyle. After a toweling-off, it was returned to the wild.

Build That Woman a Belfry

A Beltsville woman found eight or nine bats in her attic and removed them. Then she found seven more, and animal control came out and removed them.

The next night, she called animal control again; more bats were carted away. Then animal control called the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which arranged for a licensed wildlife relocator to pay a visit. It eventually was determined that a healthy bat colony, more than 300 strong, had infested the woman's attic. The bats were relocated, the attic nest was destroyed, and the woman--if she's smart--will confine herself to the cellar from now on.

George, Curious

Animal wardens patrolled day and night but were coming up empty-handed in their search for a crocodile cavorting in Lake Accotink. So the couple who originally reported the reptile-on-the-loose in Springfield went out and snared it themselves . . . using a shoelace and a fishing net they bought at the local Kmart. They carried the leathery beast--a 3-foot-long caiman--back to their home near the lake and placed him in a plastic wading pool. They decided to name him George.

And the Dust Bunnies Are Sharks

A District woman called animal control in an agitated state, saying there was a snake underneath her dresser. An animal warden responded and "determined that the snake in question was an electric cable."

Your Tax Dollars at Work, Part II

During the annual Easter egg roll at the White House, a distressed woodpecker was observed tangled in a kite string 100 feet up a tree. A rescue attempt was not allowed during the crowded event because a hook-and-ladder had to be driven onto the historic South Lawn to reach the frightened bird. When the party was over, though, the National Park Service got the truck and employed the services of a tree surgeon to cut the woodpecker free. An animal warden caught it as it fell, presumably before Secret Service agents could wrestle it to the ground.

The wayward woodpecker was taken away and rehabilitated.

Addendum: Billy Goat Gruff, sad to say, proved a little too gruff for rehabilitation, attacking people from every rescue group that came to adopt him. Suffice it to say he didn't make it into the new century.