Valentine’s Day has gone to the dogs ... and alpacas, mini horses, camels, cows, cat, tortoise, gecko, blue iguana and bearded dragon.
While the holiday is marketed for human relationships, the animal kingdom is filled with ones of its own.
Just down the street at HOPE Humane Society, Charlie the dachshund and Iggy the terrier mix live together at the adoption center. They’re what the shelter calls a “bonded pair” that came in together and will be adopted out together.
Sandee Tucker and Angie Clark, shelter employees, both said Charlie and Iggy do everything together. Not only does the duo play and sleep together, sharing a space in the transport office, they go out for walks together. Charlie is protective of his mate, too, barking at those who try to interact with Iggy.
“They’re just adorable, cute friends,” Clark said.
The shelter doesn’t necessarily have any bonded cat pairs, but Pawl the cat will assert his dominance on the first day a new feline is placed up for adoption, playfully roughing up the addition. A day later, Clark said Pawl has a new furry friend.
‘Get along or go in the freezer’
Jennifer Millican and her husband purchased a 53-acre farm in Rudy seven years ago and started with the usual farm animals: cows, sheep and chickens. Now, they have a “menagerie” with several of their own bonded buddies.
“We jokingly say, ‘Get along or go in the freezer,’” Millican laughed.
There’s no llama drama (partially because that’s one of the few species the Millicans don’t have) and everyone has to be nice or find a new home.
Millican said Chewpaca was brought into the fold last fall. He’s grown up with Kuro the young poodle and wants to be “a house alpaca” but needs to learn how to live outside.
Chewpaca and Kuro do everything together. The duo would sleep on the floor next to Millican’s bed, they wore reusable diapers together during the potty training process, and they love running through the pasture playing “puppy games.”
Even though Chewpaca doesn’t want to be a part of the alpaca association, Auzzie the ostrich is more than willing to join Shiro and Amber to patrol their part of the field. Petunia and Arnold the mini pigs enjoy lying in the sun or next to the television. The Millicans’ bearded dragon wags his tail and rides Anshellica the tortoise, while the gecko hitches rides on one of the dogs.
Then, there are the two mini horses — Ben and Jerry — who recently added a mini mule to their group. She has yet to be named, though the Times Record suggested Ruth.
“These three are the cutest little love story, because they were all alone on different farms,” Millican said. Now, the three — they don’t seem to understand they’re small — rear like stallions and have horse races across the field
“We live in a zoo. We’re definitely different, and we always have a story to tell,” Millican said. “Most of the people on Facebook are not my friends. They’re really wanting to know what the animals are up to. We have a large following of animal creepers. It’s really fun.”
Some of the most famous animals on the farm, though, are Millican’s four camels. Julian is the lone male with Sheeva, Wednesday and baby Eve. She called camels “the gateway drug” to exotic animals.
The camels, however, weren’t purchased for fun. Millican said camel milk has health benefits for humans, but to get milk, there needs to be a baby camel. It’s been a struggle, though. Julian isn’t interested in the women surrounding him.
Instead, Julian is busy competing will Millican’s Ford pickup, which he thinks is competition and the ladies are fighting over Mini Wheats cereal.
“Their personalities are huge,” Millican said. “There’s definitely more relationship and interaction than people think.”
Millican also has the cows, African zebu, watussi, sheep, a snake, a cat named Hamilcar, a pair of parrots and blue iguana. She said she has no idea how many animals actually live on the farm.
It’s not all fun and games, though. A lot of the animals are hand-me-downs and others were from neglectful situations. The work is hard — the Millicans recently sold their electric business and retired — and the bills are expensive.
For someone who can now devote her life to animals and the occasional foster baby, though, Millican says it’s worth it.
“A perfect life and one bad day is our goal,” Millican said, noting she wants to provide a happy home. “They’re a blessing. We get more from them than they do from us, I think. They’re neat to have, enjoy and get to take care of.”
The science of relationships
Even with the animal relationships and the emotions humans associate with them, University of Arkansas-Fort Smith Associate Professor of Biology Amy Skypala said these are scientifically hard to assess.
Skypala said there is potential to have these bonds, but there is no simple way to evaluate them, so they tend to be avoided.
Bonded pairs, however, can be associated between members of the same species. Skypala said hormones such as vasopressin and oxytocin “have been implicated in those interactions.”
This doesn't mean relationships don't exist. Scientists simply can't evaluate animal “friendships.” they view as “parental care between one individual,” Skypala said.
One animal usually performs behavior such as grooming, feeding and guarding in the same way it would its own offspring with the other benefiting. These are considered “mistakes,” since the relationships don’t result in future “genetic success” and are fairly rare.
Skypala said the purely scientific explanation of animal relationships is “rather depressing,” but she believes that someone can, “and probably should — though it would be tough — study those interactions in an organized way.”