WINCHESTER — A shelter puppy and a cheetah from an animal park in San Diego are becoming best friends, with plans to become ambassadors for Wildlife Safari and to promote education about the plight of the endangered cheetahs.

Valentine’s Day was the first public appearance for Khayam Jr., an 11-week old cheetah that came from the San Diego Safari Park and his new playmate, an 10-week old rescue puppy, Rhino, from Saving Grace Pet Adoption Center.

About 30 people crowded into the Saving Grace building in Winchester to see the the new friends.

Safari actually adopted two puppies to see which one might be the best fit and Rhino hit it off with the cheetah cub.

“They sleep together, they wrestle, and they’re going to be companion animals the rest of their lives,” said Sarah Roy, carnivore supervisor at Wildlife Safari. “It’s really benefitting the cheetah cub at this point because he really needs a wrestle playmate.”

Wildlife Safari Director Dan Van Slyke said Khayam Jr. is already working to spread the message about wildlife.

Adopting a puppy to serve as a companion to the new ambassador cheetah is a bit different from the normal pairing of animals. In the past it has meant locating a purebred puppy. Saving Grace officials are not sure what breed the puppy is, but temperament was what was important.

“We guessed the dog is a collie-hound mix,” said Rachael Daniel, the kennel manager at Saving Grace. “But puppies are hard to tell. When he gets bigger I might be able to tell better.”

Wendy Kang, director of Saving Grace, said Safari officials wanted a dog that was going to be about the same age and would have about a 13-year life span, similar to a cheetah.

“Big enough so that things will be safe for the dog and the cheetah once they’e full-grown,” Kang said.

Van Slyke said Safari wanted to help promote the adoption of animals at Saving Grace so they came up with a way to try to entice people to consider adopting.

“We got the puppies from them, so what we’re trying to do today is also promote Saving Grace and we want to give away a carload encounter to the Safari to everyone who comes out and adopts a baby,” Van Slyke said.

Roy says once the weather warms up the cheetah and the puppy will be on display in the Safari Village most of the day and eventually the pair will be going out to locations for outreach programs to further the cheetah message.

“We’re getting out and making people aware of conservation, and education is our number one goal with the ambassador, to get attention,” Roy said. “When we have a cheetah walk into the room and purr into a microphone in a school, every kid is watching and wanting to learn everything about that cat and we want to get kids interested in wildlife as much as possible.”

Reporter Dan Bain can be reached at 541-957-4221 or e-mail at dbain@nrtoday.com.

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Dan Bain is the health reporter for The News-Review. He previously worked at KPIC and 541 Radio.

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