Sometimes an Old Goat Is Just the Friend You Need

Article excerpt

Depending where you stand on the dog/cat/budgie/pot-bellied pig continuum, you may or may not agree with the notion that dogs are man's best friends.

Still, there's no denying the shared affection humans have with their canine companions. But what's interesting about the new PBS/Nature documentary Animal Odd Couples is that it might also be possible for a dog to have a BFF relationship with a deer or a cow or a cheetah.

This engaging, educational and, at times, heart-tugging film challenges the long-held scientific notion that animals (other than humans) are incapable of demonstrating compassion, creating deep emotional bonds and cultivating long-term friendships.

If the footage presented here is to be believed, animals are, indeed, capable of complex relationships involving emotional connections that extend far beyond basic self-preservational instincts and the pursuit of food.

Animal Odd Couples opens at Busch Gardens in Florida, where keepers paired two orphaned animals -- Mtani, a golden-retriever puppy and Kasi, a cheetah cub -- to see if a mutually beneficial relationship would evolve. Watching the two animals -- one that would traditionally prey on the other -- frolic and play makes it pretty clear that something special has occurred.

"It's an interesting relationship," says assistant curator Tim Smith. "Dogs and cheetahs are so close, overall, in their disposition, the way that they're socially structured, and their length of life, that they can coexist in a space even though they're at different places in the line of carnivores."

The same is true for Anthony and Riley, best-friend residents of Keepers of the Wild sanctuary in Arizona -- Anthony, a lion, and Riley, a coyote, were introduced to one another as newborns and, through years of shared play, developed an obvious level of trust that has endured into adulthood. …