The unlikely friendship between Henry, a Husky/Shepherd mix, and Baloo, a cat, has captivated the Internet, their outdoor adventures earning the adorable besties more than two million Instagram followers. But when Denver-based photographer Cynthia Bennett and her partner Andre Sibilsky first adopted Baloo in 2017, they worried if the then two-month-old kitten, a Siamese/Tabby/Norwegian Forest Cat mix, and their dog, would get along. Though the three-year-old Staffordshire Terrier/Boxer/Heeler/Husky/Shepherd mix was “the strongest, most loyal and caring dog I have ever known,” Bennett says, “Henry had never been around cats.”

Henry and Baloo/Cynthia Bennett

Her concern was for naught. “Their meeting blew us away,” says Bennett. “When Baloo saw Henry, he ran over and started to climb all over him. Henry had no idea what this new strange creature was, but was okay with it.” Baloo, whose mother had abandoned the litter, “immediately decided that Henry was his mom when they first met,” Bennett says. “Everyday, they became closer and closer and became inseparable. Henry really became attached to Baloo when we went car-camping together in Telluride, CO about two weeks after we adopted B. The first morning waking up from camping, when Henry saw that Baloo was still there, he got so excited. We think he was thrilled that his buddy from home was going to be his adventure buddy. After this, we noticed that Henry really took to Baloo, like Baloo had taken to Henry.”

Henry and Baloo/ Cynthia Bennett

Bennett had already been posting Henry’s adventures for his 30,000 Instagram followers as @henrythecoloradodog for about a year, but when she began sharing the pets’ special friendship forged along the family’s outdoor treks across the western United States, the account took off, hitting a million followers within a year. The page currently has 2.3 million followers, and has since inspired Bennett’s coffee table book, Our Wild Tails: The Adventures of Henry & Baloo, a shop by the same name, and the Henry & Baloo Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to land and wildlife preservation.

Interspecies friendships—especially between animals that have an instinctual hostility toward one another—are rarely formed in the wild, says Dr. Stanley Coren, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of British Columbia and author of How to Speak Dog, How Dogs Think, and The Intelligence of Dogs. “However, in captivity, with proxemics—animals living together under controlled circumstances—if the animals are introduced to each other’s company young enough, such friendships are not unknown.”

“When Henry died from T-cell lymphoma in March 2022, “Baloo ran from window to window looking for him while screaming.”

Most common is dogs bonding with cats, Coren says. “Surveys indicate that one out of seven dog owners also own one or more cats. Data suggests that in more than 80 percent of these households, there is little conflict.” he says.

Another such pair are best buddies Winston, a German Shepherd/Labrador cross, and his feline friend, Nox. Winston, a general farm dog whose job it is to protect the turkeys, chickens, and sheep at Whatley Acres, a family farm in Newmarket, ON, bonded with Nox when he was a puppy. “Winston, despite being quite a big breed, was terrified of most things as a pup,” says their guardian Lara Whatley. “I remember Winston wobbling over to Nox, tail wagging with all that chaotic energy of a young dog, and Nox seemed to just accept it. He rubbed his cheek against Winston and that was just too much—Winston’s tail was going like a helicopter.” Today, the duo is still inseparable and do farm rounds together.

Henry and Baloo/ Cynthia Bennett

Bennett, too, recalls the early days with her pets with surprise and delight. “We never expected them to love each other like they did,” she says. “Henry and Baloo played, slept, ate, and hiked together and hung out looking out the window. “They were very rarely separated and by doing everything together, it strengthened their bond that much more.”

When Henry died from T-cell lymphoma in March 2022, “Baloo ran from window to window looking for him while screaming,” says Bennett. “When he wasn’t doing that, he would bury himself under things, making it super hard to find him. It was one of the most heartbreaking things I’ve had to watch.”

Pan and Baloo/ Cynthia Bennett

A couple of weeks after Henry’s death, his family adopted Pan, a Husky/ Malamute/ Great Pyrenees mix as a friend for Baloo, who had stopped eating completely. (“It got to the point where we were considering seeking medical help,” says Bennett.) “We like to say Baloo picked his puppy. He got to meet a few and Pan ran up to him and licked his face and Baloo leaned in. Baloo never did this with any other dog but Henry, so we knew he really liked him.” Adoption complete, the couple took the pair back to their hotel where Baloo, to the relief of his pet parents, ate a meal. “Andre and I started crying because Pan literally was saving Baloo,” says Bennett. They are now best friends, although Bennett acknowledges it’s a different relationship.

“Henry was Baloo’s mom, his caretaker, while Pan is his bestie,” she says. “Baloo even has a special trill call for Pan to come play in the front room with him…Pan’s also on the submissive, shy side so Baloo watches out for him. It’s almost a role reversal from Henry and Baloo.”

Any friendship between animals is healthy as long as there is no probability of aggressive interactions, says Coren, “or the possibility that the larger one of the pair might inadvertently injure the smaller one, especially if they engage in vigorous play.”

Hans /Isolde Mattart

But it can work. Just ask Isolde Mattart, whose Saint Bernard, Julie, and her bottle-raised goat, Hans, rose to fame after The Dodo covered the story about the two unusual friends. Since then, Belgian media has covered the story extensively.

Saint Bernard Julie, now 11, is “the definition of a gentle giant, naturally good-hearted, tolerant, and calm,” says Mattart, a business banker who lives in Damme, Belgium. “She’s drawn to all kinds of animals, and others are equally drawn to her” but is like a mother to Hans, who was orphaned at birth. The pair cuddles and sleeps together, and Hans “does parkour” on her back, Mattart says.

Dave & boop boop/Laura Ingall

Animal trainer for film and television, Laura Ingall’s pets all get along, and that’s not an act. Dave, a Great Dane, and Boop Boop, a two-year-old male Macaw, have a special friendship, but it wasn’t love at first sight. “Boop, if allowed, is a big old bully,” says Ingall, a Hampshire, U.K.-based director of Pets on Set whose credits include Apple TV series Bad Sisters and Netflix series Anatomy of a Scandal. “He chased poor Dave about who was pretty terrified initially.” Now friends, “Boop likes to give Dave mani-pedis and clean his teeth. Dave just lies there and takes it.”

Vendetta & Lemony/ Natacha Tamenne

Many animals can be trained to get along, says Ingall. “It’s all about proper introductions, they have to be done gently and with an understanding of whichever species you’re introducing. Body language is everything and knowing when either animal is feeling stressed, overexcited, worried, etc, is key.” Ground rules must be laid and followed. “No being a bully, no staring intensely, no chasing, no stalking… calm behaviours from everyone involved is vital.” This, says Ingall, “keeps things safe for everyone and they can all relax knowing where they stand.”

Vendetta & Lemony/ Natacha Tamenne

Natacha Tamenne didn’t expect her German Shepherd Vendetta and Lemony, an Indian runner duck, to get along the way they did when she adopted the latter in 2018. “I think it is an unusual combination, as ducks and dogs are biologically very different,” says the Villemer, France resident, who has since met friends all over the world with the same species pairing. Following a trip to the river—and discovering a shared love of water— Vendetta and Lemony have become a bonded pair with a strong protective instinct on the part of Vendetta.

Vendetta & Lemony/ Natacha Tamenne

“No dog, or anything who seems like a menace, can approach her duck,” says Tamenne of Vendetta. As for Lemony, she won’t go anywhere without her dog.

“Knowing when either animal is feeling stressed, overexcited, worried, etc, is key.”

More recently, Tamenne added two rescued pigeons, Grisella and Heldig, to her growing menagerie. “They follow us on our daily walks but also on our journeys or when we just chill on the couch,” she says. “They take their bath in the river with Lemony then take a nap perched on Vendetta.”

Whatever the species, these interspecies friendships have something to teach people. “It gives us that feeling that peace is possible among individuals of different races and creeds,” says Coren.

Bennett was happy to discover that following a period of grief over Henry’s death, the Internet community has embraced Pan. As for Baloo, he hasn’t forgotten Henry despite having a new friend. “We still have a blanket and teddy bear that was Henry’s that Pan isn’t allowed to touch so that when Baloo is missing Henry, he can go over and snuggle ‘him’ and his scent,” says Bennett, who is working on a second book, Pan + Baloo (& Henry too), in tribute to these friendships, and the universal love lessons they have to impart. “It doesn’t matter what you look like on the outside,” she says. “It’s about who you are on the inside.”

Bella / Laura Ingall

How to Introduce Your Dog to Different Species

London-based stunt dog trainer Melissa Millett advises managing animal interactions to always be positive for both. “I do not believe in allowing animals to ‘work it out,’” says the owner of Ultimutts, dog training instructor at In Dogs We Trust and motion picture animal trainer with Hollywoof Stars.

In the case of dogs and cats, Millett advises keeping dogs on leash around cats so that they are never allowed to chase, for as long as it takes. Intense staring at the cat should also be avoided as it can be a scary experience, says Millett. Short supervised interactions with plenty of treats for both animals is best. “Crate and rotate until they are neutral in each other’s space. (This) can help foster a positive relationship.” Two of Millett’s pets, Boston Terrier Lollipop and Bengal cat Sashimi are proof this works, even taking their close relationship—and scooter-riding act—on television’s America’s Got Talent.

As for dogs and wild animals, “I would not leave them unattended,” says Millett. “Become really adept at reading body language to ensure that there are no concerning predatory behaviours being missed.”

This article originally appeared in the award-winning Modern Dog magazine. Subscribe today!