Local pets defy nature for survival

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 14, 2000

It defies all beliefs of nature. Cats and dogs usually despise each other. Dogs chase cats, and cats scratch dogs. However, three Greenville animals have gone against these typical laws of nature and have taken friendship to a different level.

Ever since Nancy Benson and her daughters brought home two kittens, their family dog Chewie, a three-year-old, chocolate-colored female Boykin spaniel, has adopted them for her own.

Chewie, who has never before had a litter of puppies or even seen puppies, began nursing five-week-old Smokey and seven-week-old Sparkle, both female kittens, soon after their arrival at the Benson household. While the animals are eating, Chewie will wash them with her tongue just as their real mothers would.

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According to Dr. Bill Watson, local veterinarian, sometimes animals who have never had babies themselves will experience a "false pregnancy" when their body begins producing all the hormones and experiencing all symptoms of an actual pregnancy.

"Chewie would immediately roll over and let them suckle," Benson said. "It's really the most amazing thing, since I don't think she's ever even seen a puppy before, and these are kittens."

Benson said she got the kittens a few weeks ago from the Greenville Animal Shelter. Since she and her husband are going through a divorce, she wanted seven-year-old Grace and six-year-old Colby to have something to keep their mind off of it as much as possilbe. They had originally decided to get just one kitten after seeing a friend's kitten from the city's animal shelter.

However, since Benson has two daughters, she let each of them pick out one.

"It's only fair that they each have one, and the kittens can also keep each other occupied," Benson said, watching black Sparkle and gray Smokey tumble over each other under the watchful eye of their "mother" Chewie.

Benson said the kittens were weaned when they picked them out at the shelter, but seemed to pick up their old habits after finding an agreeable substitute for their mothers.

Since Chewie is a trained fowl retriever and able to fetch dove and quail that her owner has killed, she has natural hunting instincts inbred into her. However, it seems that her mothering instincts also come naturally.

Benson said the dog has also become slightly protective of her little brood, not liking strangers who come to visit. At first, the kittens were slightly skittish of everyone, including their owners. However, after Benson and her children would sit and pet the kittens while they were eating solid food, the animals learned to accept them and love them.

She doesn't know if Chewie will eventually try to wean the kittens like a mother would. If the dog does not, then the animals would have to be separated or Chewie will have to be spayed to keep her from producing the hormones encouraging her to feed the kittens.

"It would be so pitiful to separate the kittens from Chewie because they obviously love her so much," Benson said.

For now, Chewie continues to nurse the kittens off and on, never showing hostility, to the amazement of everyone that sees this spectacle.