Animal Reiki and ‘people’ Reiki: key differences

Animals speak energy like a Ph.D. We speak energy like a kindergartner.

Kathleen Prasad

“You practice Reiki with animals? How does that work?”

Great question! Reiki is a Japanese stress relief modality, and relaxation helps the two-legged and four-legged alike feel and function better. While the benefits are the same, the methods of animal Reiki are different from the Reiki you’ll experience in human offices, hospitals, and spas.

I don’t invite the animal to hop up on a massage table (cats leave and horses laugh). The hand positions I learned in my “people” Reiki classes don’t apply, and that’s not because of different anatomies. Animals are much more sensitive to physical space and presence. Touch is unnecessary, even invasive, for them. A person can feel energy from the practitioner’s hands, but a horse can feel energy from a person standing across a pasture.

When I began studying animal Reiki years ago, I used the hand positions with my dog Ellie as I sat with her on the floor. If she had a hot spot on her foot, I lightly held her foot. More often than not, she’d get up and leave. I now understand that was too much for her. When I sat quietly and meditated — and better yet, ditched any expectation about the “problem” or what should happen — Ellie was more likely to come and lie down nearby.

My teacher, Kathleen Prasad, had a similar experience. That’s how she developed the Let Animals Lead® method I now practice. It puts the animals completely in charge of whether and how they participate in a Reiki session. They are free to decline. They can come closer, move away, sit, walk around, eat, sleep, etc. while the practitioner holds space in quiet meditation. Letting animals lead is important for a couple of reasons.

First, it respects the animals. They may have been abused, neglected, moved around, treated by veterinarians, or had their hooves worked on for the first time in years. Mind you — rescue efforts and veterinary treatment may be for their best and highest. So is the chance to choose.

That’s why I always ask for the animal’s permission before I begin. If I get a no, either telepathically or through body language, I thank the animal for letting me know and move on.

Second, how much more can animals relax when doing so is up to them? (Raise your hand if you relax on command. Didn’t think so.)

Every animal is different. Some will immediately come and lean on me or want to be petted; others soak in the energy from a distance. It works regardless.

I’ve worked with rescued horses who have rarely, if ever, had a chance to choose or say no to anything. One day a retired draft horse, recovering from trauma, decided he’d had enough Reiki and walked back into the shed. I thanked him and moved on to the chickens a few yards away. A short time later, he stuck his big head out of the shed and asked: “You got any more of that?” (I did.)

Another horse, recently rescued from a kill pen, declined the energy and moved away. A few minutes later, she came back to where I stood at the pasture fence and asked for more. This happened several times in the course of half an hour or so. She was astonished that interacting was her choice. The next time I saw her, I tentatively held up my hands, telling her I’d lower them or step away if she preferred. She placed her head in my hands and stood perfectly still. (The photo above is of her drifting into a post-session nap.)

Animals understand energy better than we do. A horse senses the presence of a predator in the distance. A cat curls up next to someone who is sick. The kids’ new puppy stays away from Mom because he’s the only one in the house who knows how angry she is.

Just don’t ask that puppy to stay still for the Reiki practitioner. He doesn’t have to … and Mom is welcome to join in.

Speaking up for neglected horses

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This is one of 16 malnourished, neglected horses taken from a northeast Indiana property in January 2018. (Photo courtesy Friends of Ferdinand)

Sixteen horses — first 10, then another six — were rescued from a Wells County, Indiana property in January 2018. All were malnourished, and some had untreated infections and injuries.

A few, including two of the six horses I worked with, did not survive. Others returned to their previous owners or found new ones, but faced a long and difficult healing process.

The case was all the more disturbing because the person responsible was known and trusted by area horse owners and rescuers. Yet, according to the conversations that followed, there were previous signs that all was not well.

What can we pull from this to create a better outcome the next time something doesn’t seem quite right, but we don’t know what to ask or how to help? How can we get better at spotting signs of animal abuse and neglect, speaking up, listening, and following through?

As I write this, winter is coming. That’s when many of these heartbreaking situations come to light, and when it’s difficult to respond.

I’m not a veterinarian, horse handler, or law enforcement officer. My job with horses is to listen to them, and to the people who love and care for them, and offer a calm presence that allows healing. But as a journalist of many years, I also wanted to offer some quality information that might prove useful to those of us in northeast Indiana and beyond. Here’s what I found.

• These two articles were both sparked by the Wells County case: When to Speak Up: Red Flags & Warning Signs for Reporting Abuse in Horse Nation; and If you see something, say something by Carleigh Fedorka, a horse handler and postdoctoral researcher who was part of the same network as the neglected horses’ owner.

• Another, Neglected, abused and abandoned horses: How to help in Equus Magazine, was written earlier but includes helpful information on staying on the right side of the law in these situations.

• Also of note: Friends of Ferdinand, which played a key role in the rescue of the horses in the above case, received a Standing Ovation by Ovation Riding in 2018. This story talks about how other rescue organizations stepped in to help.

Creating a better world for horses (and everyone else) does, in fact, take all of us.

Ready to adopt again?

dog & person silhouette Image by Barbara Jackson from Pixabay

Image by Barbara Jackson from Pixabay

As an animal communicator, I walk with people and their animal friends through a lot of endings and beginnings.

The pain of loss is real and raw. It deserves respect. At the same time, you are here on earth with much love to give. Plenty of animals need loving homes.

Only you know whether and when to welcome another animal into your home, but here is my perspective along with a couple of things to consider.

Eight years ago this month, I lost my much-loved Idgie, the sweet diva of a tiger cat who inspired my first forays into animal communication and Reiki. Idgie had been sick, and she and I had been saying our see-you-laters for months. Deep down, I knew other feline friends would succeed her. At some point.

Idgie in cat bed 2007 crop

Idgie, 1996-2012

When I came home from the vet clinic and faced an Idgie-less, cat-less house, the pain hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. It was all I could do to survive in the moment, much less think about the future.

Not long afterward, I read about a horrific animal cruelty case in which fireworks were tied to a kitten’s tail. Something opened up within me, and I realized how much I wanted to give another kitty a home. And Idgie had trained me so well.

One afternoon, I sat on my back porch and took a few deep breaths. My partner and I planned to visit the city shelter the next day. It was only six weeks after Idgie’s passing — was it too soon?

I connected with Idgie in spirit and asked her to guide us to our next feline companion, whenever and wherever it would best happen. What I received was her classic ears-back expression and: “Right. Like I wouldn’t be involved in that decision.”

At the shelter, Kathy and I met several kittens, but none seemed especially interested in us. Then the volunteer brought out one who was about to go to a satellite adoption center. The four-month-old black tortie prowled around the adoption counselor’s office, trying to figure out where she was and why. Then she came and sniffed both of us, accepting the gentle pets we offered.

2012 Lucy on my desk chair crop

This is Lucy not long after we adopted her.

When I sensed the kitten was open to it, I gingerly picked her up. I commented on her distinctive coloring, notably the gold streak between her eyes that seemed to stop and resume on top of her head.

“Doesn’t it look like God came along with a paintbrush?” the volunteer said.

I held the kitten so that we were eye to eye. She reached out with one tiny black paw and patted my face.

We’d been chosen.

Did the joy of welcoming Lucy erase the hurt of losing Idgie? No. I still felt like crying every time I saw a tiger cat or a picture of one that reminded me of her. Lucy succeeded Idgie, but did not replace her. One being cannot truly replace another, and there’s no sidestepping grief if we are to love fully. While I continued to grieve for Idgie, my heart filled with gratitude for the love she had given me. That love enabled me to recognize the connection with Lucy, who needed a home as Idgie had.

The only thing I can imagine that’s worse than losing a pet is never having had that animal in my life. 

If you are struggling, or just wondering, here’s what I suggest:

  • Pay attention to your intuition. It’s hard to do this when you are in pain. But if you can, get quiet and ask yourself if it’s time to visit the animal shelter — or contact a rescue if you’re interested in a particular breed or type of animal. If you feel a lightness or sense of excitement and joy, that indicates a yes! If there’s a heavy, sad sensation, you might want to wait.
  • Adopt from a place of abundance, not lack. Another animal cannot truly replace the one you lost, or take away your pain. The last thing you want is to impose expectations on a new pet that are not about him or her at all. Stay with your grief long enough — however long that is — for your heart to open to a new and totally unique animal companion.
  • Remember the animal chooses, too. (Some animals would say they do all the choosing, but you get the idea.) My experience is that each dog, cat, bird, horse, human, or whoever comes into our lives for a reason. The animals probably have a better grasp of it than we do. When you meet a prospective new companion, pay attention to the way they respond and how you feel.

Whenever you and your next animal companion find each other, you are both signing on for a beautiful, painful, and totally worthwhile adventure. You both deserve no less.