Interspecies friendships are all the rage these days. You can find endless slideshows of animals hugging with a simple web search, including those between people and animals, like babies and huskies. Although human and animal friendships are adorable, there’s nothing quite as heartwarming as those between different animal species.

These interactions are not surprising to people who work with animals daily, like the staff at Catskill Animal Sanctuary. Their tales of animal friendship include a chicken named Constance riding around on a sheep named Lumpy. Hey, we all like to get a piggy back ride from our bestie when we’re too tired to walk, right? It’s interactions like these that show people that animals are individuals and help them better relate to animals.


The Science Behind Animal Friendships

Science is starting to back up the importance of these friendships, as well. This includes studying cross-species friendships seriously, instead of simply dismissing them as being “cute” and meaningless.

One scientist, Gordon Burghardt, believes that animals’ relationships can teach people a lot about how to form healthy relationships themselves. He’s particularly fond of a videoshowing a tortoise and Jack Russell terrier playing with a ball. Some scientists are not quite as eager to support this connection, but do admit that it warrants further study.


Clearly, relationships this cute must mean something, though, as the stories below show.


1. Mr. G and Jellybean

Animal Place Sanctuary witnessed the true power of friendship in May 2014 when a goat and a burro came to call the sanctuary home. Mr. G the goat, and his best friend, Jellybean the burro were both rescued from an abusive situation. They were sent to separate sanctuaries, though, with Mr. G going to Animal Place.

Mr. G refused to move much or eat when he first arrived. Imagine how you would feel if you were separated from your bestie of ten years with no way to communicate … you would react the same way. The staff eventually determined this behavior was due to his loneliness, so they reunited him with Jellybean. A video of their reunion clearly shows the joy they experience as they run toward each other and frolic. It’s exactly like a reunion with your bestie in the airport when you’ve been separated for months, except cuter, and with less squealing. Mr. G and Jellybean now live happily ever after at the sanctuary.

2. Tarra and Bella

This friendship became famous in 2011. Tarra is an elephant who lives at the Elephant Sanctuary in Nashville, TN and Bella was a dog who wandered into the sanctuary one day. The two bonded quickly and became inseparable. At one point Bella was injured and had to live in the sanctuary office for three weeks in order to recover. Tarra stood near the office the entire time when she could have been wandering the thousands of acres of the sanctuary instead. Anyone who has watched endless hours of Netflix with a sick friend knows that’s real friendship.


Unfortunately, this friendship ended abruptly when Bella was killed, likely by coyotes. The sanctuary staff believes that Tarra moved her from the site where she was attacked using her trunk. After Bella’s death, Tarra mourned the loss of her friend. Seeing Tarra’s pain, the other elephants were kinder to her and even spent extra time comforting here.

Even though this is a sad story, it is also one that people can relate to. Everyone knows how it feels to lose someone close to you, and seeing animals react in a similar way helps people to identify with them and understand that animals have a wide range of emotions, as well.


3. Safi and Wister

This is a short story of animal friendship, but it is one worth recounting. When primate researcher, Dr. Barbara Smuts visited a ranch in Wyoming, she witnessed an incredible relationship form between her dog, Safi and a donkey named Wister. Smuts explains that Wister was initially not fond of Safi and would charge and kick at the dog, thinking she posed some sort of threat. However, after some time passed, Wister realized Safi meant her no harm and their relationship began to change. Safi would coax Wister to play with her and eventually, the two created their own way to communicate. Safi even taught Wister to carry a stick.

This friendship, like the others, shows that not only can differences be overcome, but that animals can and do create strong emotional bonds with their friends. These bonds are one of many ways animals are just like humans.


Friendship Transcends Species

Although we don’t often think of it this way, our own friendships with dogs and cats are a sort of interspecies friendship that provide us with insight into the behaviors and emotions of animals. Yet, despite the bonds we share with our pets, many people are quick to overlook the emotional capabilities of other animals, perhaps as a method to protect themselves from feeling guilty about consuming meat or using animal products. No matter the reason, it is important for us all to look beyond our cats and dogs and recognize the inherent worth of the animals who share this world with us. At the end of the day, we’re not all that different and we could all benefit from being just even the slightest bit more compassionate.

Lead image source:  The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee