Happy Mother's Day — to the Fur Mamas, Too!

Jennifer and her Fur Kids (Credit: Jennifer Oliver O'Connell)

Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms out there: whether by blood or heart, whether human or fur.

I do not have any human children of my own. Not that we didn’t want them, but time and biology were not in the cards for us. However, my friends tell me I am a terrific Fur Mama to my three dogs. Not that cats aren’t nice, but 1) I’m allergic, and 2) they are fickle, and when I give love and affection, it’s nice to receive it back. Dogs are perfect for that; they are conduits of unconditional love. They teach us so much about what it means to give and receive with abandon, and how nurture can go a long way to healing even the worst abuse.


My colleague Andrew Malcolm wrote about this with his sweet rescue Toby.

The most difficult part of being a Fur Mama is that you only have them for a finite amount of time. Depending on their genetics and health, that time can sometimes be shorter than expected.

This was the case with our fur baby Shadow, who we rescued in 2009. All our dogs are rescue, and we wouldn’t do it any other way, despite the challenges that come with it. We knew Shadow was a senior dog. The rescue aged him at 11 or 12, but we discovered later that he was probably closer to 14. Shadow also had issues with his back paw, and he limped. That was why his previous home surrendered him, because they didn’t want the medical costs. But, we wanted him anyway, if only to give him a few years of love and care.

Shadow Bubba (Credit: Jennifer Oliver O’Connell)

We had Shadow for two years before he crossed the Rainbow Bridge. Because of Shadow’s health issues, he had some behavioral tics that went along with it. But, aside from those, he was a sweet and fun-loving puppy, who most enjoyed snuggling, and lounging on the dog bed. And as we attended to Shadow’s care, and worked to give him a loving and secure space, the behavioral issues all but disappeared.

Our little Panda was a tremendous gift to us, and we rescued him a year after we were married in 2007. Panda wasn’t a rescue, per se. His original owner was friends with the lady who ran the rescue. The owner was relocating and needed to re-home one of her dogs. Because her other dog was a senior, she felt Panda would be the best choice, because he was only one year old. The owner was actively involved in meeting us and during the visitation of the house, and we kept in touch even after the adoption was finalized. She was thrilled to the moon that he had found a good home.

Panda Bubba (Credit: Jennifer Oliver O’Connell)

Panda was very much like having a firstborn. He was our pride and joy, obedient and attentive to us; just a happy-go-lucky boy who enjoyed our company. He loved his “ballgey,” and he would fake-battle with us and growl when we tried to get the ball out of his mouth to throw it again. This could go on for hours. Panda also enjoyed burying his ballgey under any available piece of cloth he could find. I had blankets designated for that purpose, which ended up being ripped to shreds.

Panda wasn’t a snuggler. He was a love bug, and enjoyed being close for a little bit, but he was more about exploring and playing than he was about cuddling. He had a heart murmur, and a few minor issues, but for the most part, he was a healthy, active pupper. The times when he did want to cuddle close for an extended period, I knew he wasn’t feeling well.

As Panda grew older, his heart murmur degenerated into congestive heart failure, so those cuddle times increased. While it was sweet having him close, it also broke my heart, because I knew he was diminishing. Panda reached the age of 13 before we had to put him to sleep. The heart failure led to a stroke, and it was just time; we didn’t want him to suffer needlessly. The night before the vet came, I snuggled with him all night for one last time, and thanked him for loving us, for making us fur parents, and for being such a special part of our lives.


After Shadow crossed the Rainbow Bridge, we added Maddie, and then Puppet to our family. We also rescued them fairly young (Age 2 for Maddie, and 8 months for Puppet), so 10 years later, they are still with us.

When we got Maddie, she was very skittish, and afraid of men. She would hide from other people, and always stayed close by me if people visited, where Panda and Puppet loved meeting people and vied for their attention. If she felt threatened, she would snap, so we kept a close eye on her around others. But Maddie’s behavior transformed after a few years with us. She was no longer skittish, and she now enjoyed meeting new people, even allowing them to pet her. Now, if we have guests over, even if it’s someone Maddie has never met before, she’ll plop right next to them and let them pet her.

Maddie Gum Drops (Credit: Jennifer Oliver O’Connell)

Maddie will be 13 in June. She was also diagnosed with a heart murmur early on, and with knowledge of Panda’s condition, our vet placed Maddie on two medications in order to keep her out of heart failure. She also has arthritis in her front paws, which I treat with CBD oil, and a glucosamine supplement. Other than that, she is quite spry, especially when it comes to her food, snacks, and her morning walk. Most of all, she is a content little lady who loves playing games with her Fur Daddy, and loves sitting next to her Fur Mama as she writes her missives on RedState.

Puppet was the baby dog for a long time, and he pretty much rules the roost. He has always been a happy, high-energy, precocious little guy. Puppet has an overbite that makes him look menacing, but people realize quickly he’s so not. When he first arrived, Puppet was rail-thin, and had no fur around his eyes. There was no explanation from the rescue’s vet on why this was the case.


He’s not food-oriented, so we had to find creative ways to get him to eat. I treated the bare skin around his eyes with saline and Neosporin, and ultimately hair started to grow. As you can see below, he is a furry floofball (my colleague Susie Moore’s term), and now, he enjoys eating, especially snacks.

Puppet (Credit: Jennifer Oliver O’Connell)

Puppet is our most vocal, and he will demand attention when he needs it. If I am too long on my phone or at the computer, he literally lifts his paw and bats my hand to let me know it’s time for a belly rub break! Puppet will sit on any lap for hours, and like Panda with his ballgey, Puppet will allow you to pet him for hours, too, with his tongue lolling out, and a big smile on his face.

Puppet will be 12 in July, and except for some teeth that needed to be pulled, and knee surgery, he is just as active, precocious, and energetic as he was when we first took him home.

Our newest fur kid is Ian, who just turned 3. He is probably the most unique of our fur kids, from his almost human eyes, to the way he bounds around: less of a run and more of a leap. He also screams, I mean, literally screams. Ian has separation anxiety, and when I leave the house, he lets out a loud wail, which thankfully doesn’t last for long. When my husband takes them out for walks, and Ian wants to meet another dog, he also screams. Because we haven’t typed his breed yet, we have no idea whether this is part of his breeding or a learned response. Now that we are over the embarrassment, it’s quite humorous; especially when we see other people’s reaction to it.

Ian Bubba (Credit: Jennifer Oliver O’Connell)

We adopted him right before the pandemic and the lockdowns, and his puppy presence and his different energy was a balm for all of us, especially Puppet, who had someone who could match Puppet’s energy, as well as his wits. Ian also matches Puppet in terms of affection, and he will leap in our laps when he needs to be close. For some reason, he likes to climb on my shoulders and wrap his body from shoulder to shoulder and put his head in the nook. It is so precious to me that I have no desire to break him of it. Like Panda, and the times when he would choose to cuddle, I savor it and try to be in the moment. Since I spend half my time in front of a laptop, Ian gets good the opportunity to “spoon” my neck quite often.

The biggest lesson I have learned from my fur babies is to savor the moments, because all our time is finite. Maybe it’s because I have more years in the rearview than in front of the dash, but I am learning to treat every relationship as a moment in time that I may never have again. To not be afraid to hug, kiss, and say, “I love you” more often than not. And if it is appropriate for the relationship, to snuggle as much and for as long as the other person wants. When someone tries to coax me away from my electronics, to know that it is time to put them aside so that I can take in this moment.



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