The words "dog adoption" immediately conjure up images of people peering through the bars of a kennel in an animal shelter and discovering a canine soul mate they can't wait to take home. It's an act of caring and devotion that makes life better for all involved.
But there's another—and very different—kind of dog adoption, one that can also be characterized as an act of caring and devotion: This is when dogs adopt other animals. This inter-species "adoption" is the maternal instinct taken to a higher level.
The concept of altruism in animals has been discussed and theorized by biologists and animal behavior experts for quite some time. For us humans—especially the dog lovers among us—one of the most touching examples of this behavior is when a nursing dog adopts newborns from another species.
One of the reason we love dogs so much is because they are so generous with their love. That's why stories of dogs adopting youngsters from other species (strange as the individual cases may sometimes be) don't strike us as impossible. Loving and caring are, after all, two of the things that dogs do best.
"Funny, the newborns don't look like the mom."
You don't have to spend too much time finding documented examples of inter-species adoption involving dog + other. The videos on YouTube alone could easily keep you busy for several happy hours. And a Google search also delivers many heartwarming and amazing examples.
Some of the combinations you'll find are not too-out-there. But then there are the ones that make you realize how powerful and all-encompassing maternal love really is.
Here are some of our favorite examples of inter-species dog adoption:
Dogs + wolf cubs. Since dogs and wolves are canine cousins, this combination doesn't seem to raise an eyebrow. Still, when you hear stories of dogs raising wolf cubs in zoos and conservation centers, your heart goes out to both the mom and the youngster. Those wolf cubs have fine role models in their adoptive doggie parents.
Dogs + kittens. Those of us who have both dogs and cats in our homes know that—cliché cartoon storylines aside—these two species are capable of forming strong bonds. It's not surprising, then, to come across stories (and videos) of mother dogs nursing cute kittens. However, this situation takes on a new dimension when the kitten isn't a domestic cat, but a panther or tiger. Mother-love stories like these have been reported in places as far apart as China, England, and Kansas.
Dogs + other non-canine mammals. This rather broad category includes dogs that have adopted pigs, deer, squirrels, and monkeys. Granted, not all of these adoptions involved nursing, but in many cases the "parent" dog has become a surrogate adult leader and "bringer upper" for a very young member of a very different species.
Dogs + birds. Birds of a feather may flock together, but what happens when a chick comes out of its shell and the first thing it sees is the barnyard dog? Instant bonding. Biologists call it "imprinting," and it can make for a very strong connection between the chick, duckling, or gosling and the four-legged, non-feathered parent figure. So don't be too surprised if you see some puffy and perky chicks trying their best to keep up with a dog as they wander around a farm. And, likewise, don't be surprised if you see that dog taking its parenting job very seriously, keeping a protective eye out for the chirping chicks in its care.