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TYLER AND BEAKER
From: Magnolia, Texas
Jenn and Chris Young originally decided to adopt a duck as a pet for Jenn. The couple already owned 10, but “I had always loved the hair on crested ducks,” like Beaker, says Jenn. But Beaker (or Bee, as they call him) only had eyes for their son Tyler. When Bee came home as a duckling in March 2015, Tyler was 9 months old. “Bee snuggled next to him, and Tyler smiled and cooed,” says Jenn, 31. The caregiver says she played with both Tyler and Beaker at the same time each day, which helped their connection blossom. “Tyler loved this duck!” she says. “He sat next to him, played with his toys with him and never went too far away.” And as Tyler grows, Bee is there for each milestone. “He walked behind [Tyler] when he was taking his first steps,” says Jenn. “He was there for every wobbly step.” Bee would even flap and quack whenever Tyler's baby monitor would go off to let the Youngs know he was awake. Now almost 2, Tyler is just as attached as ever to his duck. “They do everything together, all day long,” Jenn says.
2 of 9
PICKLES, PATTI AND PAPRIKA
From: Lewisberry, Pennsylvania
Patti the pig and dogs Pickles and Paprika were an odd trio from the get-go. Last fall the staff at the Animal Rescue League of Berks County found the three of them in one kennel after they were dropped off together overnight. “I couldn't believe they were all together,” says Liz McCauley, the executive director. “They were in pretty rough shape, with long nails and shabby fur, but they really loved each other,” McCauley, 49, says. “When they were walking down the hall to our intake area, Pickles jumped on Patti's back for a ride, and we knew they were a real family!” The staff tried to separate Patti, 3, from Pomeranian mixes Paprika, 4, and Pickles, 2, but she became distressed when she wasn't with them. In the three months that they lived at the shelter, the only time they were apart was for meals. “We had to separate them because, well, Patti is a 'pig' and wanted to eat all the food,” McCauley says. Happily, Patti, Pickles and Paprika are still together after being adopted by Blue Hound Farm, an educational farm in Pennsylvania, in November. “They found their forever home,” McCauley says.
3 of 9
ESTER AND SHELBY
From: Campbellville, Ontario
Real estate agent Steve Jenkins thought he was adopting a micropig when he brought four-pound Esther to the 1,000-square foot house he shared with his husband, Derek Walter, two dogs and two cats. By the time they realized she would become a full-size pig, “we had already fallen in love with her,” says Jenkins, 33.
At first there was some competition over who would be “top dog” in the house, but oldest dog Shelby, 16, a mixed pit bull retriever, soon became Esther's best friend. Even now that they've moved to a 50-acre farm sanctuary, Esther, 3, prefers being in the house with the rest of the family. “She always wants to be where the dogs are,” says Jenkins. The 600-pound pig curls up on her twin mattress in the living room, while Shelby usually takes her place on the sofa. “She's just a big, giant dog,” says Jenkins, co-author of Esther the Wonder Pig (out May 31).
4 of 9
WANDA AND SMURF
From: Marin, California
Both 6-month-old Wanda and 5-month-old Smurf, domestic cats, had tough lives before the Nine Lives Foundation rescued them — Smurf had open wounds and was dyed purple, while Wanda is blind and had a respiratory infection — so they took care of each other from day one. Now adopted together, the two have an even stronger bond. “Wanda's belly actually turned purple because she was cuddling with him so much,” says their new owner Jessica Miller, 32.
5 of 9
LEO, BALOO AND SHERE KHAN
From: Locust Grove, California
In the 15 years they've been together, Leo the lion, Baloo the American black bear and Shere Khan the Bengal tiger have been truly separated only once: when Baloo had to have skin surgery. “The cats were visibly upset by that. They were pacing and vocalizing,” says Allison Hedgecoth, animal husbandry manager of Noah's Ark Sanctuary, where the three friends live.
The bear, lion and tiger trio, known affectionately as the BLT, came to the Georgia sanctuary as cubs in 2001 after being discovered in the basement of an Atlanta drug dealer. The then-3-month-old cubs were malnourished and infected with parasites. Hedgecoth believes this shared traumatic experience strengthened their bond. Today they share a three-acre enclosure, though they rarely stray more than 100 ft. from one another. The big cats look to Baloo for stability, says Hedgecoth, 30. In the winter Baloo spends more time sleeping in his den, and even though there isn't enough room for three, Leo and Shere Khan will squeeze in and lie beside him. Baloo shows affection by snuggling with Shere Khan. “He always has tiger fur all over his head,” says Hedgecoth, adding that Baloo is also known for playfully biting Leo's eyebrows. “There's definitely a bizarrely special bond between them,” she says.
6 of 9
LOTTIE AND GRIZZLY
From: Sudbury, Ontario
When Taylor Duguay, 20, adopted Grizzly, 2, a German shepherd mix in February 2014, she was afraid that he wouldn't get along with Lottie, her then-1-year-old Border collie. “I wasn't sure if Lottie would be jealous or if she'd ignore him,” Duguay, a service coordinator at a car dealership, says. Luckily the two bonded “instantaneously,” says Duguay, who successfully trained the duo to hug each other after “months and months” of work and many treats. It helped, though, that the two were already so comfortable together. “Lottie squishes herself right against Grizzly before they hug.” The trick has netted them almost 47,000 fans on Facebook.
Meanwhile, Lottie, now 3, is a star in her own right — she's gone on the road for dog shows, fairs and fundraisers all over Canada. Duguay says Grizzly's time in the spotlight is next: “He's on his way to stardom!”
7 of 9
SHAYLA AND BELLA
From: Chilliwack, British Columbia
Owner Lori Stove loves to call Shayla the tabby cat “Bella's little healer.” Although the previously paralyzed Bella, a 3-year-old mixed breed, has regained most of her mobility, she still has frequent infections. Thankfully, 18-month-old Shayla's there to help. “She uses her paws and kneads her belly,” Stove, 26, says.
8 of 9
JAMES VAN DER BARK AND VALENTINO
From: Saint Paul, Minnesota
A former foster puppy himself, malamute mix James Van Der Bark, 2, knows how to make 4-month-old shelter pup Valentino, a pit bull mix, feel comfortable. “He took on the role of a surrogate,” says his owner Kaitlin Monson, 28. “We call him the resident socializer, because he teaches him how to play and interact with other animals. They've been inseparable.”
9 of 9
KYLIE AND SNOWFLAKE
From: Freeport, Maine
An aspiring veterinarian, Kylie Brown, 5, already had a Noah's Ark full of pets to play with. But none of the gerbils, ferrets, fish or iguanas bonded with her quite like Snowflake the duck. Her parents, Ashley, 29, and Mike, 31, brought Snowflake home last July just after he hatched, and he and Kylie immediately became a duo. “Kylie walked away to get something, and his tiny feet couldn't waddle fast enough behind her!” Ashley says. And the love goes both ways. “Snowflake is Kylie's security blanket,” Mike says. Now 9 months old, Snowflake has joined in on everything from family beach days to sledding and even apple picking. “He loves car rides!” says Ashley. Kylie also brought Snowflake in for show-and-tell at school. And for Halloween the Frozen-obsessed Kylie dressed up as Elsa, with Snowflake by her side as Olaf. “It's a one-in-a-million chance that a little girl imprints on a loud, stinky, overprotective duck!” says her mom.