A caring canine is giving new meaning to the term ‘doggy day care’ by becoming a surrogate parent to a range of animals – including tigers, monkeys and a hyena!
Igor the German Shepherd is helping to raise the animals at the Zoological Wildlife Foundation, a sanctuary in Miami, Florida.
Owners Mario and Maria Tabraue brought Igor to the sanctuary in the hope of him making friends with the baby animals – but little did they know the lovable pooch would become an unofficial member of staff, tending to the animals’ emotional needs.
‘He loves animals, he’s my mascot, he’s my best friend and he does what pleases me – this is how I analyse it. He does what I love to do because I love to do it,’ says Mario.
The couple took in Igor three-and-a-half years ago when a friend who trains dogs offered to give them a pup and the animal lovers snapped at the opportunity to add to their numbers.
‘Igor came through Canine Kennels where they train dogs for the police,’ explains Maria. ‘Mario saw him and fell in love with him and we decided we wanted him to be part of our family.
‘He’s played a big role for us, for the family, for other animal companions we have at home. He plays a part with the visitors that come here, they’re in love with him.’
The sanctuary boasts an array of exotic animals ranging from tigers to common farm animals – with a strong focus on conservation.
Igor recently befriended a tiger cub after he was rejected by his mother and the pair have since struck an unlikely friendship.
‘They love to run and chase each other for hours, sometimes just running back and forth and then they jump up and down with each other,’ says Mario.
The pair becoming pals has allowed for the baby tiger to develop important social skills – something it would learn from its mother in the wild.
‘Visitors love a dog having a relationship with a tiger,’ explains Maria. ‘They find it very interesting and we have people coming back here and visit us again and again because they’re so mesmerised with the place and the animals.’
The addition of Igor has helped Mario and Maria add another dimension to the care they provide to the animals, particularly the big cats as they can often reject their own cubs, forcing everyone at the sanctuary to become surrogate parents.
‘Mario will take over the first few weeks then he’ll start teaching the staff to take over and taking care of the feedings during the day and then he’ll take over at night. Eventually Igor will be a part of that also because he will play with them and then that becomes the nourishing part,’ says Maria.
‘That’s the best way to grow an animal – with a dog they become friendlier, more easy, more caring.’