Animal Wise: The only thing left to do

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I worked with an angry dog very much like this one during my Animal Reiki III training. (Photo by asommerh on Pixabay)

Normally, I steer clear of individuals — dogs or not — who are barking at me. But something drew me to Lyson despite his barking and the warnings posted all over his kennel at The Devoted Barn animal sanctuary, where I was doing my Animal Reiki III training with Kathleen Prasad.

The warnings were about keeping hands and fingers away from the cage, letting him out separately from the other dogs, and keeping him muzzled when he was out of the kennel. I could understand why, given the anger convulsing his body with every bark. I did not have Lyson’s backstory or any illusions about fixing whatever was bothering him. My classmates and I had dispersed around the barn to share Reiki with the animals, and that’s what I was going to do.

I pulled up a chair by his kennel and turned slightly to the side (some animals interpret your facing them directly as confrontation). I let both Lyson and Mojo, the dog in the next kennel, know they were free to take as much or as little of the energy as they wanted. It was completely up to them. Then I began my meditation, pulling in the energy of the earth and sky to remain grounded and connected to God.

Mojo, who I think was a recent rescue from Saudi Arabia, sat quietly, cocking his head a bit. Lyson furiously barked and barked. I held a space of peace for both of them and myself, trying to remember the particulars of Kathleen’s “be the mountain” meditation. As a Reiki practitioner and empath, I have learned the hard way that taking on or getting sucked into another individual’s emotions or problems helps no one. It’s not mine to do. That’s the beauty of the Reiki space; it lets me care while stepping out of the way and allowing a higher wisdom to work.

A couple of times, Lyson stopped barking and went to the back of his pen. When he returned, he looked at me like he couldn’t believe I was still there, that someone was interacting with him in a way that did not involve violence or force. Then he started barking again.

About midway through the meditation, I looked down and noticed a mouse peeking out from a hole under Lyson’s pen. “Well, hi,” I said quietly. “You’re welcome to join us.”

As the session drew to a close, the mouse drew his nose back into the hole. Mojo relaxed, still curious about what the humans in the barn were up to. Lyson barked a couple more times just to make sure he got his point across. Before I rejoined my classmates at the other end of the barn, I briefly met his gaze. There was something about the healing energy we had just shared that he understood, even if it was just a tiny sliver. Perhaps that was wishful thinking on my part.

When I discussed my experience with Lyson, Mojo, and the mouse with the rest of the class, Kathleen said she heard Lyson was to be euthanized. Apparently, his aggressive behaviors had been deemed too severe for any other solution to be workable. She said it was good that I worked with him, that he got to have some positive interaction with human beings. I know enough about this particular sanctuary to say that such decisions are not made without careful assessment, love, and anguish.

Would I have loved to hear Lyson made a total turnaround during our Reiki weekend and was granted a reprieve … and if not adopted, at least able to live out his days among the other dogs at the sanctuary? Of course. But making that happen was not within our power, and practicing Reiki with a specific outcome in mind only blocks the healing energy you are trying to share.

Therein lies the tension between a Reiki practitioner’s natural and sincere inclination to help (and to want to see the results of said help) and the way healing actually works: with us mortals doing what is ours to do and leaving the rest to a power beyond ourselves.

What was ours to do that day at the barn was exactly what we did — share healing energy with the animals, regardless of what had brought them there or what may or may not happen after we left.

Sometimes, the only thing left to do is to offer someone a peaceful presence.

Maybe that’s what Lyson, in between his bouts of barking, began to understand.

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Animal Wise: How a Reiki session works

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The first lesson of animal Reiki? The animal is always at least one step ahead … and that’s OK.

If you are considering Reiki to support a beloved animal’s well-being, it may help to know more about what actually happens during a typical session.

Getting there

For in-person appointments in the Fort Wayne, Indiana area, which last about an hour, I come to your home, barn, or clinic. When I arrive, we can get acquainted and talk about whatever concerns you may have. Then I’ll find a comfortable place to sit or stand near the animal. After I say a silent prayer and gain the animal’s permission to share energy, I will enter a peaceful, meditative state. The animal is free to lie still, stand, move around, eat, get a drink of water, go out for a pit stop, etc. The Reiki energy — the life force that animates all living things — will go right to work, wherever it is needed, regardless.

Why it works

It works for two reasons. First, the energy comes not from me but from a higher power: God, the Universe, All That Is. There are many names. I’m the conduit, not the source. Reiki is a stress relief and relaxation modality and not affiliated with any particular religious tradition, but at the same time, it is based on the notion that the energy comes from a safe, loving place where all living beings are connected.

Second, I am sharing the energy with the animals rather than doing something to them. During a session, cats or dogs will often come closer, curl up next to me, or settle in my lap, but they sometimes prefer to be a few feet away or even leave the room. That’s OK; I won’t chase after them. However they want to participate in a Reiki session, or not, is up to them. It’s really not the same model of the Reiki client lying on the table and the practitioner moving around him or her using the hand positions.

That’s why it works. More often than not, we don’t know how, and that can be hard to get our heads around. I’m a skeptical journalist who never expected to be doing anything like this, and I wouldn’t keep doing it if I didn’t see the benefits.

A peaceful presence

An animal Reiki session is not about fixing the animal or getting rid of what’s wrong. Reiki, which never harms, is about creating and sharing a peaceful space that promotes whatever healing needs to happen. The animals often have a better sense of that than we do, which is all the more reason to let them lead.

You and any other humans or animals present are welcome to be present and may also benefit from the session, but I generally keep conversation to a minimum during the meditation. After about 30 minutes, I will gently bring the meditation to a close and we can talk about any feelings, questions, or impressions that arose. I may share intuitive information I received during the session that might be helpful to you, but I am not a medical professional and do not diagnose. Most animals (and humans) feel relaxed and rejuvenated after a Reiki session.

We can then discuss and/or make an appointment for further treatment. The benefits of Reiki are cumulative and it helps the animal to get to know me over multiple visits, so I generally recommend a series of three sessions over 10 days to three weeks, depending on the animal’s circumstances and needs. Then I’ll be on my way, and you are encouraged to call or email me with any questions or concerns.

Animal Reiki and animal communication

Animal Reiki may involve communication, and I often send distant Reiki energy as part of an animal communication session. However, a Reiki session is a time of meditation and quiet healing, and an animal communication session is about gathering information and insight. So, while there is some overlap between the two, the objectives are different enough that I handle them separately. Please see my animal communication page for more information.

Animal Wise: The green-eyed monster

Photo by 9DamnedDogs on Foter.com : CC BY-NC-SA (1)

Got dogs vying for your attention? You’re not imagining it. (Photo by 9DamnedDogs on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA)

A University of California study gives scientific credence to what people who share their lives with dogs have known all along: Dogs get jealous.

The 2014 study by Christine R. Harris and Caroline Prouvost found that when their owners displayed affection toward an animatronic stuffed dog that barked, whined, and wagged its tail, the dogs snapped at and pushed against the stuffed dog and tried to get between it and their human. The 36 dogs were videotaped at their homes while their owners ignored them and interacted with a series of three objects: the stuffed dog, a children’s book, and a plastic jack-o-lantern.

The study looked only at small-breed dogs such as corgis, pugs, and dachshunds, apparently so the dogs would be easier to control if things got out of hand. One of my favorite sayings is, “The smaller the dog, the bigger the attitude,” but I’ve seen dogs of every size, breed, and temperament get their noses out of joint over having to compete for a human’s attention.

The dogs in this study were much more miffed by the stuffed dog, and more specifically the human’s interactions with it, than they were by the person reading aloud from the book or showering attention on the pumpkin. Being ignored in favor of an inanimate object is one thing. It was the social interaction of their owners with something so doglike that its butt had to be sniffed (which 86 percent of the dogs in the study did) that made the difference. The study was published in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed online scientific journal.

So, how much of a problem is canine jealousy? Relatively little snapping was reported on the part of the dogs in this study. Since dogs are not inclined to hold grudges, it’s reasonable to assume that the next time you encounter the phrase “jealous rage,” it will not apply to a dog’s behavior.

Still, there is an important reminder here for maintaining a more just and happy household: There’s no substitute for one-on-one time.

If a friend’s dog is staying with us, Molly — our golden retriever/German shepherd/collie rescue with her share of issues — is fine with sharing her space and toys. But if my partner or I pet the guest dog, Molly wedges herself between us. This is when I make sure Molly gets just as much attention and lap time (yes, my 60-pound dog thinks she’s a lapdog) as she normally does. This makes her feel more secure and lets the visitor know where he stands.

It’s also not unusual for animals to feel threatened by the arrival of a new four-legged family member. Every time an animal joins or leaves a household or herd, that small civilization shifts. The rules and hierarchies are reset. This is especially true for cats, whose independence and territorial nature does not preclude forming strong bonds with other animals and humans. Spending some one-on-one time, even if it’s just a few minutes a day of play, walking, or snuggling, with each animal will help everyone (including you) feel fully loved and appreciated.

Of course, thanks to the power of the canine nose, a potential rival need not be present to  merit suspicion. When I go home after an in-person animal Reiki session or my rounds at Summit Equestrian Center, I can count on a thorough sniff-over from Molly. She gathers all kinds of data about where I’ve been and with whom. While she doesn’t entirely approve, generally within a few minutes she’s ready to move on to something else — going outside, angling for a treat, or making sure the UPS man knows the premises are protected. I still make sure she knows that even though I have been out working with other dogs (and cats, horses, pigs, sheep, etc.), I am happy to see her.

Like our previous dog, Ellie, Molly also has a knack for coming into the room and settling beside me when I’m sending distant Reiki energy to an animal, especially another dog. She doesn’t mind … but she doesn’t want to be left out, either. Fortunately, in the Reiki space, there is always enough to go around.