by Kay Etheredge

Our sixteen year old dog, Caesar, is three feet long.  Yes, we have measured so we know this to be fact.  He also stands about six inches off the ground.  Because of his unusual build, when he was only four years old, he had to have back surgery.  Now, in his advanced age and as a result of arthritis, he has neuropathy in one of his back paws.  Because of the neuropathy, he began to view this numb paw as an entity separate from himself, and he began to chew the paw. The paw became infected and our wise vet put him in the proverbial cone of shame, which Caesar wore for over three weeks until the paw healed.

Before we left our vet’s clinic she laughed at the sight of our beloved Caesar in the cone.

“They always look so funny on short dogs”, she said.

Caesar was not amused.

Because he is built so low to the ground and the cone was very large, it seemed to function as a large scoop.  He would scoop up leaves and pine straw with the cone.  He couldn’t see where he was going so we had to physically lift him on and off of our front porch when he went outside, and off of the curb when we took him for longer walks.  He developed a bit of a gait as he wore the cone, rocking his head from side to side as he walked.  As much as we hated for him to have to wear it, it was a comical look.  He could drink water from our pet watering bowl but he was unable to eat from his food bowl, so we held his bowl of food inside the cone, just under his snout, so that he could eat.  We had to make adjustments to his bed as well because the cone impeded him from stepping over the edge of it to lie down.  He learned to sleep with his head resting in the large plastic cone.

Once our vet determined that his paw was healed she had the idea to put a little doggie paw protector on his foot.  Dogs up north wear these to protect their paws from the extreme cold and snow as well as the salt solutions put on the roads to melt the snow.  So Caesar traded his huge plastic cone for a doggie shoe.

The interesting thing is that when the cone was removed, Caesar still acted like he was wearing it.  For a day or two he still swung his head from side to side and hesitated as he reached the edge of our front porch, waiting for us to lift him off the porch.  He hesitated at the edge of his bed, fearing he couldn’t step up over the edge to lie down.  After being in the cone for three long weeks, he simply couldn’t remember how he had maneuvered his small world without it.

The men at Brother Bryan Mission come here, generally speaking, in the throes of addiction.  They have learned a certain way of life…how to walk, talk, sleep, eat, etc. while living in the limitations that their addictions impose. Many of them bear physical scars from the wrong choices they’ve made.  Drugs can eat away at their teeth like rejection eats away at their souls.    Many of them have learned the art of schmoozing.  Some have learned to withdraw from others, maybe due to a lack of trust or having been hurt repeatedly.  As I’ve heard over and over from BBM staff members, addiction is rarely the problem.  It is more often than not a surface symptom of something much, much deeper.

At last night’s graduation at a local church, I found myself moved to the point of tears by comments that some of the men made about themselves.

“This is the longest I’ve been sober since I was six years old”.

“When I came to BBM, my family wanted nothing to do with me.  After I was here for a few months, my parents wanted to wish me a Merry Christmas”.

“I never went to church in my home state because people looked down on me because I have tattoos”.

One man talked about riding to Birmingham from another state with a “friend”.  They stopped in Irondale and he went to use the restroom.  When he came out, the “friend” had driven away and left him.

I hurt inwardly at the thought of what that level of abandonment would feel like, and how terrifying it would be to be all alone in a strange place with no one or no place to go.  Thankfully he found his way to BBM.

As I heard the men speak of how Christ has changed them into new creations, my mind went to Caesar and his cone.  These men take tentative first steps out of addiction.  They are learning to navigate without huge burdens called addiction, rejection, abandonment, etc… They learn a new way to walk…with heads held high as they learn there is One who says they are enough—they are beloved.  They get help from the staff as they learn basic steps of a new life.

Caesar has adjusted to his “shoe”.  I sometimes think he actually likes not having the torment of a paw that he can’t feel.  He adjusted to life within his cone of shame and then had to take a couple of days to adjust to life without it.

Please pray for the men here at BBM who are learning how to live a new life.  They are learning that words that may have been spoken to them for years are simply not true.  They are learning that with or without tattoos, they are God’s delight.  They are learning to allow God to change them from the inside out, and they have found a place where they are accepted, understood, and loved.

Our Caesar came to us as a six week old puppy; he had to sleep on a rug that smelled like his doggie mama and littermates but still howled at night because he missed them.  Over time, we got rid of the rug because he learned that he could trust us and inside our home he was loved.  At sixteen we are all he knows.

After a few days or weeks here at BBM, men who come in battered and bruised by the world learn to trust the One who made them.  Over time they learn that through Him and with Him, the “cone” has come off.  Many, for the first time since childhood, are truly free.