Dog Loves Her Adopted Babies So Much, She Starts Producing Milk For Them
The dog took one look at the baby genets, and decided she was going to be their mother.
The genets (small African mammals in the civet family) had been found lying in a puddle beneath a fallen tree near Hoedspruit, South Africa. Some children had chased off the mother by throwing stones at her, and the mother sadly didn't return. A different group of children noticed the abandoned babies, and alerted a local pastor.
The pastor contacted Daktari Bush School and Wildlife Orphanage, a nonprofit organization in South Africa that cares for orphaned and injured wildlife, and teaches local children to care for animals and their environment.
Ian and Michele Merrifield, the cofounders of Daktari, collected the genets, but they worried they wouldn't survive without their mother. The babies were only 2 weeks old, and they needed their mother for warmth and milk. "We were heartbroken and scared," Ian tells The Dodo. "The genets were so small and weak."
Their chances of survival were slim, but the Merrifields did everything they could to help. They bundled the babies up in a blanket and laid them next to their three white dogs in the office, hoping the dogs would help keep them warm.
One of the dogs - a poodle-cocker spaniel mix named Candy - was particularly interested in the genets. When the Merrifields started feeding them with syringes of warm milk, they noticed the babies snuggling up to Candy to keep warm. They even noticed, much to their initial amusement, that the genets were trying to suckle Candy's nipples.
Candy had had babies in the past, but she wasn't pregnant, and she certainly didn't have puppies at the time. So the Merrifields were astonished when Candy, days later, started producing milk.
"Candy is interested in most animals who come to Daktari," Ian explains, "but we were shocked to see that she'd actually started producing milk. The only way we could explain it was that her motherly instincts had kicked in."
According to veterinarian Dr. Honorata Lenk Markham, who works at Oaklawn Animal Hospital in Rhode Island, this is exactly what happened. "For one reason or another, maternal hormones get activated including oxytocin, the hormone that produces milk," Dr. Markham tells The Dodo. "In this case, the dog felt a strong connection to the babies, which then must have started a hormonal cascade in her body that resulted in her adopting the animals as her own. I often see dogs adopting stuffed animals. They protect them, nurture them and often produce milk for them."
Candy started nursing the genets - named Maswika, Sakka and Chouchou - every day, but the Merrifields knew they'd need to supplement the genets' milk intake. "Dog milk doesn't have as much calcium as genet milk," Ian explains, "so we had to add calcium supplements to the milk in the syringe, and continued to feed them that way as well."
But in Candy's eyes, she was the only mother Maswika, Sakka and Chouchou would ever need. "Once Candy felt protective and motherly towards the genets, they became inseparable," says Ian. "Candy became very jealous of any animals or people that came near the genets. The only people she allowed near her and the genets were Michele and myself."
Candy's motherly love helped the genets become strong, healthy young adults. Two of the genets - Maswika and Sakka - were released back into the wild. Chouchou, however, exhibited too much stress upon release, so they decided to keep her at Daktari.
Candy and Chouchou don't have many opportunities to interact anymore since Chouchou is nocturnal, and Candy's awake in the daytime. But when Michele or Ian go into Chouchou's enclosure at Daktari, Candy will squirm her way in to say hello to her now grown-up baby.
Daktari relies on public donations to run its bush school and wildlife orphanage. You can support Daktari by donating here.
You can also get more involved with Daktari by volunteering as a caretaker and teacher! Find more information about Daktari's volunteer program here.