The tiny kitten, its eyes still shut, was only a couple of days old when Pat Weber's teenage grandson found it on the cold floor of a pole barn at their Jordan home.
"He brought her into the house and said 'I think she's dead,' " Weber recalled. "But I held her in the palm of my hand, and I could tell she was moving." The kitten, nothing more than a "little fur ball," had apparently been abandoned by its mother, who was nowhere to be seen.
That's when Mittens, Weber's 4-year-old Pekingese dog, took over.
As Weber put the kitten on the carpeted floor to call a veterinarian, Mittens approached, nuzzled the kitten and let her suckle, even though the dog wasn't pregnant or nursing a litter of her own. She had given birth to puppies, but that was two years ago.
Three days after their first encounter, Mittens began producing milk, becoming the kitten's sole source of sustenance.
"She decided that little kitten needed a mother," Weber said.
Now called Bootsie, the charcoal-gray kitten with white paws has become a lively, meowing addition to the Weber household.
"I couldn't believe it at first," Weber said. "Later I took some pictures and took them to church and told people I had a miracle to share. The miracle was that after three days my dog had milk to feed the kitten with, and I didn't have to get up every two hours to feed her formula out of bottle."
Stephen Lavallee, the New Prague veterinarian who has examined Mittens and Bootsie, said both animals are healthy and the kitten is gaining weight at a normal rate. Lavallee had not previously encountered a case of a dog nursing a cat, but he said it is not unheard of.
John King, a Le Sueur veterinarian and executive director of the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association, agrees.
"There's a strong maternal instinct in many animals, and they will foster other species. It depends on the temperament of the individual animals, both the baby and particularly the mother," he said.
Weber said her dog is affectionate by nature and loves babies such as her 9-month-old great-grandson. Even so, she marvels at the interaction between Mittens and Bootsie, even when the kitten isn't nursing. They play and cuddle, and the dog licks and cleans and the kitten.
"Hormones will do strange things -- that's about all the vet said," Weber said.
King said the stereotype of dogs and cats fighting doesn't always hold true. "It's not something that's totally instinctive, but depends on their personalities. In a lot of households, dogs and cats are good buddies," he said.
In this case, the dog has decided that the kitten is hers, he said.
"For the two of them, in their own little world, they think this is perfectly normal."
Susan Feyder • 952-746-3282