You wouldn’t expect from the fastest animals on the planet and one of the most ᴅᴀɴɢᴇʀᴏᴜs one, to be sensitive. But this is exactly how cheetahs are.
In fact, sometimes they get so anxious and stressed, they can’t even socialize or procreate. That’s why these beautiful felines need help. And the perfect solution came from a really unexpected source.
After studies on their behavior, it was obviously they need assistance. So now zookeepers are assigning them their own emotional support dogs. “It’s a love story of one species helping another species survive,” said Jack Grisham, vice president of animal collections at the St. Louis Zoo and species sᴜʀᴠɪᴠᴀʟ plan coordinator for cheetahs in North America.
“A dominant dog is very helpful because the African animals are quite shy instinctively, and you can’t breed that out of them,” explains Janet Rose-Hinostroza, animal training supervisor at the San Diego Zoo Safari Park.
“When you pair cheetah cub with a guide dog, the cat looks to the dog for cues and learns to model their behavior. It’s about getting them to read that calm, happy-go-lucky vibe from the cheetah support dog” – and that helps them be more confident and willing to get it on.
According to the San Diego Zoo, cheetah cubs get assigned a companion when they are three to four months old. At first, the cheetahs are introduced to their canine companion from opposite sides of a fence. During this time, the dogs are with a handler and kept on a leash.
If the zookeepers see a potential pairing, they will let the two animals go on a “play date” in order to familiarize themselves with one another. This is always a slow process, particularly for the cheetahs who may feel uneasy.
If all goes well during the meeting, the handlers will continue to observe them before determining when they can let the dog off the leash. If this decision is made, they can be moved into a space where they’ll spend lots of time together.
At this point, the cheetahs and their emotional support dogs will only really be separated at mealtime and will do most of their other activities together.
Since the first pair were put together in 1980, zookeepers say the dogs have had a very positive effect on the cheetahs. However, in previous times it was only done in special circumstances. However, today, dogs are being used more frequently to assist in the preservation efforts of the cheetah species.