4 Ways That Reiki Can Help Shelter Animals
Reiki is an easy-to-use energy therapy that complements both conventional and holistic approaches. Reiki translates from Japanese as "spiritual energy" and is a system of meditative practice that uses mindfulness techniques to help bring the body, mind and spirit back to harmony and balance. Reiki meditative practices are a wonderful addition to any wellness program.
A recent study entitled "Integrative Reiki for Cancer Patients: A Program Evaluation," concluded that Reiki may "activate the relaxation response".1
Meditation brings you to a peaceful, balanced state, mentally, emotionally and physically, and this peacefulness will ripple out! We call this the "Reiki ripple effect" -- when we find peace of mind and heart through meditation, then healing, contentment, transformation and renewal will follow for ourselves as well as the animals and people around us.
Reiki can enhance the veterinary practice in many ways, and has been a life saver in shelters. "Despondent cats and dogs become more social and seem happier," says Amelia Funghi of Berkeley Animal Care Services. "Sick animals are aided in their recovery. Most amazingly, animals who have been here for a long time often get adopted shortly after treatments."
The Shelter Animal Reiki Association (SARA), a 501(c)3 non-profit I co-founded in 2008 with Leah D'Ambrosio, brings Reiki training and treatments to shelter and sanctuary animals. SARA now has over 400 members worldwide, and is endorsed by over 40 animal organizations. It supports wellness through its Reiki programs in four main ways.
1. Reiki helps animals re-build trust with humans
Because many rescued animals come from situations of abuse and/or neglect, finding a way to help them trust people again is crucial to their healing progress and chances of being adopted.
Leah remembers a very special experience with a mare named Angel, at Pregnant Mare Rescue (PMR) in northern California2:
Angel was rescued from slaughter by PMR, with her new foal. Unfortunately, she had tripped and fallen and was extremely head shy. For a whole week, the founder of PMR tried without success to take her halter off. SARA Practitioner Kim Slowick and I visited one day and went out into the field to offer Angel Reiki. One of the main teachings of SARA is that animals always lead the way with treatments, so we weren't sure if Angel would even accept Reiki.
Angel's response was amazing: within five minutes, she approached Kim and stood nearby, lowered her head and sighed. Kim reached out to her, and Angel smelled her hand and relaxed further. Kim and I continued offering Reiki to her for about 40 minutes. At the end of the treatment, the PMR founder came into the pasture, gently approached Angel, and was able to easily and immediately slide the halter off her head! We knew that allowing Angel to lead her own treatment made all the difference in her trust. What an honor to share the Reiki space with Angel and witness her acceptance and transformation.
2. Reiki helps animals get adopted
When animals are in shelter environments, they experience extreme levels of stress. This stress results in behaviors that may not be attractive to potential adopters, such as aggression, fear or depression. One of the amazing benefits of Reiki is the inner transformation it creates in these animals. Because Reiki creates a strong and peaceful space, animals can release their stress and get back in touch with their true essence. Once they remember who they are, their sweet spirits can shine through again so that potential adopters can see who they really are. Then it's only a matter of time until love finds them their forever home.
SARA Practitioner Lori Amdam, at the Nanaimo SPCA in British Columbia, Canada, sees many adoptions occurring after Reiki helps animals heal3:
Lucy was a tiny abandoned kitten, and the only one in her litter to be rescued. Staff hand-fed her, and from the beginning, she was feisty and spirited to say the least. She would bite, scratch, hiss and spit at anyone who touched her. No one could imagine Lucy being adoptable, so the staff asked if Reiki might help her. Lucy participated in seven Reiki sessions. During the first six, she would sit facing away from the practitioner, taking every opportunity to bite and scratch. Partway into the seventh Reiki session, we realized she had not tried to bite or scratch once. After a few minutes, Lucy turned to face the practitioner, making eye contact for the first time. Then she stretched out and relaxed. Lucy seemed ready to let Reiki help her find her center.
Over the next two days, the staff noted that Lucy was no longer biting or scratching. The following weekend, she was adopted by a family who fell in love with her at their first meeting. That was several months ago, and Lucy's family reports she is a gentle, playful and happy cat.
3. Reiki assists animals through transitions
BrightHaven founders Gail and Richard Pope often speak of how Reiki transforms the hospice experience. BrightHaven is a senior and special needs animal sanctuary and hospice in northern California. Since learning Reiki and using it to help with animal care during hospice, Gail and Richard report that all the deaths they have witnessed are extremely peaceful. They now consider Reiki to be one of the most important ingredients in a successful animal hospice program. They also use it on a daily basis to increase peace and harmony4:
We at BrightHaven experience miraculous events when we find the perfect balance of different healing modalities, including the strong force of energy healing. Reiki has allowed us to form a closer communication with the animals, and involves us more directly in their healing and transition.
SARA Teacher Tina Read, based in the UK, shares a Reiki experience she had at the Tree of Life for Animals Sanctuary (TOLFA) in India:
I was blessed with the opportunity to spend time with two tiny puppies whose siblings had passed on, despite the best possible care. As I sat with them, they stared at me, and it felt as though they were looking into my soul; there was so much love in those eyes. We spent time in the Reiki space, and as always, I detached from outcome; it was very peaceful and full of compassion. When I finished, the smaller of the two pups gazed at me, and I felt so much love. He seemed to know we would not meet again, but there was such a feeling that everything was perfect. So much peace surrounded us.
The next day, this little angel passed on, but his brother was still alive. He could move to get water, but he mainly lay down. When I connected with him, I sensed he had a sore tummy. He could still manage to wag his tail after the Reiki, and the next morning he looked much brighter.
4. Reiki helps shelter workers cope with job stress
Burnout and high turnover rates among shelter and sanctuary staff are an ever-present threat, due to the brutal daily realities these people face. To help with this very difficult issue, SARA teachers are available to train interested shelter/sanctuary staff and volunteers in simple meditative practices to help them to stay grounded and peaceful, even in the most chaotic situations. This training has been a transformative and life-changing support among shelter and sanctuary staff who practice Reiki.
SARA teacher Kelly McDermott-Burns5 shares how Reiki has helped her cope with the stresses of her volunteer work at Rutland County Humane Society in Vermont:
I have been doing Reiki here for over five years now. I am fortunate to be working in a wonderful shelter with caring staff and a clean environment. Being able to look my fears of anger, sadness and loss in the face, and to be of service to the animals regardless of these feelings, has taught me patience and compassion.
My personal meditation practice has been the most important element in this work. Without Reiki supporting me, it would be incredibly difficult to walk into the shelter and not absorb some of the pain and sadness I encounter there. Reiki keeps me grounded and opens my heart to a deeper understanding of compassion -- not just for the animals but also for the people who have left them there. I am learning all the time about non-judgment, one of the hardest lessons for me in this work.
I didn't find all this out right away, of course. I struggled in the beginning with anger and sadness. I wanted to save everyone. I was fearful that some animals would never make it to a good home. I checked the logs every week to see who went home, and had mixed feelings when my favorites left. I wanted them to go home but I also wanted them for myself. My own fear of abandonment came up over and over again. Staying diligent with my meditation and Reiki practice helped me move through all that. This isn't to say I still don't sometimes cry over an animal's fate. It only means I can see a bigger picture; that I can gain some insight into living a fully compassionate life without falling apart.
All in all, when working with shelter and sanctuary animals, it's the meditative space of Reiki that is so transformational. It sounds so simple, and yet it's so profound. By simply relaxing, being quiet, breathing and having a heartfelt intention to help another being, you create a peaceful space. Lori says that a 20 to 60 minute Reiki session offered in a yard or kennel space creates a sense of quietness, with most dogs enjoying a "Reiki doze".3
Creating a Reiki Space For An Animal
This practice will help you keep your energy centered and will in turn help calm every animal you work with.
1. Place your hands over your lower belly.
2. Inhale, feeling your breath as a beautiful light coming in through the nose, moving down to your lower belly and filling the body with energy.
3. Exhale, expanding this light out of the body and through your skin. Continue to expand the energy in all directions, into your surroundings
4. Repeat the inhale and exhale visualization for several minutes. Then return your breathing to normal and for several minutes just sit in the energetic space you have created around yourself through your breath. Feel yourself grounded, calm, peaceful.
5. Set your intention to share this beautiful, peaceful space of light and healing with an animal.
6. Invite the animal into the "Reiki space" you have created with your breath. Imagine he can move in and out of the space at will.
7. Sit with the animal and observe his response. Just relax and "be" - there's no need to "do". If your mind wanders, come back to the breath for ten repetitions and then relax again.
8. Signs of relaxation in the animal, such as yawning, lying down or sleeping, or perhaps coming forward for physical contact/petting, indicate that he has said "yes" to your invitation for healing.
"Despondent cats and dogs become more social and seem happier. Sick animals are aided in their recovery. Most amazingly, animals who have been here for a long time often get adopted shortly after Reiki treatments." -Amelia Funghi, Berkeley Animal Care Services
I invite you to learn more about how Reiki can support you in your own work with animals - SARA's book, The Animal Reiki Handbook: Finding Your Way With Reiki in Shelter and Sanctuaries, can help veterinarians as well as shelters workers. SARA teachers are also available to teach animal Reiki to interested organizations, educational institutions and veterinarians, and speak on topics related to animal Reiki. Visit shelteranimalreikiassociation.org for more information.
Originally published in the Integrative Veterinary Care Journal
1Fleisher et al, Integrative Cancer Therapies, 2014, Vol. 13(1) 62-67.