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Pets Large & Small

All mothers’ love

Jennifer Vanderau
Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter

(5/2014) She's proud of her first litter of babies -- two tigers, one orange and one all black. She wishes she would have been able to find a better place to give birth, but the corner behind the dumpster is dry for now and she knows she can get food when the restaurant throws out the trash.

She's going to have to move her family at some point, especially when the giant truck comes to empty the dumpster. She doesn't want to think about having to move them somewhere else, but this isn't really all that safe.

For now, though, she cleans up her kittens while they eat and tries to sleep a little.

As night falls and the city grows quiet around her, she allows herself to wonder what life would be like if she'd been lucky enough to be one of the special cats -- the ones she would see in windows of homes as she wandered the streets. They looked happy and warm and satisfied and she remembers thinking how freeing that kind of a life must be.

A horn honks and a tire splashes through a puddles and she's jolted back to the here and now and she knows it's foolish to dream like that when the reality of her existence is so vastly different.

She worries that her babies cry too much. She tries to settle them down -- they're probably just picking up on her anxiety. Her oldest daughter has some powerful lungs, though, and her little voice tends to carry. The last thing she needs is for her family to be discovered.

Two days later, she wonders if thinking about it makes it come to pass because the dumpster's being moved -- not by the giant truck -- and she glances up to find a person looking down at her.

It's a young woman and she sounds really sweet and upset. She's saying things like it'll be okay and let me get you some help. And she's calling her mama.

She wants to believe her and the tone of her voice, so she doesn't struggle when the woman gathers up her family and takes them all to a place called the Animal Shelter.

There she meets more people with equally nice eyes and voices and she and her babies are set up in a warm place with a blanket and some food and water and a litterbox and for the first time in her life she thinks she might not have to worry about finding something to eat every day.

Sure enough, her bowl is kept full and there's fresh water each morning and her babies start to open their eyes and get playful and strong and healthy.

The people say she has four daughters and they name them Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha because they say they're sassy and feisty.

Her name remains mama.

When her babies are ten weeks old, a doctor comes in tells her in a kind voice that they're all going to have an operation. She doesn't like beings separated from her girls. She's gotten so used to having them with her, they're like a part of her.

She's seen how the shelter works, though, and she knows she's going to have to say goodbye. It's for the best. Her babies are going to find an actual home. With four walls and a soft bed and someone to love them.

As much as it hurts her heart, she knows she can't provide that. It's with a bittersweet pain in her chest that she lets her girls go.

At night, though, she can still hear her oldest daughter's voice in her mind.

The days pass quickly and she cuddles with the people at the shelter and eventually she has an operation, too, so she can't have any other babies and she's put in the adoption area and she sees all kinds of people.

She even gets to watch her daughters find their forever homes and it makes her feel good to know that two of them get adopted together.

She's spent so much time worrying about her girls that it doesn't even cross her mind that she could have an actual home until the day a woman looks at her in her cage and something ricochets between them -- a connection.

To her astonishment, she's adopted three days later by that very lady. Her new mom talks to her sweetly on the ride home and when they get there, it's a palace compared to the life she knew on the streets.

They both stand in the kitchen and she watches her mom draw a heart around the date on the calendar: May 11. It must mean something to her new mom, but she's not sure what.

Later, they're on the couch together watching a TV show about women looking for wedding dresses. As she curls up in her mom's lap, she thinks about her four little ones and hopes they're safe and loved.

She prays they found a place as special as she has. She tucks her tail under her legs and for the first time in her life, she purrs herself to sleep.

To all the moms in the world, of two-legged or four-legged babies: Happy Mother's Day.


Jennifer Vanderau is the Director of Communications for the Cumberland Valley Animal Shelter in Chambersburg, Pa., and can be reached at The shelter accepts both monetary and pet supply donations. For more information, call the shelter at (717) 263-5791 or visit the website

Read other articles by Jennifer Vanderau