Dog takes on mothering duties for kitten

June 03, 2009|By DANN DENNY / Bloomington (Ind.) Herald-Times

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- This is Tinkerbell's first stab at motherhood, and by all accounts she's doing a splendid job.

She's nursing her kitten, licking it affectionately, and carrying it around by the scruff of its neck.

There's only one problem. Tinkerbell is a dog.

Apparently, no one has informed the brown, 10-month-old Jack Russell/Lhasa apso mix that she's not a feline and couldn't purr her way out of a paper bag.

"She thinks she's the mom," said Shana Sanders, Tinkerbell's owner.

Sanders said a steady stream of friends and neighbors have been coming to the house to see the strange sight.

"Everyone thinks it's really neat," she said. "They all say, 'I've heard of this, but I've never seen it.'"

Sanders said she, her husband, Kipp, and their three daughters are proud of Tinkerbell's nurturing instinct, which has fully flowered in a matter of days.


"I think she realized this kitten didn't have a mom, so she stepped up to the plate," Sanders said. "She's a pretty spoiled dog, so you would think she might be jealous of this cute little kitten. Instead, she became her mother."

Bloomington veterinarian Casey Shake said he and Scott Royer, a fellow vet at the Town and County Veterinary Clinic, do on rare occasions see female dogs that nurse kittens.

"Dr. Royer had a dog that nursed an entire litter of kittens," he said. "He didn't believe it until he saw it with his own eyes."

So how does Shake explain why some dogs nurse kittens? He doesn't.

"To be honest, I can't explain it," he said. "I guess it's just nature's motherly instinct kicking in."

Local veterinarian Carolyn VandeWiele suggested Tinkerbell might have gone through a false pregnancy, sparking hormonal changes in the pup and causing lactation.

"All dogs go through a false pregnancy after a heat cycle. Oftentimes, they will show signs of actually being pregnant -- nesting, et cetera," said VandeWiele, who has not worked directly with Tinkerbell. "A lot of changes follow after a dog goes through a heat cycle. This would certainly allow the dog to nurse a kitten, or any number of animals of other species."

Call her 'Lucky'

Tuesday, the Sanders family gathered together for the purpose of coming up with a name for the adopted kitten. The choice was unanimous -- Lucky.

Katie Sanders, 8, said Tinkerbell's behavior is "kind of weird." Little sister Cara, 3, sees it differently, saying "Tinker saved Lucky's life."

Kitten was abandoned

Sanders' aunt, Brenda Rose, found Lucky, along with Lucky's sibling, in a dumpster last week. Rose took the pair of 4-week-old kittens home and began feeding them milk and sugar through a syringe.

Last Friday, before leaving town for the weekend, Rose asked Sanders to take care of the kittens while she was gone.

"They were in a cooler and Tinkerbell sat right next to it and wouldn't let our other dog (a Yorkshire terrier named Harley) come near them," Sanders said. "She was very protective."

That night, Sanders bathed the kittens and placed them in a pet bed sitting on the couch. Tinkerbell immediately lay down with them, curling her body around them on the soft cushion. She slept with them throughout the night.

"That night and throughout the next day, I noticed the two kittens were nursing, but I thought they were dry nursing," Sanders said. "But Sunday morning, I noticed milk dribbling down their chins. I picked up Tinkerbell and saw two of her nipples were enlarged and had milk coming out of them. I could hardly believe it."

Sunday night, Lucky's sibling, which had been born deformed, died. But Lucky, thanks in part to her steady source of nutrient-rich milk, is thriving.

"Tinker still carries her around in her mouth wherever she goes," Sanders said. "And she sleeps with her every night, either in the pet bed, on the couch, or in our bed."

Sanders and her aunt agree that Lucky now belongs in the Sanders' home.

"We'll keep her here for the rest of her life," Sanders said. "Now that she's bonded so strongly with Tinker, how could we not?"

Herald-Times Reporter Brady Gillihan contributed to this report.

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