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What’s a Cardinal got to
do with it?

What’s a Cardinal got to do with it?

By Betsy Kelleher

     First, for my Facebook friends, the Crazy Cardinal is no longer flying into the back door, the living room picture window, or the dining room patio doors, waking me up at 5:30 a.m. He has finally lost interest since I taped newspaper over all the glass. Funny thing is—I kinda miss him, after more than two months of dealing with his persistence!
     I now have a different reason to get up early—taking our new dog out for a walk! We had lost our precious Boston Terrier, Motif’s Diamond Lil, on a Sunday night in May. She came in after doing her business, went to bed and crossed that rainbow bridge without even saying goodbye! When we realized she was dead, my husband and I were in shock. For three and a half years, Lil had been our energetic bundle of joy, giving us love and laughter. We couldn’t imagine life without her.
     The cardinal’s antics began right after Lil died, I thought, which seemed strange; but my diary told me it was three days earlier, which seemed prophetic! I took a video of the cardinal attacking the living room window and posted it on Facebook. A fellow horseperson, author and Facebook friend, Lynn Baber added a comment that touched my heart. When we suffer loss, she wrote, God fills our empty places with new blessings. She also shared that she saw a single male cardinal as a symbol of the Holy Spirit—something I’d never heard before.
     I couldn’t help but wonder what a cardinal had to do with anything. It was merely a coincidence, right? I had lost a son in February. Our dog died in May. Then I sold my gorgeous gelding, Rocky, to cut down to one horse (Lady). I felt overwhelmed with grief. And then this cardinal was banging into any door or window he could reach! 
     Was God filling our empty places with a bright persistent red bird? Or was there really some spiritual symbol here? Was the Holy Spirit trying to enter our home? Or was he waking me early for a much needed quiet time? That alone gave me some precious mornings. I am glad the real Holy Spirit is persistent in His efforts to be in our lives.  
     We missed Lil so much that we thought we needed another dog. We got Ribbons in August, which was oddly enough the same time the cardinal stopped his morning attacks. Another coincidence, right? Ribbons’ registered name is Motif’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, after the 1949 John Wayne movie. She came from the same breeder home in which Lil was born, although Lil had gone to another owner before coming to us.
     Lil was one of a kind. It was her eager antics when she first saw my husband that brought her to our home. She insisted I play with her. I can still see her tiny paws digging at my leg, her eyes pleading for attention. She would run for a toy, drop it in front of me, then back up and dare me to grab it before she did. She usually won, and we played tug of war. While I was busy elsewhere, she kept my husband company on the sofa.
     Just as each horse has its own personality, it’s the same with dogs. Ribbons is timid and submissive, and so far shows no desire to play. As I write this column, we have had her for two weeks. Ribbons didn’t want to leave her home with mom and dad and sisters and the people she knew, but she was the only Boston available for adoption that fit our needs. We didn’t realize how traumatic it would be for her. We were as depressed as she was for a few days, as we saw the effects of separation anxiety. She is eager to go out for her early morning walks, but she often hides under our big coffee table during the day. Lil sometimes slept there, so perhaps the smell of another dog is comforting.
     At first Ribbons would not eat with anyone in the same room. A few days ago, I gave her a couple bites of salmon from our dinner, to coax her out from under the coffee table. She loved it, of course, and was out from under the table a lot more that day. Since then, she has eaten her meals with someone else in the kitchen. Did the salmon break the spell? Perhaps Ribbons can be won over with tasty tidbits, although I think she could easily become an eager beggar if boundaries aren’t established!
     Ribbons doesn’t like being alone. After we are in bed, I hear her come out from under the coffee table to sleep outside our bedroom door on a soft horse pad I put down for her.
     My biggest concern is her elimination schedule, to put it bluntly. We left her home on a Wednesday morning. She rode in the back seat of our car, sometimes putting her front paws on the middle divider to give licky kisses to anyone close enough. As soon as we got home, I spent some time with her in our yard. I took her out again after she ate her supper. Thursday morning, I walked her in our yard several times, and out to a big field where lots of doggies do their business. But Ribbons held it for 27 hours, until we were out to lunch. Since this was probably the very first time in her life to be all alone, I didn’t have the heart to punish her when we came home to find a puddle and a pile on the carpet in front of the TV. But I told her sadly that this would not be a good thing to do again.
     On Friday, I took her out to the yard and walked her to the big field several times. I tried a flower essence rescue remedy to help her with fearful insecurity. I gave her a bowl of broth to drink (to encourage natural results). By Friday night, we were as depressed as she was. We reminded each other of Lil’s first week, when she was in our face and wouldn’t let us alone for a minute.
    By Saturday morning, Ribbons had held it for 40 hours. I walked her out to the big field and took her off the leash, in spite of park rules. By then, I felt I could trust her and I wanted her to feel free to find her own private place. She finally ran a good distance from me, did her stuff, and then ran back to me as fast as her little legs could go. I praised her heartily. Finally! Will it be ok now, I wondered, or is that too much to ask? 
     I was reminded of the competitive trail rides when riders stood around afterward, waiting for their horses to relieve themselves. If you haven’t been there, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about. Long distance rides can cause a horse to tie up. So when your horse stretches out and you know everything is ok, you want to shout with joy. Well, that’s the way I felt when Ribbons did her business. I couldn’t believe a dog could hold it that long!
     I worry about overnight. Before going to bed when we had Lil, I would open the front door and she would go ploppity plop down the porch stairs to pee in the grass before coming back up and into her crate for bed. She knew the drill, and I could count on her. I wonder if Ribbons will ever do the same. 
     Ribbons has a lot of adjustments, from a fenced back yard, big doggie family and a familiar schedule—to our small unfenced yard with lots of distractions, like the lake with noisy ducks, neighbor kids, and people walking by. She is surely grieving the loss of her familiar family. She seems very afraid to do the wrong thing.
     We went to the state fair recently, leaving Ribbons with a friend who happens to be a dog and horse trainer. Another change, but I hoped a big fenced yard with other dogs might be just what she needed. The next day, she peed in our yard several times, a welcome improvement! She is now doing her business each morning in our yard. I also take her out to the big field, using the leash to cross two roads, and taking it off when we get to the field. Ribbons stays close to me, and when I stop, she stops and looks up at me. I am working on various word commands, including stay, come and sit. Ribbons is a very smart dog! But the dog I see on our walks is different from the dog I see at home.
     Change is difficult for both animals and people! Getting acquainted, building mutual trust and respect, establishing boundaries and adjusting schedules are all part of a new relationship. It takes time. A lonely dog needs lots of loving and praise for each try, just like a horse. It can’t be hurried or forced. It must be patiently allowed and enjoyed as we walk slowly along the path toward understanding. I’m happy for each small step of progress! I am beginning to enjoy the special moments of the journey, in spite of a few discouragements. Sometimes I wonder why we ever got another dog—no other dog will ever be like Lil! But I think Ribbons has her place already. Last night, Ribbons sat on the sofa with us as we watched TV, instead of hiding under the table. And she gives the sweetest licky kisses!
     I think of Ribbons under the coffee table, trembling and afraid to come out into a new environment. We Christians sometimes huddle in our own shadowy place, where we choose to stay because we feel safe. We may be afraid to interact with strange people, afraid to leave family and friends, afraid to venture out to new places where God is calling us. All the while, God’s love has made a way for us. His power protects us. He longs to help us find new insight and knowledge and strength. Sometimes our fearful emotions overpower us and we find solace in hiding. But we can’t help ourselves or anyone else unless we go where He leads. He tells us in Isaiah 41:10, “Do not fear, for I am with you…”  

(Originally published in the September 2013 issue of the Illinois Horse Network)

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