Tarra is big. Really big. Over 8 feet tall and 8,700 pounds. Not very surprising, as she’s an Asian elephant.
Bella is small, about the height of Tarra’s knee. She’s a rescued dog living at The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee.
What could two such different animals have in common? Apparently, quite a lot, as despite their differences, these two have formed an inseparable bond. Sanctuary founder Carol Buckley reports that the unlikely pair eat, drink, play, and sleep together. Bella enjoys resting in the shade cast by her bulky buddy. Tarra strokes the dog with her trunk, and Bella lies on her back so the elephant can rub her tummy with her giant foot. A popular clip on Youtube shows the two ambling side by side across some of the 2,700 open acres of the sanctuary.
When Bella was injured and confined to a bed indoors, Tarra held vigil outside, pressing her immense head against the fence nearby, waiting and watching for her missing friend. Finally, the patient was carried out so Tarra could see that Bella was mending. The reunion was such a success that it became a daily ritual until Bella was able to walk again.
In the mid-eighties, when I had owned my German Wirehaired Pointer, Freda, for about a year, I thought I should get her some company. I chose a cat, a five-week old tabby named Omega who was far too young to be away from her mommy-cat. I was also young, so I muddled through the best I could, mashing wet cat food with canned milk, not something I would now recommend.
Freda had her own solution to this kitten problem: she developed a false pregnancy, and not only did she start producing milk, but she allowed Omega to nurse from her for many weeks. Although a bout of mastitis eventually put an end to the nursing, they continued to sleep together, and Freda would often have little scratches on her tummy where Omega would knead her with her paws as she fell asleep nestled up against her. The two also worked together. When I would thaw food on the counter, out of Freda’s reach, Omega would jump up and paw the food to the edge where it was easily accessed by my dog. The two of them formed a bond that would last their lifetimes, and many years later, when Freda died, it must have broken her buddy’s heart, because two weeks later, Omega also passed away.
In the harsh climate of the far north, “kill or be killed” is the rule for survival and the relationship between dogs and wild animals is usually one of predator and prey, with the dog sometimes as hunter and sometimes as the hunted. In one amazing incident, however, this scenario was set aside when a group of sled dogs in Canada’s Hudson Bay area made a new frosty friend; the entire exchange was captured by German wildlife photographer Norbert Rosing.
In the frozen tundra near Churchill, Manitoba, a team of sled dogs was tied up when a Polar Bear approached. Grabbing his camera to capture what he expected to be a fight to the death, Rosing instead chronicled the Huskies and the bear starting to play. Photographs show bear and dogs pawing, mouthing, and wrestling companionably together with no harm done to either party. The bear reportedly came back every night for a week to continue to play with the dogs. The photographs show no images of hostility, aggression, or even fear, but rather curiosity, kindness and a genuine interest in exploring the unfamiliar.
It should really come as no surprise to us that dogs have this ability to befriend so many different creatures. After all, they have been doing it with our species, human beings, for centuries. From them, we can learn acceptance, tolerance, openmindedness, and unquestioning love.
Like Gilda Radner said, dogs are the role models for being alive. We should follow their lead.