Photo: CNImaging/Photoshot

When the hilarious, heartwarming book Unlikely Friendships came out this month—documenting a rhino and a goat that were best buddies, as well as an orangutan and a tiger cub, not to mention a snake and an exceptionally trusting hamster—we were instantly reminded of very human "odd couples" we've observed at restaurants, befriended on vacation or even been in ourselves. Captured in their moments of zoological intimacy, each animal duo provides a new kind of insight as to why love sometimes works (and sometimes doesn't) in unlikely situations. Consider this our homage to the universal nature of romance—be it furred, feathered, finned or Homo sapiens.
Cheetah and Dog

Photo: Zoological Society of San Diego

The Cheetah and the Anatolian Shepherd
The Animal Version
"The dog—calm, loveable, adaptable—helps the cheetah relax and accept unfamiliar situations."

The Human Version
She's the head of a massive real-estate company. He's a carpenter who dabbles in guitar. During dinner at a restaurant, she gets upset about the location of the table and asks the hostess to move them. When it's time to order, she gets the tacos without tortillas and the salad with extra, extra, extra ripe avocado. Then she requests three lemon slices in her water. Meanwhile, he sits there, humming a random tune and playing with his fork.

When her water arrives with two lemon slices, she openly fumes. He smiles very politely at the waiter but asks for the third slice, plus gives her his slice from his glass. By now, you might be thinking, "This guy spends his life running around after this woman, cleaning up after her demands. He's the nice one but...maybe kind of a wimp?" Then the tacos arrive with tortillas. A look of outrage and panic crosses the woman's face. She opens her mouth, just as he pats her hand—tenderly but firmly. She shuts her mouth and smiles at him, as if nobody else exists. There it is: the comfort of being reminded that somebody knows who you are...and who you want to be.
Lioness and Oryx

Photo: The Nation/ARP/Getty Images

The Lioness and the Baby Oryx
The Animal Version
In the Samburu National Reserve of Kenya, one lion befriends not one, not two, not three, not four but five baby antelopes—all of which almost lead to her demise, because to protect them from other lions, she can't leave their side, even to hunt for food for herself.

The Human Version (Usually, But Not Always, Male)
He dated a redhead with green eyes. He dated a redhead with green eyes. He dated a redhead with green eyes. He dated a redhead with green eyes.

The Other Human Versions (Usually, But Not Always, Female)
She dated a guy who was funny and smart but cheated. She dated a guy who was funny and smart but cheated. She dated a guy who was funny and dumb but cheated. She dated a guy who was quiet and kind but cheated. She dated a guy who was funny and smart but cheated.
Bear and Cat


The Asiatic Bear and the Black Cat
The Animal Version
"Two glossy black animals with matching perked-up ears and mellow attitudes...they go halves on meals of raw meat, dead mice and fruit."

The Human Version
They're not sister and brother. But they could be, in some other reality. He has dark hair, dark skin, and dark eyes. So does she. He is fit. So is she. He likes hiking. So does she. She likes margaritas and Russian novels. So does he. When they play softball, they even pitch the same curveball. Critics wonder if it's egoism that binds them together. Romantics wonder if this is an example of the perfect union, one destined down to the genetics.

The two of them, however, know the secret of their success—a love of napping in the sun while everybody else is busy over analyzing what similarities they may or may not need in order to find their so-called other half.
Golden Retriever and Koi

Photo: Bob Pennell/Mail Tribune

The Golden Retriever and the Koi
The Animal Version
A golden retriever waits by a shimmering pond, his face bent down to the glossy surface, waiting for a large multi-colored koi to rise up and nibble his nose.

The Human Version
He's in Montana. She's in Tokyo. They meet every other month in San Francisco and talk daily (for him, nightly for her) over Skype. He wears Levi's. She wears jazzy heels and flashy, fluttery dresses. They are madly, passionately in love and nibble each other's ears in public—when they see each other.

Other Less Obvious Human Versions:
He's been in love with her for years, but she has a boyfriend. She's been in love with him too, but when she breaks up with her boyfriend, he has a girlfriend. And so on...the time and circumstances never aligning, leaving them in separate emotional countries, wondering if longing and love are the same thing after all.
Fawn and Bobcat

Lisa Mathiasen and Julia Di Siengo

The Bobcat Kitten and the Fawn
The Animal Version
When rehabilitators from the Santa Barbara Animal Rescue Team saved a young deer and a bobcat after a traumatic forest fire, they were short on crates, so they housed the two animals together. The result: "They were so exhausted and weak. They cuddled up as one."

The Human Version
They met after surviving the same plane crash or during a rugged, dangerous mountain-climbing trip in Nepal. Or: They came together during four years of grueling grad school or a long stint in the same stressful, low-paying office. Or: They got stuck in an elevator together or served in the army together or were cast in the same play that they rehearsed for hours and hours and hours together. In short, not only do these two come with a great romantic story, their love was forged by an event—traumatic or merely intense—that required them to bond very, very quickly. The specific nature of that bond—be it eternal or temporary—usually becomes clear just as quickly.
Donkey and Mutt

Photo: Barbara Smuts

The Donkey and the Mutt
The Animal Version
Wister the donkey was known for his swift, vicious backside kick. Safi the loveable mutt was the only one on the ranch not deterred. As intimates, they ran "around like crazy, nipping each other's heels and necks...drinking from the same bowl and napping together."

The Human Version
He has two PhDs in ancient, moldy religions. She's a stay-at-home mother with three kids. At Sunday brunch with the neighbors, he lectures them all on obscure pagan rites, banging the table when anybody tries to make a point. After this, he bellows at the Democrat husband from down the block about Social Security. After that, he bellows at the Republican wife from up the street about Social Security.

Meanwhile, his beloved smiles sweetly, eating a bowl of banana pudding she made especially for him because he loves softy, creamy desserts. "Why is she with that blowhard?" many strangers ask. They do not understand, perhaps, that some bullies are bullies and some bullies are very tender folk whom life has, unfortunately, taught to buck and bray. Later, they may find out that when she had ovarian cancer, he quit his job and cared for her for two years, refusing to let even a nurse help with his wife's recovery.
Dove and Monkey

Photo: CNImaging/Photoshot

The Macaque and The Dove
The Animal Version
He has an opposable thumb. She has wings. He clings. She flies away.

The Human Version
He has an opposable thumb. She has wings. He clings. She flies away.
Pitbull, Cat, Chicks

Photo: Helen J. Arnold

The Pitbull, the Siamese Cat and the Baby Chicks
The Animal Version
A dog fell in love with a cat. One day, some chicks showed up to snuggle and never left.

The Human Version
The family that should have fallen apart due to an inability to communicate (woof, meow, peep-peep) but didn't—lending credence to the theory that "I'm sorry," "Forgive me" and "I love you" can be communicated with a soulful look or nuzzle.

Unlikely Friendships by Jennifer Holland, $13.95 US/$15.95 Can.

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