Sunday we celebrate Mother’s Day, but mothers can take unexpected forms, proven by these incredible examples of surrogates across species.
Earning first prize in my interspecies mother-of-the-year photo contest is a medium-sized dog with seven baby opossums clinging onto her back. After the mother opossum was killed, the dog owner bottle-fed the orphans. The dog became interested and allowed them to ride on her back while she walked around.
Tied for second place are photos of a French bulldog who adopted wild boar piglets, and a cat nursing orphaned squirrels.
A winning Youtube shows a patient springer spaniel sheepdog whose owner taught it to hold a bottle and feed motherless lambs. The dog tends the orphans, and they return the affection with nuzzles and licks.
National Geographic recently featured a screech owl raising a wood duck. Wood ducks practice brood paratism which means they lay eggs in other nests. This increases the chances of the wood duck passing on its genes since a predator can annihilate an entire clutch. This owl/duck partnership is especially impressive since owls prey on ducks.
Teachers, parents, and grandparents might enjoy sharing children’s books which highlight unusual mothers. The relationship between Owen, a baby hippopotamus who survived the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004 but lost his mother, and the tortoise Mzee is told in Owen and Mzee: The True Story of a Remarkable Friendship. Zoo keepers introduced Owen to Mzee and Owen immediately made the male tortoise his mother. Equally endearing is Tarra & Bella: The Elephant and Dog Who Became Friends, and Kate & Pippin: An Unlikely Love Story which highlights the friendship between a Great Dane and an orphaned fawn.
You might have seen examples of interspecies motherhood yourself. I have. I owned a short-haired mutt, Ginger, who was spayed but had strong mothering instincts. I’d gotten Ginger from the humane society the first year I moved to the Dells. When my landlord told me she’d found an orphaned kitten, we put the four-week-old black kitten in Ginger’s dog bed. Ginger immediately licked its face and encouraged it to cuddle in. I fed the kitten from a bottle, and Ginger instinctively licked its rear end which mother cats normally do to stimulate their youngsters’ digestive systems. The kitten thrived and dog and cat continued to be best friends.
My cockapoo Josie bonds with the mallard ducklings my husband and I hatch and raise. Josie sticks her head in their brooder, a large container with a heat lamp, and, if allowed, will climb inside and greet them, nose to beak. She sniffs; they peck. A bond is formed. This has proven useful several times.
Once the ducklings are old enough to wander around outside, they often cluster around her. If I need the ducklings, I simply call, “Josie!” When she comes, they follow and I can scoop them up.
Josie also keeps a watchful eye for predators. One spring day I saw her dart toward the cluster of ducklings only seconds before a hawk swooped down, talons extended, to snatch them. Josie’s aggression was enough to make the hawk veer away never to return.
I hope this Sunday all mothers, even the unexpected ones, get the pats and reward they deserve.