I am a Reiki teacher who works with animals. Some might ask me if I’m an “animal healer,” but I don’t like that term: Partly because I respect the wisdom and power of animals too much to claim that I’m the one doing the helping, and partly because of what some amazing cats in my Reiki journey have revealed to me.
For those of you new to Reiki, the word itself literally translates as “spiritual energy,” which points toward our inner self. I see Reiki as our beautiful light of compassion, or our “heart.” Reiki meditation helps us remember that we are all connected, and in that place of Oneness, all healing possibility exists.
If you’re like me, dogs have always been the loves of your life and at the center of your heart. They never live long enough, and as they get older, it can be hard to admit that they are indeed “seniors,” entering their twilight years. Older dogs often develop certain chronic conditions, and besides finding the support of a caring, holistic vet, sharing Reiki meditations with your dog can help both of you navigate the twists and turns of your aging dog’s health journey. Here are five powerful ways Reiki can help your beloved senior dogs:
1. An improved appetite. Older dogs often get finicky about eating in their old age. Besides getting creative with food choices, Reiki is a wonderful way to support senior dogs when they just don’t seem interested in food. Many times, I’ve had the beautiful experience of the dog going over to his food bowl and finally choosing to eat, either during or just after a Reiki session. It’s amazing!
2. Physical and emotional comfort. Old dogs deal with a multitude of unsettling physical symptoms, either from disease or just old age: an unsteady gait, a tilted head, nausea, arthritis, deafness and blindness—to name a few. Sharing Reiki sessions can address these issues and help dogs feel more comfortable in their aging bodies.
When Dakota suffered from a bout of vestibular disease when he was about 12, I remember sitting with him and sharing Reiki. Although it was very difficult to see him struggling, sharing a Reiki meditation with him each day gave me a way to keep a positive mental focus of peace and healing. He improved much quicker than the vet expected, and I was able to keep a much calmer state of mind throughout the healing process. This article offers some tips on keeping a positive state of mind while sharing Reiki with your animals.
3. Renewed sense of connection and belonging for the dog. Blindness and deafness can lead to fear and a sense of isolation. Dogs with one or both of these issues may begin to lie on their beds all day instead of interacting with the family. This is where Reiki can play a very important role.
Reiki shows us that connecting with our hearts is a profound way to communicate with and relate to our dogs.
Reiki meditation is about connecting from the heart. We learn to breathe and focus into the heart of our being, to uncover the central core of who we are. When we remember our inner heart, we realize that although we often rely on our eyes and ears to connect us to our world, these senses don’t define who we are. When these senses dim, Reiki helps us to heighten our most important awareness—the awareness that comes from an open heart—in order to stay connected. Reiki shows us that connecting with our hearts is a much more profound way to communicate with and relate to our dogs!
4. Improved mobility. Arthritis is one of the most common chronic conditions present in senior dogs. But when dogs receive regular Reiki treatments, they often show significant signs of improvement in comfort and mobility. It brings me great joy to see many of my arthritic clients getting a spring back into their steps after some Reiki. Some clients will show a renewed emotional sparkle, bringing me toys to play with after a Reiki session, even if they haven’t shown interest in play for a very long time. (See how Reiki helped a senior donkey at TOLFA in India here.)
5. Additional support during hospice. I remember how devastated I was when my dear companion Dakota was diagnosed with lung cancer at the age of 16. I did everything I could to help him—including sharing Reiki with him every single day. Reiki was a wonderful way to improve his comfort level during hospice, as well as my own mental/emotional state in caring for him.
The medications he was on supposedly caused stomach upset, but he never showed any of these symptoms. In fact, to his vet’s amazement, he had a wonderful appetite and digestion up until the day he died. I firmly believe that Reiki was key in helping him fight against the side effects of the medications. (Don’t miss these three simple ways Reiki helps animals with cancer.)
Our gray-muzzled companions benefit greatly from Reiki, especially as they age. So much inspiration in my work comes from the elderly animals at BrightHaven holistic sanctuary and hospice; all of them were given up on by someone else before they made their way to this special place, where they can live out their lives naturally and in peace. You can read more about their Reiki program here.
How has Reiki helped your senior dog navigate the journey of aging?
This article was originally published in the March/April 2016 issue of Dogs Naturally Magazine.
Some animal charities get all the attention—Best Friends Animal Society, The Gentle Barn, the WWF—and for good reason. But there are also plenty of other revolutionary individuals dedicating their inspiration and perspiration to helping animals in unique ways and truly making a difference in animals’ lives. Here, I spotlight a few pioneering animal charities and cutting-edge programs that you might not know about:
1. Wildlife Rescue Nests partners with knitters and crocheters to create warm, handmade nests that are then donated to wildlife rescues worldwide. Here’s a helpful video on how to knit a nest for baby birds, bunnies and other creatures in need:
Many times when we learn Reiki for animals, we think we’re going to be “doing” the healing for the animals. But the animals know better. They understand that in a true and deep healing space, where hearts connect in compassion, the healing goes both ways. This healing is not about curing, but about becoming whole. Johnnie is one cat who taught me these lessons.
Johnnie (above left) was a beautiful orange tabby who lived at BrightHaven holistic animal sanctuary and hospice. He suffered from a variety of ailments, including renal problems, heart issues, severe dental disease, low potassium and hyperesthesia. Somehow, though, he always thought of others—never himself.
For many years of his life, he would adopt certain cats who came to live at BrightHaven who needed extra love. At first, many of these cats were not convinced that they needed Johnnie’s rapt and loving attention, but his engaging personality always managed to persuade each one that a love affair was needed—and, indeed, each one thrived under his doting care.
Johnnie with his sister, Sammi
Johnnie and Fray, who works at BrightHaven.
As always, helping my students learn Reiki
As BrightHaven is a hospice, and the animals there are in the final chapter of their journeys, one by one he had to say goodbye to each cat he loved so much. He sat vigil and supported each one’s death with a pure and open heart. When his last love, Vancouver, passed away, it seemed that finally Johnnie’s own heart was broken. It was only after Vancouver passed that we began to see Johnnie front and center for all Reiki classes. At this time, his physical heart and kidneys were failing, and although he certainly benefited from the Reiki shared, his focus remained, as always, on others.
He would go around the circle, greet everyone and then choose a specific student to settle on. His favorite perching place was in your lap or across your heart, where he would calmly fall asleep purring. The students would feel the energy flowing very strongly, and Johnnie would gaze lovingly into their eyes. For many, it was the first experience of connecting heart-to-heart in the Reiki space. For others, Johnnie’s presence ignited their own inner healing experience. One student had never cried after the recent loss of a parent, and Johnnie’s presence created a safe space for her tears to flow. Another student recently had all three of her cats pass away, and Johnnie was the first cat she had held since these losses. As the tears flowed, she said, “I feel a release of my grief!”
As a witness to many of these heartful interactions with my students, I could see that the healing went both ways; that both Johnnie and each person received exactly what they needed. This is a beautiful quality of healing connection that Reiki creates. In time, I had my own health challenge, and during my first visit back to BrightHaven after my surgery for breast cancer, Johnnie came running to me, jumped into my lap and stretched his entire body over my shoulder and draped across my chest, purring loudly. As I closed my eyes and relaxed into a Reiki meditation, I felt so much gratitude for this wonderful feline Reiki teacher and how he shared himself so unselfishly. He and I could let go of our health issues and just “be” together in that beautiful, peaceful Reiki space. I could feel a lessening in my own post-surgical pain and discomfort and could also sense his breathing become more relaxed and regular.
Johnnie passed away after a long journey with his myriad of health issues, but Reiki helped him to reconnect with his healing purpose even after his beloved cats had crossed. Reiki gave him physical and emotional comfort in his final months of life. He also had a beautifully peaceful passing supported by Reiki and surrounded by loved ones, which was only fitting, as he had sat vigil in hospice for others so many times.
Johnnie taught me that real healing is not about curing this or that problem. We can be truly healed, or made whole, even when we struggle with physical or emotional issues. When we let go of the need to “cure” this or that problem, we are better able to connect to others from the heart with selfless compassion. In doing so, we create a space where all healing potential exists—and we remember what Johnnie always knew: that this is why we are here in the first place—to help each other remember wholeness.
All photos copyright BrightHaven.