SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) – It’s time to shine a light on Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend — specifically three new additions!
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Three endangered African painted dogs were just born at the zoo in September, and they’re alive today thanks to the great staff and a golden retriever.
It’s an incredible story and the zoo has gained national recognition because of it.
“This is something we’ve been trying to do for many years, just have a breeding program with our painted dogs,” said Josh Sisk, executive director at the Potawatomi Zoo. “We’ve had painted dogs for six or seven years here at the zoo, but this is the first time we’ve actually had puppies.”
The unnamed painted dog pups are currently identified as Blue, Red, and Orange for the colors the staff have used to track them. They’ve had an unusual and challenging start to life, but the zoo hopes they will have a bright and successful future.
“We want mom to be able to raise them, but it was very clear in the beginning that mom was not gonna raise these pups,” Sisk said. “So, we intervened, and we were able to raise these three little healthy boys that we’re excited about one day kind of getting paired up with some other females in some other zoos and be able to contribute to the breeding program.”
The African Painted Dog Species Survival Plan (SSP), a group of zoo professionals who determine the breeding plans for this species in accredited zoos across the United States, recommended that the zoo find a surrogate domestic dog to nurse the pups instead of bottle-feeding them.
“We started making phone calls just to shelters and humane societies — people we knew, just reaching out to our community to see if they could find us a lactating female because the SSP recommended the best survival for these guys to be raised by another dog,” explained Jami Richard, the zoo’s general curator.
Introducing Kassy, the golden retriever who had a new litter of her own puppies and milk to share with the new painted dog puppies.
“She was our hero,” Richard said. “She was here, she got brought into this place that was scary for her — it was a vet hospital — with all these different smells. And she just accepted these strange creatures that look like dogs but didn’t smell like dogs, didn’t look like her dogs, and she just accepted them.”
While Kassy was the star of the show, the zoo’s staff deserves just as much recognition for helping Blue, Red, and Orange survive.
“Jami and I spent the first three to four weeks every night here,” said Dr. Allison Dianis, staff veterinarian. “There was someone here 24/7 with the dogs, making sure that everyone was doing okay.”
“It’s been an emotional roller coaster for sure.” Richard said. “I don’t even know if those are the right words. It’s been so emotional. The dedication our staff had for these guys, we just couldn’t ask for a better staff and commitment. I don’t really know what to say, except for crying.”
Sisk also gave a lot of praise to the zoo’s commitment to these new additions.
“It’s been a testament of the direction that the zoo is going,” he said. “And when I think about the staff commitment to this — and in between our veterinarian and our animal curator spending four weeks every single night sleeping next to Kassy, rotating her puppies with these puppies — we have a great team here, and it’s just been amazing to see what they’ve been able to do to get these three boys to where we are right now.”
The pups are living behind the scenes, but zoo officials say they may make their public debut soon.
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