Belfast zookeeper's dog helped raise abandoned lion cub
A Belfast zookeeper has told how a dog became the perfect parent for an abandoned lion cub.
With almost 30 years' experience as a zookeeper, Linda Frew from Belfast Zoo has helped to socialise animals including bears, primates and big cats.
As a keen supporter of the Dogs Trust, her Dr Dolittle-like devotion continues at home - she has adopted 10 rescue dogs over the years and fostered countless others.
Linda's two loves combined in 2007 when Lily, an endangered Barbary lion cub, was abandoned by her mother Fidda and father Qays.
The north African breed of lion is now believed to be extinct in the wild, so Lily's rejection was a major setback for conservationists working to stop the breed dying out completely.
Linda found an unlikely solution - with Keepa, an Akita dog.
Over eight months the mismatched pair formed a close friendship at Belfast Zoo, which helped Lily learn the skills needed to survive as an adult.
Now fully grown, Lily moved to the Czech Republic in 2009 with the hope of meeting a suitable male lion.
Matched with Simon, the pair were moved to Olomouc Zoo and successfully raised their own cubs. And Linda credits her many years fostering dogs as helping her to make the breakthrough with Lily.
"When something like this happens it is important the cub doesn't imprint or rely too heavily on a human as it may lose its ability to effectively interact with others of its kind," she said.
"Fostering is a great way for me to give something back to animals that have played such a big role in my life.
"I've been a zookeeper for almost 30 years and there is no greater feeling than knowing you have helped enrich the life of an animal in need of care."
With each foster case being different, she added: "I have always felt compelled to take on dogs that need a little bit more support than most.
"Working in a zoo, I've found that socialisation is pivotal to an animal's development.
"I remember all my foster dogs and have photos or doggy ornaments to remind me of them."
Stephanie Scott, co-ordinator of the Home From Home foster scheme at Dogs Trust Ballymena, praised Linda for her devotion throughout the years. "We are really grateful for Linda's dedication to our fostering scheme and she has been such an asset in our re-homing efforts," she said.
"Linda did a fantastic job of hand-rearing three Dogs Trust puppies, Doberman cross siblings Tab, Alys and Etta, who are all thriving now thanks to her."
For more information on the foster scheme contact 028 2565 2977.