If an animal gives birth to their babies in what it views as an unstable or dangerous environment, it may decide to reject its offspring in order to focus on survival.
Because they rely purely on instinct, and because each species and situation is different, this is not always the case. Some animals may decide that an environment is completely safe, while others may view that same exact environment as full of threats.
This is exactly what one new mom felt as she rejected her babies. Luckily, another stepped in to save the day.
When Potawatomi Zoo, a zoological park located in South Bend, Indiana, welcomed three endangered African painted dog pups to their family, they were overjoyed. Unfortunately, their joy wouldn’t last long.
Their parents, Bleu and Maurice, were a part of the Zoo’s family for a very long time, allowing the staff to carefully observe Bleu’s pregnancy from the start. In the beginning, everything went well and Bleu eventually gave birth to eight healthy puppies.
Considering that African painted dogs live and thrive only in packs, it was of crucial importance that this newly-founded family stay as close together as possible.
It was also important that the staff only intervened if absolutely necessary, ensuring that the painted dog parents raise their pups as best as they can, all on their own.
“In zoos, animal care staff try to remain as hands-off as possible to ensure that the painted dog pack is able to raise their litter of pups. This strategy has been proven through numerous successful births in zoos around the world, and it gives painted dog puppies the best chance to learn the complex social structure of their species. The goal is for each litter to successfully integrate into a pack and contribute to future breeding programs within zoos,” said the staff in a newsletter.
However, after just 12 hours of their birth, the staff noticed that something was wrong. Since Bleu was an inexperienced mother, she did not know how to properly care for her babies, so she started to neglect them.
Consulting with the African Painted Dog Species Survival Plan (SSP), the staff came to the conclusion that it would be for the best if they intervened and hand-raised the litter.
Since it is important that the pups are raised in a canine social structure, SSP recommended that the Zoo find a surrogate domestic dog to nurse the pups rather than feeding them on a bottle.
And, that’s exactly what they did!
A Golden Stepmom
Thanks to the help of the Indiana Council for Animal Welfare, in just a couple of hours, the Indiana Zoo welcomed a beautiful Golden Retriever named Kassy, who, giving birth to an adorable litter of puppies, had enough milk to share.
Being such a golden girl, Kassy immediately accepted the painted dog puppies, nursing and caring for them as if they were her own all along.
Even though Kassy was an incredible surrogate, and the staff worked 24/7 to ensure that they had everything they needed, not every painted dog pup survived. Although it is common for baby animals to pass away within a short period after being born, everyone was quite saddened by this unfortunate news.
But, there was still something to smile about as three of the pups did survive!
The pups, now called Blue, Red, and Orange, as these were the colors used to track them, continued nursing Kassy until they got big and strong.
“Originally, the recommended plan was for the painted dog pups to reintegrate with Bleu, Maurice, and Colby. However, the adult painted dogs didn’t display suitable positive interest in the puppies, so the plan was changed,” wrote the staff.
The new plan is to build a home for Blue, Red, and Orange next to Bleu and Maurice in order for them to learn how to behave like painted dogs. Being near their own species will help develop the natural behaviors within the little pups.
When the pups become older, the Zoo staff will try their best to reconnect them with the Potawatomi Zoo African Painted Dogs pack.
And, if they still have difficulties getting along, then they will be relocated to another AZA-accredited facility where they will hopefully raise families of their own.
It truly was incredible to see everybody working together to ensure that all animals involved are happy and healthy. A big part of this is all thanks to Kassy – an incredible dog and mom who was more than happy to help.
Good girl, Kassy!