articles

4 Ways that Reiki can help Shelter Animals

By  | 

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 fi nd
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 nonprofi
t 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 California:2

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.

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 heal.3

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 fi rst time. Then she stretched out and relaxed. Lucy seemed ready to let Reiki help her find her center.

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.

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 harmony:4

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 everpresent 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 nonjudgment,
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.

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.

1Fleisher et al, Integrative Cancer Therapies, 2014, Vol. 13(1) 62-67.
2pregnantmarerescue.org
3shelteranimalreikiassociation.org/blog/tag/nanaimo
4brighthaven.org/holistic-care/animal-reiki
5heartsongreiki.com/animals/index.htm