Letting animals choose lets them be their best

(Photo by Nancy Crowe)

The massive draft horse was one of the saddest, checked-out animals I have met. He’d spent years on at least one Amish farm, was isolated and probably abused, and had given up. After he was rescued, his new owner wanted to find out what he needed.

The first thing I did was ask if it was OK to communicate with him. Surprised but skeptical, he agreed. The notion that he could choose anything was foreign to him.

Within a week or so, he told me what he wished to be called: Duke.

When I offered to share Reiki with Duke, I made it clear that opting out was absolutely fine. As we worked together during those first months, sometimes it was a yes and sometimes a no. How long the session lasted was also up to him.

That is the core of the Let Animals Lead method I practice. It’s all meditation and no hands unless the animal initiates contact, or the practitioner knows the animal well enough to gauge whether that would be welcome.

One day Duke decided he’d had enough Reiki and walked back into the barn. I thanked him and moved on to a pig a few feet away.

A few minutes later, Duke stuck his big head out the barn door and looked straight at me. “Got any more of that?” I heard. I assured him I did, but he’d have to wait until the pig and I were done. When I returned, he was waiting at the fence. I met his eyes and saw hope.

His owner, veterinarians, equine bodyworkers, clients, and I all worked to help Duke heal from the effects of his past, giving him choices whenever possible. Two years later, he still struggles mightily with triggers. But he has friends in the herd. He connects with veterans who also live with PTSD. He even let kids dress him up for the Fourth of July. Being a therapy horse would have been an unthinkable job a couple of years ago.

While we can’t let our animals choose to play in traffic or opt out of a vet visit, there are many other options we can offer. We can give them a choice of toys, blankets, or litter boxes. We can hold out two different treats and see which gets gobbled up first. We can let cats come to us rather than picking them up. We can suggest a walk or a ride and pay attention to the dog’s body language for a “let’s go” or a “not today.”

Choice frees us all to engage honestly, be our best selves, and create our “better than before.”

‘I get it. But I don’t like it.’

Image by sianbuckler from Pixabay

As an animal communicator, I occasionally hear or sense this from our four-legged and other friends.

Usually it’s because their human has asked me to help them understand an upcoming move, addition to the family, or other change. Or maybe he or she has hired me to help sort out a behavioral issue.

The animal understands the situation. He may understand what the human wants. But you’re not seeing the change you hoped for.

“I get it. But I don’t like it.”

So the animal keeps nipping, scorning the litter box, or refusing to load. The problem continues after the vet visit, the session with me, your efforts to help, or all of the above. What on earth can you do?

First of all, understand that I can make your wishes known to your animal, but there is no guarantee she will comply. Compliance isn’t the point anyway.

So back to the “what can you do” part:

Let it be. You want to do something — anything — to resolve this problem yesterday, but remember you’ve already planted the seeds for something better.

Some situations resolve themselves in ways understood only by the animal. The cat decides the new baby isn’t a hairless monster. The horse loads when another person tries. The dog feels better and eats the special diet more readily.

You may choose to do something else tomorrow. Today, let go and see what happens. The animal will feel the change in your energy.

Give the animal a choice. Offer an additional litter box. Try getting the donkey onto the trailer tomorrow rather than force him today. If your dog doesn’t want to be around your boyfriend, let her stay where she feels safe.

Letting the animal choose boosts her confidence in herself and in you. That can only improve your relationship and the situation.

Savor (and reward) the small victories. The new cat and the current cat come within three feet of each other without hissing. The dog stops barking the first time he’s asked. This is great! Pony up (so to speak) with praise, a treat, or a play session

Ask for more help. Your animal may be telling you she needs (if you’ll pardon a tired old job rejection phrase) to move in a different direction. If you are still struggling, I will do my best to refer you to a trainer, organization, business, veterinarian, another practitioner or communicator, or someone else through trusted sources. Or you can ask a trusted friend for referrals. It does take a village.

Similarly, don’t hesitate to (diplomatically) let your veterinarian know that you need some other ideas. He or she is on your side, and on your animal’s side.

Also remember every state has veterinary schools — Purdue, here in Indiana — whose mission it is to help people help animals.

There are ways to bridge the gap between understanding and integrating. As with us humans, it may take patience, creativity, and additional support.

Showing up in 2020

horses-on-a-grass-field-under-a-cloudy-sky-Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva from Pexels
Photo by Anastasia Shuraeva from Pixels

A sad stillness enveloped the barn and pastures at Summit Equestrian Center on a damp, fall-is-coming morning a week after Whinnie died three years ago. The animals were grieving, and as I arrived for my weekly animal Reiki rounds, so was I. In fact, I feared my own sadness would taint the energy I wanted to share with them.

Whinnie, Summit’s thriving-with-disabilities spokeshorse, was a dwarf miniature horse with a giant presence. That presence was glaringly absent now.

All of the animals had taken turns visiting with her before she passed. They knew she had been struggling. When animals grieve, whether for a human or another animal, it’s not that they don’t understand what’s going on. They probably understand it better than the humans do, and feel the loss and disorientation all the more acutely.

On that morning a week later, no other humans were about, but three horses waited by the fence. They felt not only the loss of Whinnie, but the sadness of the other animals and humans who’d known her. 

I wasn’t sure anything I could offer at that moment would help. In the face of suffering, injustice, and anger, it’s easy to feel that whatever we bring to the table will not be enough.

However, surrendering the outcome is essential when sharing Reiki energy with animals or communicating with them. So with a brief prayer, I set an intention for the animals’ highest good and put it in God’s hands.

Rain began to fall, and without thinking I put my umbrella up. Startled, all three horses pulled back.

I folded the umbrella and stashed it away. I started to castigate myself for not remembering that I actually knew better than to unfurl an umbrella near a horse. 

But they were still there and so was I. “Sorry, guys.” 

They relaxed, and I shared Reiki energy with them and with the other horses, ponies, and donkey who stood, still and mindful, in the pasture.

I offered a variation on the earth and sky meditation my animal Reiki teacher, Kathleen Prasad, taught. This meditation gently taps into both the grounding power of the earth and the divine expanse of the sky. I reminded the crew that support is always available, no matter where we are or what is happening.

A chilly breeze cut through my jacket as we finished up. The perfectionist in me still wondered if I’d done enough.

Then Boo, a beautiful 14-year-old black cat with white whiskers and a delicate white star on her chest, strolled up. She usually hid out in the barn. Now here she was, meowing and rubbing against my legs.

Boo at Summit Equestrian Center. (Photo by Nancy Crowe)

Boo had been dropped off a couple of years earlier. Though initially terrified of people, she became “selectively social,” as executive director Allison Wheaton put it.

Being well-trained by cats, I know when one is demanding food, a lap, an opened door, a quick head rub, or the ever-popular skritch above the tail. Today, Boo wanted healing energy: Come on, let’s see what you’ve got.

I sat on a bench in the garden while Boo continued to wind around me, occasionally putting her front paws on my knee but never quite taking the leap into my lap. As she took in the energy, she kept up a running commentary of meows and purrs. This, I felt her tell me, was just what she needed. Of course, it was just what I needed, too.

One of Whinnie’s most important lessons was that it doesn’t matter what you can’t do or don’t have. If you show up with an open heart and put what you do have out there, chances are it will be exactly what is needed.

Even today, when COVID-19, violence, and division send us scrambling for an adequate response, we can bring our imperfect offerings.

We are here. We can offer more than we think. We can do this.