Unlikely Friendships: how animals can teach us to be better humans!


Almost everyone who meets my rescued Springer Spaniel Brogan notes what a wonderful temperament he has, and that I must have spent a lot of time training him to be so calm and friendly with everyone.  And though yes, I spent countless time training my dog, his temperament is exactly that: his own.  This is usually when I explain that Brogan is actually my role model, and I strive to live life the way he does… He always assumes the best of everyone, never judges or holds grudges, he lives for every moment, and loves without abandon.


The relationship of man and dog has been estimated to go back about 10,000 years, so it’s not surprising that many of us see our dogs as our family.  But what about animals who befriend with other animals, making unlikely pairs?  How and why do two different species bond?


Sometimes these bonds occur at the very beginning of life, when an animal “imprints” and forms an attachment and familiarity to another.  Imprinting is an ethology term that defines the rapid learning that happens during a critical period of socialization, creating “a long-lasting behavioral response to a specific individual, object, offspring, or site.”


Check out this young alpaca, who was raised around cats, and now has formed a strong bond with a few feline friends.  http://lovemeow.com/2014/01/bottle-fed-alpaca-grew-up-with-cats/  This is perfect example of imprinting — Lacey the alpaca was exposed to cats during her critical period of socialization, which led her to form an out-of-the-ordinary (but totally adorable!) pair bonding with felines.


This reminds me of the famous movie “Milo & Otis”, about the adventurous pug and orange tabby duo who become best friends.  It always fascinated me how they filmed these different farm and wild animals together so successfully.  Reviewing the movie as an adult (and now as a behaviorist), I see that every animal is very, very young, and must assume the early exposure to different species was what made the animals so candid and captivating to watch together.


Altruism — “the unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others” — may be another reason why some form these incredible friendships.  My favorite, most heartfelt example of this is of the elephant Tarra and her dog Bella, who became virally famous over their unique pact.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qlajUJ1ygdI  Tarra waited relentlessly when Bella was ill, keeping vigil for no reason other than what I assume is a deep bond for her beloved friend.  When Bella died by what was assumed to be a coyote attack, there was evidence that suggested Tarra the elephant carried Bella’s body with her trunk over a mile to bring her back home to the sanctuary.  Even at the end of the segment, you see the other altruistic elephants supporting Tarra as she mourns the loss of her canine friend, keeping her company and even offering her their food.  Simply amazing!


Despite imprinting and altruism, let’s be honest… friendship makes you feel good!  Being around someone you trust and love can boost serotonin levels and relieve depression.  This adorable video of a hound dog and an orangutan exemplifies the pure, selfless joy one can find in a true friendship. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d79ArrL8VRgrs_560x415-130917105624-1024.elephant-dog.ls.91713_copy  Though after seeing the child-like ways the orangutan plays with the dog, I wonder if perhaps the hound had a small child in his life before encountering his new orangutan friend, creating some sort of imprinting for this style of play.  What do you think?


To me, these animals are wiser than us humans.  They find unconditional love for one another, despite all the vast differences between them.  In my humble opinion, if we lived the way they do, this world would be a much better place.