Emotional support dogs are used to keep cheetahs calm and happy

Zoos across the country have adopted the practice of pairing cheetahs, which are nervous and skittish by nature, with an emotional support dog companion to keep the cheetahs calm. Link to the Atlas Obscura article here.

The policy has its roots in a 1976 cheetah breeding program at Wildlife Safari in Oregon, where biologist Laurie Marker was rearing a lonely cheetah cub named Khayam.

Cheetahs are companionable litter-mates, but Marker had no other cats to put with Khayam. So she decided to try pairing the fastest land mammal on the planet with the animal typically thought of as a human's best friend.

And it worked: Khayam and a Lab-mix named Shesho became fast friends.

Raising Khayam with a dog "provided friendship, security, and [helped keep the cheetah] calm," Marker says in an email. "Companion dogs act as a surrogate for cheetah siblings … It is the friendship between the two individuals that creates a strong bond, and this is what makes for a successful pairing."

Here is a video from my own childhood zoo, Turtle Back Zoo, about Nandi the cheetah and Bowie the dog, who were raised together and are best friends.

Dr. Marker is now in Namibia, and is the Founder and Executive Director of the Cheetah Conservation Fund. And she's still using dogs to help cheetahs.

But now it's to protect livestock from cheetahs, and therefore cheetahs from farmers.

CCF started a livestock guarding dog program, giving farmers Kangal and Anatolian shepherd dogs, which protect livestock by barking and scaring away cheetahs and other predators.

Farmers no longer need to kill cheetahs (or other predators) in order to protect their livestock and their livelihood. Similar programs have now been launched in Botswana, South Africa and Tanzania.

You can donate to the Cheetah Conservation Fund here.