Animal Reiki & Animal Agency: The Ultimate Guide to Empowering Animals
Giving animals agency in Animal Reiki is at the heart of everything we practice in the Let Animals Lead® Method. We believe that all animals should always be given a choice about if, when, and how they interact with humans.
Why it is SO important to give Animals Agency in Animal Reiki
Recognizing that Compassion Matters with Animals
Animals are sentient beings: the animals we share our lives with, the ones who live in wild places, animals rescued in shelters and sanctuaries, as well as those used for sport, experimented on or used as products for human needs. Those of us who love animals already know how special and sacred they are. Even renowned scientists such as Jane Goodall and Marc Bekoff have shown through scientific studies that animals not only feel pain but also have emotions, live complex lives with deep social relationships and demonstrate moral intelligence. Animal lovers and scientists alike understand that to help heal our world, we must expand our compassion footprint to include animals.
Compassion for self and others is at the center of our Animal Reiki teachings, but it’s good to know that we aren’t alone in wanting to improve the lives of animals through kindness and love. In the Let Animals Lead® method of Animal Reiki, we meditate as a way to transform the way we see animals (especially when they are sick or hurting) to hold a positive space of peace and balance for their well-being and, even more, to learn how to bring compassion to each and every moment of our lives.
What does Agency have to do with Compassion and Animals?
Agency in human sociology is the capacity of people to make choices and influence their lives. When a person exercises agency, this can also influence the lives of others and the environment. Agency is always influenced by structure; in other words, the things that limit or influence opportunities for agency.
If we recognize animals as sentient and intelligent beings, then shouldn’t agency also be encouraged, to help them live fuller and happier lives?
Encouraging agency for animals is an important way that we can demonstrate our compassion towards them. It shows that we recognize that animals have their own preferences and unique interests, and that we’d like to provide them more opportunities to express them. Of course, animals in our world live within the structure of human society, and unless they live in an untouched natural setting, humans have placed many boundaries on their living situations and choices.
By creating more ways for animals to “be” who they are naturally, we can learn so much about all different species, deepen our bond with animals and even help to heal some of the wounds created by humans against animals in the world.Kathleen Prasad
Scientists and animal welfare experts agree that animal agency is crucial to improving animal welfare. As Animal Reiki Practitioners, we should realize that this is a topic of special importance to us, since our work is interacting with animals, often when they are not feeling well. Giving animals more agency when we connect in the Reiki space is a clear way we are expressing our compassion!
Areas of Animal Welfare that are on the Cutting Edge of Research About How Animal Agency Improves an Animal’s Well-being
Animal Behavior Studies:
Studies have been done, observing and analyzing animal behavior in natural and captive environments to understand their preferences, emotions and cognitive abilities. Other studies have investigated the impact of how better housing conditions in animal shelters and improved enrichment increase animal well-being and lower stress levels.
Veterinary Science Approach:
Vets are examining the effects of animal-centric approaches (such as the Fear Free Pets Approach) to veterinary care, including minimizing stress during handling and treatment. Vets can even become “fear-free” certified. Research has also been done, showing that animals have improved health when given choices.
Veterinarian Dr. Thomas Hamilton shows his method of gaining the trust of scared animals when they come into his clinic:
Animal Welfare Standards:
It has been shown that animals do better when given opportunities to express natural behavior and have control over their environment, such as in this article about enrichment and animal welfare.
Societal Ethical Considerations:
Many scientists and scholars are discussing societal implications that come with recognizing animal agency. How will this affect animals’ rights and treatment in various settings, such as agriculture, research, entertainment and companion animals. We cannot continue to ignore the historically unethical treatment humans have created against so many other species, such as marine mammals in captivity.
Even when doing something as potentially harrowing as free swimming with Tiger Sharks (as demonstrated by world-renowned shark biologist Ocean Ramsey), we can still give the animal choice of if, when, and how it approaches us and still be very gentle while establishing firm boundaries.
Policy and Legislation Improvements:
Many animal welfare advocates (such as the Animal Legal Defense Fund) are studying how effective current animal welfare laws are in promoting animal agency and well-being. Many are working on how we can use the latest research to improve laws that protect animal agency (or at the very least, outlaw extreme harm).
What are the ways animals are encouraged to express their agency in a Let Animals Lead® session?
By giving the animals we work with choice and allowing animals to choose to participate as well as lead the way in how the session should unfold, animals are given agency in their own healing process.
Here are five ways you can encourage and cultivate an animal’s agency during a Let Animals Lead® Reiki session:
Intentional Behavior/Decision Making:
Rather than approaching an animal, causing them to “react” to a physical touch, Animal Reiki practitioners never initiate touch. Animals are encouraged to decide about whether they want to connect, and also how they want to connect. Practitioners hold space and wait for animals to make their own purposeful actions to connect or not.
Practitioners recognize that animals have complete independence and self-determination in their actions and responses to a session. Rather than creating an agenda and expectation for a session, practitioners remain open and accepting of the animal’s choices.
Practitioners recognize that animals are more sensitive to energy and sense their physical and emotional environment differently than humans do. We honor these special abilities. By focusing on an inward calm and peacefulness, we practice humility, honor and trust for each animal’s physical, emotional and spiritual path.
Let Animals Lead® Practitioners recognize that each animal is an individual and, even within the same species, responses can be very different. Each animal has unique likes, dislikes and ways of connecting (or not) to the peace of a meditation space: we create enough space to discover these preferences and honor them.
Practitioners choose environments that are comfortable for the animal, giving space for the animal to move around, graze or drink, leave the area when they wish, etc. We do not isolate them from other family members or confine animals during sessions. (Note: sometimes in shelter settings, this is less possible and so practitioners stay vigilant about the animal’s comfort with their presence and will leave if the animal exhibits stress at the session.)
Other Ways People are Giving Agency to Animals to Improve and Enrich Their Lives
- Positive Training Methods: Animals are given choices and rewarded for appropriate responses. Positive reinforcement respects the animal’s emotions and promotes trust between the animal and trainer. This is explained in detail in Victoria Stillwell’s article: “What is Positive Training?”
- Environmental Enrichment: In zoos, on ranches and in shelters and sanctuaries, creating a more natural environment helps animals have more opportunities to make choices through exploring their surroundings. Some terrific examples are shown on the Wild Think website.
- Animal Communication: Animal communicators work to find out an animal’s preferences and feelings, to give them a voice. Respecting their agency and autonomy is very important, so ethically any attempts to communicate should be done so gently and only with the animal’s consent. You can learn more about animal communication in Thea Strom’s new book, Animal Intuition
- Herbal medicine and aromatherapy: Many people are learning, through these modalities, to trust animals to “self-select” the remedy they are drawn to, giving them a voice in their own healing. Zoopharmacognosy is the instinctive process through which animals seek out and consume specific plants, minerals or other substances to address their health needs. Horses, for example, show an amazing ability to choose and eat plants related to their health issues, such as plants that relieve digestive issues, that repel insects, or have pain-relieving benefits.
- Animal-initiated interaction: Many animal sanctuaries and shelters now ask visitors not to approach the animals, but rather to let the animals approach them, giving them choice about whether to connect or not. The benefits of this approach include giving the animal empowerment and control and can reduce feelings of helplessness. Because it’s on their terms, animals feel a deeper trust and bonding, and connecting with people on their own terms helps them relax and develop strong relationships w/caregivers. By creating reduced fear and stress at the sanctuary and letting them set the pace, animals won’t feel overwhelmed and can begin emotional healing and a rebuilding of their confidence. Giving them the choice to initiate interactions teaches them, no matter their background, that humans can be a positive force. It can also result in improved adoption success because animals will be more confident and approachable to adopters. Interacting respectfully with species we aren’t usually exposed to also can have other wonderful benefits, such as deciding to stop using animal products after taking an animal sanctuary tour.
- Natural and whole-food diets: Giving animals a wide range of choices in food allows them to self-select the foods they like best or that they need for wellness. Check out the book about this specifically for dogs, Canine Nutrigenomics by Jean Dodds, DVM
- Animal-Centered Housing Design: Many shelters, stables, doggie daycares, zoos and other spaces are creating environments that take into account the choices of animals, such as giving indoor/outdoor areas, hiding spots, resting spaces vs. social spaces, and so on. This can be seen as a more compassionate approach to captive care. Some animal welfare advocates are also preferring to move towards sanctuary and rehabilitation to create an even more free environment.
- Non-invasive research: Many researchers feel it’s important to respect animal choice and autonomy during research, for example, observing wild birds in their natural environments to study their behavior. Many animal advocates advocate for research that does not involve any impact on animals, even non-invasive ones. Have a look at this article about ethical science by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
- Animal-centered decision making: Many conservation programs consider animal agency as a pillar of their program. Elephant, marine mammal, sea turtle conservation programs and more seek to minimize human interference for these animals and the stress and damage that can come from this. There are many programs that seek to give nature back to animals as much as possible, so that they can live freely. Here are some fantastic organizations who abide by animal agency in all their decisions: Elephant Aid International, “Compassionate Conservation, Sentience and Personhood” by Marc Bekoff Ph.D, The Born Free Foundation, The Sea Turtle Conservancy
Positive Implications of Choice for Your Animal’s Life
Creating more opportunities for animal agency in your animal’s life has profound implications for the depth of their happiness!
Did this article inspire you to create room for even more agency in your animals’ lives? By starting with agency within our Animal Reiki sessions, we can see that there are so many more opportunities to offer choice and decision making, autonomy and respect for your animal’s preferences. We’ll also be amazed at the responses animals begin to give us when they realize we have made room for them to choose!
The Let Animals Lead® method joins the cutting edge of animal welfare movements in the world that recognize that agency is an imperative if we want to increase the well-being of animals in each moment of their lives. We honor the physical, mental/emotional and spiritual agency of animals by choosing a gentle path of holding space for them with an open, compassionate heart and “being” Reiki “with” them, rather than “doing” Reiki “to” them. While we may begin this process within Animal Reiki, we remain open to creating more opportunities for agency whenever possible!
If you would like to learn how to give animals agency the Let Animals Lead® Way, we have a lovely 3-day Animal Reiki Challenge that will teach you the basics of allowing your animals choice and building better bonds with them! It’s 3 days—only one hour per day—and it covers the basics of the Let Animals Lead® method and gives you some great tools for connecting with your animals to give them more choice in how they interact with you.