Lola’s legacy in spots

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Any child Lola carried was her No. 1 priority. (Photo courtesy Summit Equestrian Center)

I watched Lola carry the young rider around the grounds at Summit Equestrian Center, accompanied by two side walkers and director Allison Wheaton. The 15-year-old Appaloosa mare moved with the ease of a practiced therapy horse.

What’s more, she’d attuned herself to the energy of this young girl, who lived with a condition affecting neuromuscular and other systems. The child had groomed and saddled Lola, with plenty of pets along the way, and now sat beaming on her back.

Writing a Fort Wayne Magazine story on therapy animals had brought me to the barn to meet Lola and watch her work. Lola adjusted her stride to each child who rode her, I would learn. Once, she abruptly stopped because she sensed a child’s oncoming seizure.

Even her coat was beautiful, fun, and functional; kids counted her spots or adorned them with nontoxic finger paint during summer day camp. She stood perfectly still as riders stretched to touch one spot or another.

Just a couple of years before, Lola had arrived at Summit Equestrian Center — a nonprofit which offers therapeutic riding lessons and equine-assisted counseling — worn down emotionally and physically. Months of good nutrition, training, and mindful care helped her recover and decide on her new role.

From then on, Allison said, it was forward all the way. Whatever happened in those first dozen or so years of Lola’s life could not be undone, but they would not define her. She made sure of that. She had better things to do.

Lola and I met again a few years later, this time in my capacity as an animal communicator and animal Reiki practitioner doing weekly rounds at Summit. She was always happy to see me — and to fill me in on anything she thought needed attention. Ever the matriarch, she kept watch over the herd, as well as the goats, pigs, chickens, cats, dogs, sheep, the rest of us volunteers, and especially Allison. The two of them built Summit’s mission one lesson at a time.

As time passed, Lola’s physical body began to weaken, but her spirit and sense of humor remained strong. A few months ago, I caught up with her as she was eating breakfast and asked her how she was. “I’m an old lady. I’m up. I’m eating. What more do you want?” she replied wryly.

This spring, I watched her follow newcomer Mojo, a handsome Tennessee Walker, around the pasture, at once shamelessly flirting and telling him things he’d need to know and take care of when she was no longer there to do so herself. Lola had plenty to tell me, too — thanking Allison for her loving care and the difference they made together, a caution not to take much sass from a certain mustang, a reminder about keeping gates closed, and more.

Under a summer solstice sky, Lola completed her work on this plane and went to join old friends Whinnie and Ritzy on her next adventure.

When I look at Lola’s life, I see each lesson, ride, encounter, and experience as a spot like the ones on her coat. No two are exactly alike. Some overlap and even seem multilayered. Together, those spots form a pattern like no other.

Thank you, Lola, for inspiring us to find the beauty in our own patterns.

 

 

 

That’ll do, pig

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Josie enjoys the sun at Summit Equestrian Center. (Photo by Allison Wheaton)

It’s challenging to maintain that peaceful “Reiki space” when your client is jumping on you, pushing you, throwing a class-A tantrum, or in Josie’s case, all three.

To be fair, the pot-bellied piglet had been a good sport about coming to live at Summit Equestrian Center after a couple of stints as a house pig. But a new home is a big adjustment for any young being, and now Josie’s hormones had catapulted her into the porcine equivalent of ‘tween divadom.

This is the Year of the Pig in the Chinese astrological calendar. Pigs are associated with greed, rudeness, aggression, and other characteristics that seem rampant in our world. Pigs are also symbols of tenacity, abundance, and forward movement. While we can’t choose which characteristics a pig will show us at any given moment, we can choose how to respond. Josie is a walking, grunting, greeting, rooting, Reiki-sharing example.

On this day during my weekly rounds at the barn, she was mad at the world and I was there. As an animal Reiki practitioner and animal communicator, I want to listen and hold space for whatever the animal needs. But every time I thought Josie was done ramming her snout into my leg, she wasn’t.

In possibly the most awkward barn dance ever, I kept moving. Josie kept rooting. Until she wore herself out and settled down for a nap.

Of course I knew Reiki can be shared just as effectively from outside a pen or other enclosure. I could do that differently next time. The reminder I needed even more was not to let the desire to help override the need for safe, sane interaction.

When Josie strolled up to me the following week, I told her I was happy to share Reiki and a chat. I also let her know any wayward snout or hoof movement would bring the session to a halt until she was in her pen. “Fine,” I heard, along with a few grunts. We shared some energy for a few minutes while she nibbled clover, and then she trotted off to some other task.

That was my first lesson from Josie: Boundaries are only as good as our willingness to enforce them.

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Duke, who’s been learning about boundaries, advises Josie that now is not a convenient time for stall browsing. (Photo by Nancy Crowe)

As time passed, spay surgery, acclimation, and maturity — and maybe Reiki? — helped ease her path. But progress is never linear, and Josie is Josie. I’d work with her while she was penned in timeout after breaking into the feed room or playing too roughly with the other animals. The next week, she’d come through like a team-playing rock star. You just never knew.

Recently, as I sat on the floor with Jake the senior barn cat at my side, Josie walked in with her customary “what’s up?” grunts.

Jake crouched, ears swiveling back. But Josie stopped two or three feet away from us and just stood there quietly. Jake sat up and stayed put, and we all shared Reiki.

Second lesson from Josie: We can recognize limitations without giving up on one another.

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Josie has a word with Marcus the barn cat. (Photo by Nancy Crowe)

On another day, when director Allison Wheaton was away from the barn, Josie and goat roomies Gabby and Mildred did not have their usual roaming privileges. They were sick of their enclosure and sick of one another, and everyone in the neighborhood was hearing about it.

I sat just outside the pen and began my meditation. After several minutes of Reiki, I noticed the squealing and “naaa-aaa–aaing” had stopped. Josie and Gabby had settled at opposite ends of the pen. Mildred lounged just inside the shed, relieved not to hear the other two complaining.

A moment later, I found a treat — left by my dog after a groomer visit — in my car. After determining it hadn’t crossed the line between stale and disgusting, I divided it among the three. Pigs and goats are not known for being finicky, but they were as happy as if it came straight from the baker’s case.

And there was the third lesson from Josie and company: The smallest, most seemingly insignificant gifts can make your day.

Though we haven’t told Josie it’s the Year of the Pig (we’d never hear the end of it), it seems pretty well timed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CBD for pets? Five things to consider

A number of pet owners tout the benefits of CBD (cannabidiol) oil for joint pain, anxiety, and even epilepsy. Some say it’s the only thing that helped after other treatments failed. 

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While there is little data to support the use of CBD for humans, and even less for animals, you can find it everywhere from gas stations and boutiques to specialty CBD stores, online retailers, and individual sales representatives. Some formulations are made specifically for animals.

As an animal Reiki practitioner and animal communicator, I often work with people who are trying to figure out how to help their sick, hurting, or inconsolably anxious animal companions. I’ve been there myself. As a journalist, finding accurate and unbiased information is also important. So if you’re thinking about trying CBD for your pet, I want to point you in a direction that will help you make an informed decision.

After doing my own research, asking around, paying attention to conversations on the topic, and talking with a trusted veterinarian, I suggest considering the following:

1. It’s legal, but veterinarians face restrictions.

As of March 2018, the cannabis-derived product is legal here in Indiana as long as it meets certain labeling requirements and contains less than 0.3 percent delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. (That’s the substance that produces the “high”). Cannabis laws vary by state.

On the federal level, the Drug Enforcement Administration still categorizes CBD as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. Veterinarians are not allowed to prescribe or recommend CBD. They can’t even discuss it unless the client brings it up. Check out this article in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

2. Quality may vary, and interactions are unknown.

Do you know, or does the seller or manufacturer know, what’s really in your CBD oil? Is it less than 0.3 percent (the legal limit) THC? Where and how were the ingredients sourced?

There may well be some excellent animal CBD products out there with organic or responsibly sourced ingredients and airtight supply chains. Business owners and pet parents I deeply respect may be selling and using these products with due diligence and success.

With CBD relatively recently legalized and so many products hitting the market, there are probably a number of inferior, fake, or even toxic ones out there as well. The popularity and marketing of CBD products are outpacing research and regulation, Dr. Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer for the American Kennel Club, told NBC News.

This brings up another unknown, and a question your vet cannot legally answer: How will even the purest CBD product interact with the medications or supplements your animal is already taking?

3. There may be better, safer alternatives.

CBD isn’t the only oil out there. Essential oils for animals are not without controversy, but you can at least discuss, say, peppermint oil with your veterinarian without legal restriction. The same goes for other supplements with more research behind their ingredients.

If you’re worried about the effects of traditional medications for pain or anxiety, talk to your vet about trying a lower dose, at least to start. With my own animal companions, I’ve found less can be more.

Reiki, a stress-relief modality which is part of my practice, can also help with issues such as pain and anxiety. I admit the research supporting this is not extensive, either. However, a 2017 Australian study, which looked at previous (human) clinical studies on whether Reiki provided more than a placebo effect, is encouraging. Reiki is non-invasive and substance-free, so even if you don’t see how it could possibly help, it will do no harm.

4. Trust is key.

Whether you’re giving your pet a prescribed antibiotic or considering a supplement such as CBD, you have to be able to trust 1) the person prescribing or selling it and 2) the maker of the product (whom the prescriber or seller presumably trusts).

Most important: Our trust in these folks needs to be worthy of our animal friends’ trust in us.

5. The research is ongoing.

Research on CBD for animals is in progress, so more conclusive information is likely to emerge. As it does, pay attention to what each study concludes (or doesn’t), who conducted it, who funded it, and whether any conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Also, see this story from Consumer Reports, which I consider a good source for unbiased consumer information, on the question of using CBD for animals. It includes guidance on what to look for should you decide to explore further.

What we know is expanding. In the meantime, I think caution is warranted.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay