Meet Blakely, resident nanny of the Cincinnati Zoo’s nursery. Blakely, who happens to be an Australian Shepherd, spends his days cuddling orphaned wallabies and teaching hungry ocelot kittens how to drink milk from a bowl. Pretty much the best job ever.
Blakey landed this sweet gig two years ago, when he was just a puppy himself. The keepers at the nursery decided to look for a dog who could assist them in raising and socializing the baby animals in their care; an idea inspired by the success of their Cat Ambassador Program, which has paired adolescent cheetahs with canine playmates for over 30 years.
The nursery only takes in babies who have been orphaned or need extra care. “We don’t pull animals from their moms unless there is a problem,” explains keeper Michelle Smith. “If they are doing good, we leave them be.”
According to the keepers, the most common problem for newborns is not getting enough to eat. While the human keepers can spend hours trying to teach the babies to nurse from a bottle, Blakely has discovered a more effective method. He drinks milk from a bowl and lets the babies suck it from the fur around his snout. Eventually they learn to feed themselves by watching Blakely lap from the milk bowl. “He teaches them things we humans can’t,” says Smith. “It’s animal language.”
The nursery keepers decided on an Australian Shepherd due to the breed’s intelligent and laid back personality. They adopted Blakely from a rescue organization when he was just 8 months old, and he spent six weeks with a foster family training alongside a therapy dog. After acing a set of temperament and personality tests, they knew that Blakely was the right man — or dog — for the job.
When it comes to interacting with the baby animals, temperament is a crucial factor. As they grow and learn, Blakely knows when to be playful, affectionate, or stern — which is crucial for their development as social animals in captivity. “He’s always good at reading their boundaries,” says Smith. “He teaches the babies the right way to play pretty fast,” says Smith.
During his time as nanny, Blakely has bonded with a number of baby animals in his care, but perhaps none so well as Santos, an 11-week-old ocelot kitten whose mother couldn’t produce enough milk to feed him. Watch the two play and learn together!
Have you witnessed a special animal bond?
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