Golden Retriever Helps Raise African Painted Dog Pups

Three rare African painted dog pups have found a support system in one of the most unlikely places.

The Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend, Indiana, shared on Wednesday that two of their African painted dogs, Bleu and Maurice, had a litter of eight puppies born on Sept. 28. However, the animal care team at the zoo realized shortly after the endangered pups were born that they faced a big dilemma.

The pups' mother, Bleu — described by the zoo as an "inexperienced mother" — had shown signs that she was "not caring for her pups the way she should," and Maurice had followed her lead. Their pack, which includes Bleu's sister, Colby, also exhibited behavior that showed zookeepers the animals wouldn't be successful at raising the pups.

"We knew within 24 hours that we had to separate them," the zoo's executive director, Josh Sisk said.

The Potawatomi Zoo said its animal care staff consulted with the African Painted Dog Species Survival Plan, which determines the breeding plans for species across accredited zoos in the U.S., and decided that the litter of puppies needed to be "hand-raised."

Sisk told the South Bend Tribune that wild dog pups can be aggressive and "you can't just run in and grab them." So, the zoo decided to find a surrogate dog to help raise the pups and was connected — with the help of the Indiana Council for Animal Welfare — with a golden retriever named Kassy, who recently had her own litter of puppies and could nurse the African painted dog pups alongside them.

Kassy arrived at the zoo the "day after the pups were born" and "immediately accepted them." As the animal care staff watched, the golden retriever nursed and cared for them like her own puppies.

"It was a crazy first month," Sisk said. "Our team was there for four weeks, 24/7. We had a mattress next to the dogs."

However, despite the staff and Kassy's efforts, not all of the African painted dog pups survived, the zoo said. Four weeks after the litter of eight was born, only three pups remained. They were named Blue, Red, and Orange.

The zoo said it tried to reintegrate the pups with Bleu, Colby, and Maurice's pack, but the adult canines "didn't display suitable positive interest in the puppies." So the zoo opted to build a home adjacent to the adult dogs instead so the puppies could still "learn how to behave like painted dogs."

"Blue, Red, and Orange have had an unusual and challenging start to life, but the zoo hopes they will have a bright and successful future," the zoo said in their release, noting that keepers hoped to integrate the pips with the adult African painted dogs eventually.

The zoo added that it hoped the pups would be "visible" to the public soon.

"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 shared. "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."