Golden retriever helps raise African painted dog pups after their own mother wouldn't care for them

A golden retriever served as an unlikely surrogate mother to a litter of endangered African painted dogs born at a zoo in Indiana

The Potawatomi Zoo, located in South Bend, recently introduced three endangered African painted dog pups that were born at the facility in September. Eight pups were originally born, but their parents, mother Bleu and father Maurice, were not caring for the babies, according to a post by the zoo. 

In the wild, African painted dogs live in large packs with "unique social dynamics and vocalizations," the Potawatomi Zoo said. All adult dogs in the pack help to feed and raise the pups, and the success of the birth and the likelihood of raising live puppies can be jeopardized if the pack doesn’t work together as they should, according to the zoo. 


Kassy is pictured nursing the three endangered African painted dog pups, along with her own puppies, at the Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend, Indiana. (Credit: Potawatomi Zoo)

"Within 12 hours of the puppies’ birth at the Potawatomi Zoo, the Animal Care team could tell that the pack would not be able to successfully raise the puppies," the Potawatomi Zoo said in a news release. "Bleu, an inexperienced mother, was not caring for her pups the way she should have, and Maurice was following her lead."

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As a result, animal care staff quickly consulted with the African Painted Dog Species Survival Plan (SSP), a group of zoo professionals who develop breeding plans for this species at zoos across the U.S. Together, the SSP group and the zoo made the "difficult decision" to intervene and hand-raise the puppies.


One of the endangered African painted dog pups is pictured at the Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend, Indiana. (Credit: Potawatomi Zoo)

Seeking to raise the painted dog pups in a canine social structure, the zoo sought out a surrogate domestic dog to nurse the pups instead of bottle-feeding them. Within "a few hours," the local Indiana Council for Animal Welfare connected the zoo with a golden retriever female named Kassy who had a new litter of puppies and milk to share.

Kassy and her puppies arrived at the Potawatomi Zoo the day after the painted dog puppies were born. 

"Kassy immediately accepted the painted dog puppies and began to nurse and care for them like they were her own," the zoo said.

The zoo’s veterinarian and care team worked "24 hours a day" during the first four weeks of life to make sure all the pups, including Kassy’s golden retriever puppies, were getting enough food and attention from the mother. 

"As is common with baby animals, some of the painted dog pups weren’t strong enough to survive, despite the dedicated attention Kassy and the Zoo staff gave them, but three did," the zoo said in its post. 

The Potawatomi Zoo said it originally planned to have the three painted dog pups, currently named Blue, Red, and Orange for the colors staff have used to track them, reintegrate with Bleu and the other African painted dogs. But the animals "didn’t display suitable positive interest in the puppies," so the zoo is now working to build a home next to the adult painted dogs so they can learn how to behave like their species.

Once the African painted dog pups are older, they can either be integrated with the Potawatomi Zoo pack or moved to another accredited facility, the zoo said.


The three endangered African painted dog pups are pictured at the Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend, Indiana. (Credit: Potawatomi Zoo)

Native to sub-Saharan Africa, there are fewer than 7,000 adult painted dogs left in the wild and are considered endangered due to human-wildlife conflict, habitat fragmentation, and disease.

"It has been an emotionally exhausting and challenging journey for the team, but it is the Zoo’s mission to work toward the preservation of wild species," the zoo said. "Sometimes the journey is smooth, and sometimes it takes extraordinary measures. These three healthy, active pups are just the start of this story, and the Zoo hopes to share more positive updates of their milestones in the future."

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This story was reported from Cincinnati.