Animal Paradise - Communication & Healing
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Animal Paradise Newsletter
Winter 2010

 Paloma Blanca 
by Shari Goodwin

She flew in to our lives on a Tuesday. April 14, 2009 to be exact. I remember this date because it was the day the senior veterinarian was coming to try to figure out what was going on with my horse Lila. Frantic for several weeks, I had consulted with various veterinarians and tried different medicines to no avail. Lila had been having some sort of reaction that caused her to throw her head as if she hit her nose on an electric fence over and over. She did it outside, inside, in her stall, while riding, while grazing, she could get no relief. 

On that Tuesday, I fetched Lila from her paddock and brought her to her stall for the veterinary examination. Her stall was not empty. Standing in the middle on the sawdust was a beautiful white bird. It looked like a dove or a homing pigeon. I asked the veterinarian to see if she could get the bird out and determine if it was injured. The veterinarian escorted the seemingly healthy bird down the barn aisle to another stall where it could rest. I put Lila in her stall, sprinkled some grains of feed on the ground for the bird and gave it some water. The veterinarian and I then resumed Lila's examination. Still unsure of a specific cause for the symptoms, the veterinarian recommended a different steroid and head x-rays. I felt nervous but better, happy that we had a new path to pursue. 

Thank night, the white bird perched on top of the wall of Lila's stall and went to sleep. It was still there in the morning. It seemed to be keeping watch over Lila. I was surprised, but intrigued and fed it breakfast and changed its water. It came down from its perch, walked down the barn aisle to its stall and ate. 

My husband and I noticed that the bird had a leg band and researched the "national homing pigeon association" website to find out what we should do. According to our research, homing pigeons sometimes roost for 24-48 hours at a location to rest and gather strength for the remainder of their journey. My husband was able to catch the bird and read the band number. He reported the band number to the association. Two days later, we received an email with the name of the person who had purchased the bird band. We called the person and he said he didn't know if it was one of his birds, but if we caught it and put it in a box he would come and pick it up. He was about an hour's drive away. I had a really strong feeling that this was not a good thing and encouraged my husband to catch the bird "later." He said no and promptly marched out of the barn with a box and a determined face. After several futile attempts to catch the bird he easily caught a few days earlier, he gave up and said the bird could leave when it was ready. For some reason, this made me very happy.

We called the bird Paloma Blanca, Spanish for white pigeon and she became part of our herd. She had breakfast and dinner with the horses and slept with them in the barn. At feeding time, she would walk up and down the barn aisle with me making small muttering sounds, kind of like a daily commentary. Our barn staff loved her and referred to her as "mi amiga Paloma Blanca."

A few days after Paloma's arrival, we had a veterinary emergency with one of the horses. He was colicking and needed to be taken to the emergency hospital. With a history of colic including surgery, this was a very serious and potentially life-threatening condition. We loaded him in the trailer and he stayed overnight at the emergency hospital. We were all very nervous. The next day, remarkably, he was fine. He did not require surgery and was basically as good as new. We all gave a little nod to Paloma as our good luck charm. 

For the next month, the daily activities were pretty much the same. Feed the horses, feed the bird, turn out the horses, talk with the bird, go to work. During this time, Lila started to respond to the new medicine and her head x-rays came back negative for any weirdness. I started feeling pretty good and hopeful that she would make a full recovery. 

Also during this time, other things started to take flight. I began writing articles for a local paper to help people affected by the recession. This pushed me to officially start the company that I had been pondering for several years and develop business cards. The horse that colicked started training better than ever, traveled to a national competition and received the highest dressage award of his career. One of the other horses finally started making visible progress in her recovery from a hard to diagnose metabolic disorder. The whole barn just seemed lighter and the horses were gleaming. 

One late afternoon, after I had turned out the horses and finished the chores, I sat in the grass to relax and watch Paloma eat her dinner. The intensity, speed and accuracy with which she picked up the grains were impressive. Never having had a bird before, this was fascinating for me. The way her head bobbed and her eye periodically scanned the sky for predators held a primal quality. Suddenly, a flock of chattering black birds flew toward us. Paloma stood up straight, looked the birds in the eye and flew off over the barn. She soared high overhead, gaining speed. She raced through the air tracing the perimeter of our property. Flying high above the treeline, she streaked over the indoor arena and suddenly bent her winds and fell into a dive! She swooped up just before hitting the ground and rocketed back up in the air circling our farm. It was shocking how she identified her "territory" so consistently with our property line. At almost dusk, her small white body shined against the blue sky reflecting the fading sun as she jetted through the air. A most spectacular aerial display! Then she dove - she swooped down and flew right through the barn to her favorite perch. I walked in to the barn and gazed up at her. She was all puffed up. I said, "Paloma Blanca, that was AWESOME!" There was no mistaking her pride or my appreciation. 

After a month, one morning I saw ANOTHER white pigeon. Bigger than Paloma and not 
banded, he started meeting her for breakfast each morning and she would share the grain. He came diligently for two weeks and sometimes they would fly off together for a few hours but she always returned at night to sleep in the barn. Then one day, six weeks after her arrival, she was gone. She must have finally succumbed to his courtship and flew off to do other pigeon business. 

I missed her immediately, but also felt like her work with us was done. She had helped us through numerous crises and given us the courage we needed to soar to new heights. I will be forever grateful to that little white bird, mi amiga Paloma Blanca. 

About the author: Shari Goodwin is an environmental scientist and owns Cobbler Corner Farm, a training and boarding barn in Marshall, VA. She also recently opened Jaeger2, a strategic planning and coaching firm. Animals are her most valued teachers.
Shari has recently started teaching Equine Assisted Coaching workshops. 

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