This baby takin didn’t really look like any other animal. In some ways, his appearance was that of a goat, a buffalo and a moose all rolled into one. As a result, it was important that he had someone to relate to. So after his mom rejected him, he found comfort in an unlikely best friend.
Dale the takin was born at Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio in June 2015. A takin is a breed of goat-antelope native to the eastern Himalayas. However, due to overhunting and habitat loss, the population of the species is in decline.
As a result, every takin birth is good news in terms of conservation. Moreover, Dale was only the seventh takin to be born in Cincinnati. As a result, staff at the zoo couldn’t wait to meet their latest addition.
And after an eight-month pregnancy, Dale’s mom, Sally, finally went into labor. And although the delivery went to plan, what happened next came as a surprise. That’s because Sally seemed to have no interest in her new baby.
“His mom didn’t know quite what to do with him,” Dawn Strasser, from Cincinnati Zoo’s nursery told USA Today in 2015. “She didn’t want to take care of him so we brought him up to the nursery.”
Experts believe Sally abandoned Dale because he couldn’t stand up properly after birth. So staff would have to feed and care for the youngster. However, he would still need a fellow animal to show him the way. “Dale’s a herd animal, so he wants a companion,” Strasser explained.
Luckily for Dale, the zoo’s nursery was home to a very special animal indeed. Blakely, an Australian Shepherd dog, first arrived at the zoo when he was seven months old. He came from a local rescue shelter, but now calls the zoo his home.
Staff at the zoo hold Blakely in high regard. In fact, some see him as their equal. “He’s like the best employee ever,” Strasser explained. “He’s like my boss. He’s always in a good mood. Takes criticism well, doesn’t talk back.”
The reason employees speak so highly of Blakely is because he does such an important job. The dog is the zoo’s only animal caretaker. It’s his duty to take abandoned animals under his wing and teach them the appropriate way to behave.
Before Dale arrived at the nursery, Blakely had already cared for a cheetah cub, a skunk and a baby warthog. So staff had no doubt the then five-year-old pooch would be able to hand a little takin. Even if he was already bigger than him.
When Dale first arrived at the nursery he was still working out how to use his legs. He had quite a nervous disposition and was also prone to taking random naps. But luckily for the baby takin, Blakely has the patience of a saint.
“He has to tolerate all the little baby stuff,” Strasser admitted. “Chewing on, sucking on, pulling his feet, pulling his tail. [But] he’s a companion, he’s a socializer and he’s a trainer. He spends lots of time with the babies when they’re little. He teaches them how to have appropriate behavior.”
One of Dale’s biggest problems was that he loved to charge at things and kick out. “He’s kind of like a bull in a china closet,” Strasser said. “He flips around but then he wants to come lay on your lap like a big dog. But he’s 50 pounds and smells really musty.”
But in Blakely, Dale met his match. The brave dog wasn’t afraid to play-fight with the boisterous takin. However, he also knew when to call time on the youngster if he became too rough. Consequently, the animal learned how to play within limits.
It was also crucial for Dale to get more exercise to develop his upper muscles. And although human staff at the zoo found it difficult to motivate the baby, once again, Blakely had no such issue. “[Dale’s] like, ‘Okay, I can follow my buddy and we’ll just go. It’s all okay,’” Strasser revealed.
Spending time with Blakely seemed to give Dale a newfound confidence in life, too. “Blakely also offers a calmness,” Strasser explained. “So if he does get anxious or nervous, he’ll go stand next to me or next to Blakely. If we’re okay, he’s okay.”
And when they had completed their long day, Blakely and Dale loved to snuggle up for a well-earned rest. “These guys get along because they’ve learned to get along,” Strasser said. “They don’t know to hate each other. If we could apply animals to humanity this would be a nicer place,” she joked.
So thanks to Blakely, Dale came on leaps and bounds. However, like all good things, their relationship soon came to an end. The takin outgrew his best friend. So staff decided to return him to his mom, Sally.
“We started by giving mom and baby visual access through a mesh screen. After that went well, we put them together for short periods. They are now together all the time and getting along great. Sally nuzzles him and responds when he initiates play,” wildlife Keeper Paul Reinhart revealed in a statement.
Although he moved on from Blakely, Dale will no doubt remember his time with his doggy best friend fondly. And as for Blakely – he continues to care for babies that need his help. So while they say it takes a village to raise a child, it turns out it only takes a dog to raise a zoo.