The music we carry

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Music can engage and soothe animals, including those in shelters. (Image by Mirko Kaminski from Pixabay)

When my father-in-law was at St. Anne’s Home here in Fort Wayne, I noticed how the birds in the lobby aviary responded to music coming from the dining room. Sometimes they seemed unaffected and kept flitting around and chattering.

During a selection of piano oldies, though, they perched quietly, cocking their heads now and then. The human audience, whether transported to another time and place or enjoying the present moment, seemed equally content.

Since then, I’ve seen videos and heard accounts of grieving whales soothed by violins, a sanctuary elephant next to a piano while a man played “Ave Maria,” and shelter dogs chilling to live cello music. Like the care center birds, the animals were responding not only to the music, but to those making it and the others hearing it.

Science has demonstrated the effects of music on the brain, and music therapy is part of many human health and wellness settings. But I don’t think the benefits end with the last note of the song. There is something about music that keeps healing even in the silence, even amid the noise in the world. It might even replace the noise in our heads.

And how many of us have had songs stuck in our heads? More on that in a moment.

A few months ago, I dug Chant, the popular 1994 album by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo, out of the CD cabinet and loaded it into my iTunes. Gregorian chant is prayer sung in Latin, generally without accompaniment. Its development is attributed to Pope Gregory the Great during medieval times, but there is some scholarly uncertainty about that. Regardless, to listen to it is to step into the eternal. You don’t have to understand a word of Latin to know that each chant is about God’s presence in any circumstance.

I began to include the chants in my personal meditation and in my work as an animal communicator and animal Reiki practitioner. Sometimes I have the music playing softly from my stereo or the phone in my pocket when I need to focus, or refocus.

My teacher, Kathleen Prasad, says chanting unites breath with sound in a way that calms and heals. Where fear and sadness constrict, chanting expands. “The more expansive you become, the more easily you can feel emotions without being knocked over by them,” she says in her Animal Reiki Source blog. Animals will feel this expansiveness, she continues, and want to share your strong, balanced space. I am finding this to be true.

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Mildred and I shared Reiki and a bit of Gregorian chant. (Photo by Nancy Crowe)

On my rounds at Summit Equestrian Center recently, I sat down in the shade, pulled up iTunes on my phone, and clicked on one of the chants — I believe it was Kyrie Fons Bonitatis (Lord, fountain of mercy). Mildred, a goat who has seen a lot of living, had been lounging on the grass nearby — but now her head swiveled around, ears alert. It wasn’t her “What is that infernal noise?” look (I know that one). Mildred recognized what she was hearing. She listened with me as we shared Reiki, and soon she closed her eyes and lifted her face to the sun.

I wondered if, in her storied life, she ever spent time in the pasture of a Benedictine monastery. Or, on this day, did she simply tune into a sound and energy connecting her to her creator? The particulars didn’t seem to matter much to Mildred. All I got from her was that she liked hearing it again and it made an already beautiful day — moment, really — even better.

Even though I wasn’t doing the chanting myself, allowing that expansiveness to move from God through the monks through me and Mildred was truly a gift.

I can’t carry a tune in a bucket or any other receptacle. So when I don’t have the actual music playing, I try to carry the energy of the music with me. You could say I keep it “stuck” in my head and heart to share with the animals, however it may benefit them the most.

Think about this … and feel free to share:

  • If you leave a radio on for your animal friends when you leave the house, what music do you choose?
  • If you sing or play an instrument, how do they respond?
  • How does having a song (or chant, or other music) stuck in your head make you feel and respond to others?

 

 

 

 

 

A symphony of empowerment

Our-Symphony-With-Animals-Cover-Two-Thirds-Original-SizeAysha Akhtar was only five when a close family friend began molesting her. The abuse continued for five years and across two continents, after her family moved from London to Virginia. She told no one.

Then came Sylvester, a German shepherd mix technically belonging to a relative, but basically her dog. They shared friendship, kinship, walks in the woods … and abuse, as Sylvester’s owner’s idea of training was throwing him against a wall.

Akhtar, now a neurologist and public health specialist, recounts their journey and much more in Our Symphony with Animals: On Health, Empathy, and Our Shared Destinies (Pegasus Books, 2019).

Writing this book took Akhtar into not only her own history, but into a slaughterhouse, an animal sanctuary, a prison, and a forensic necropsy by an ASPCA veterinarian. She even corresponded with and visited an imprisoned serial killer who’d also abused animals. Akhtar does this both as an accomplished physician and scholar and as a human being who is deeply affected by what she sees and hears.

Through it all, she challenges us to examine the ways we break with and join with animals in our actions and attitudes. The effect one life can have on another, even and especially across species lines, is profound. It was Sylvester who helped the young Akhtar find the strength to stand up first for him, then for herself.

The stories here range from inspiring to devastating, but you can visit the author’s website for suggestions on how to make a difference. That one starfish is counting on it.

 

 

 

 

Knowing when, and how, to speak up

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

 

One year ago, sixteen horses — first 10, then another six — were rescued from a Wells County property. They were malnourished, and some had untreated infections and injuries. A few, including two of the six horses I worked with, did not survive. Others, with their previous owners or in new homes, are still healing.

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?

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 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 difficult situations.

I am convinced that creating a better world for horses (and everyone else) does, in fact, take all of us.