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Dog laps up chance as orphaned kittens’ mom

The Nesseth family’s faithful Australian Shepherd, Lakota, made it her duty to care for four kittens when their mother, 1-year-old black cat Velvet, was hit and killed by a car.
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It was a sad day several weeks ago when Colleen and Robert Nesseth's 1-year-old black cat, Velvet, was killed by a car near their farm house in Snohomish, Wash., and left behind four orphaned kittens. But a faithful friend, an Australian Shepherd named Lakota, stepped in and made it her duty to help them.

"It was immediate," says Colleen of the 7-year-old dog (who actually belongs to the Nesseths' daughter, who now lives in South Dakota) taking on a surrogate mother role. "She mothers them like she would her puppies, or a mother cat would her kittens. She pushes them with her nose. Or she'll take their paw and scoop them."

And Lakota definitely has her paws full. "She bathes them, they suckle on her. Now that they're mobile, they're everywhere, they're climbing on my curtains," she says. "And she's trying to protect them, and herd them. Poor thing — she's all over the house trying to find her babies."

Lakota, who had a litter of her own puppies four years ago, has become very protective of the kittens, two black-and-white-colored and two Siamese. "No one other than us can really come around the kittens. [Lakota] won't hurt you, she just gives you that evil eye, like, 'Don't come near my babies.' She just absolutely loves [them]," says Colleen, who also has four other cats.

Lakota's behavior isn't that surprising to her owners since she's always shown her maternal instincts. "Even now, Lakota goes up into our barn and has to check and clean even the adult cats," says Robert. "She just has to mother them all."

But Lakota will soon be seeing her surrogate babies go off on their own. The kittens, who are growing quickly, will be given to new homes. Colleen thinks that Lakota will be sad to see them go — as will the rest of the family. "I can't bring myself to name the kittens," she says. "If I do, they won't be leaving our farm."