Fighting like cats and dogs? Not this cheetah and Labrador pair who quickly became besties at an animal sanctuary in California.
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cheetah and yellow lab an unlikely pair
Credit: MirasWonderland / Getty / Eric Isselee / Sh

Being a single child can have major perks, but when you're a cheetah cub, it can be a death sentence. So when Tavi the cheetah was born without siblings, his keepers worried his mother may kill her solo offspring, so they relocated him to Wild Wonders Animal Education Center in California.

But once in his new home, the staff noticed something was a bit off with the cub. After consulting with experts across the country, Wild Wonders Director Jackie Navarro told KFMB the consensus was clear: Get Tavi one of the best things that helps us humans through tough times—a dog.

Enter Yarra, a high-energy yellow Labrador retriever puppy. After Yarra and Tavi were introduced to one another, Navarro said it took a while for the two 6-month-olds to learn each other's language, but before long they were bonding. Navarro told KFMB: "There's no Grand Canyon divide here, they've actually been able to come together."

In the wild, cheetahs and wild dogs are rival carnivores. But in 1981, the San Diego Zoo began implementing the "buddy system," pairing cheetahs with domesticated "support" dogs early in life and raising them together.

Adult cheetahs are ingrained to constantly be on edge, ready to flee at high speeds if a predator like a lion comes near. In the wild, male cheetahs often form groups to help quell this anxiety, but in zoos there's no outlet for this nervous energy and the big cats are easily agitated.

Rick Schwartz with the San Diego Zoo told the Chicago Tribune that when you pair a cheetah with a domestic dog, which are known for their chill attitudes, the dog helps the cheetah relax.

"There's a much greater chance of a cheetah showing confidence when they're paired with dogs," he said, even when thrown a curveball like an unfamiliar sound. Dogs also tend to be pretty tolerant of big kitty "play," such as clawing and biting, and they help teach cheetahs social cues normally taught by their siblings and parents. Just watch!

Schwartz said outgoing, goofy dogs can transfer that demeanor to their cheetah pals, and the two definitely form a deep bond. He said as far as the dogs are concerned, their new best friend is a spotted dog who doesn't bark.

Over the years, plenty of other cheetah-dog pairings have thrived in captivity long term, like adorable KJ and Rhino.

Navarro said Yarra and Tavi's bond will likely last their entire lives. And even though it seems unlikely for a cheetah and lab to be BFFs, sometimes unexpected friendships are the best kind.

"It was meant to be," Navarro said. "It was absolutely meant to be."