I was reminded of this during my recent visit to The Tree of Life for Animals (TOLFA) in Rajasthan India. TOLFA is a shelter on the front line of animal welfare and some of the animals coming in are in a very poor physical condition and it is fair to say staff see a lot of extreme cases that we just don’t have experience of in the west. So for me it would be a test of my belief in Reiki, to work with the animals and teach Reiki to members of the shelter staff – while trying not to feel overwhelmed – so some gentle reminders about the fundamentals of Reiki from the animals, were most welcome.
The Tree of Life for Animals was founded by Rachel Wright in 2005. Rachel is a British vet nurse who is dedicated to animal welfare, she was awarded the CEVA Welfare Vet Nurse of the year in 2012 is highly regarded for her work in the community where she now lives in India. Rachel and I met in 2002 while studying Essential Oil Therapy for animals and both living in London. Rachel gave me my first experience of offering Reiki to animals by inviting me to the veterinary surgery where she worked and had recently set up a programme of complementary therapies for animals, with a lovely room dedicated to this purpose within the surgery.
TOLFA – The hospital sits in a beautiful valley in the Aravalli Mountain range, between Pushkar and Ajmer in rural Rajasthan. The hospital is surrounded by beautiful countryside, still green after the monsoon, perfect for dog walking. Pushkar is one of the oldest towns in India known for the famous Bahma Temple built in the 14th century, According to legend, the origin of Pushkar dates back to the time when lord Brahma was on his way in search of a tranquil land, lotus fell from the hands of the lord into this valley and a lake sprang up on this spot which was dedicated to him. The Brahma temple located here is a popular place of pilgrimage the area has a wonderful energy attracting many tourists and travellers visiting the holy lake and taking part yoga, meditation and ayurvedic health retreats. Pushkar is also famous for its Camel Fair which TOLFA attends every year to educate the public on animal welfare.
The majority of animals coming through Tolfa’s gates are street or community dogs. Life on the street is hard and when they become ill or injured their local caregiver will contact Tolfa or ambulance staff will pick up sick and injured animals on their rounds. After treatment the animal is always returned to it’s own neighbourhood, if possible.
Tolfa runs a volunteer programme welcoming anyone with animal experience and time, willing to give a bit TLC to the animals in their care. In fact, Rachel sees what she calls Nurturing Volunteers as an essential part of care and rehabilitation that animals receive not only veterinary treatment but also love and attention, so welcomes volunteers especially those with therapies such as Reiki.
So it was as a ‘Nurturing Volunteer’ that I spent 6 weeks there in 2010 putting into practice my skills as a holistic therapist including aromatherapy, massage zoopharmacognosy and Reiki. This year 2013 sees TOLFA become a SARA shelter and I was honoured to attune some wonderful practitioners to Animal Reiki.
My First Day
Accompanying Rachel on her morning tour I soon had a list of animals that she wanted me to do some work with: some had wounds that were taking a long time to heal – perfect candidates for essential oils and nutritional supplements. Many were undergoing treatment that would mean long-term care and, as well as the stress of being confined in a kennel, the veterinary treatment although essential can be a frightening encounter and painful for dogs. Some, suffering from Mange, had already been subjected to emotional trauma while other animals were ready to pass over – TOLFA never turns an away an animal in need and many spend their last days being cared for and loved in safety.
Rachel already had in mind that Reiki could be an important part of end of life care at the shelter and that was certainly to be the theme of this visit, something I needed to work through also, having had a very difficult experience with one of my own precious dogs a number of years ago. Funny how Reiki works, isn’t it!
Remember To Listen
Many of the permanent residents are dogs with paralysis or amputees and I would ask anyone questioning the quality of life for these dogs to just spend some time watching them play and interact with the people and other dogs at the shelter. Of course there are some health issues connected with their conditions but veterinary care is on hand 24/7 and their health is carefully monitored. I watched one little dog speed across the compound on balancing her weight on her front legs to meet her friend, who also only had two good legs, the pure joy as they played was a pleasure to watch.
Back to the little black and white dog. She was very unhappy and although receiving the medical care she needed, didn’t seem to be improving and would warn people off when approached and avoided human contact at all costs. Rachel explained she had the same type of injury as some of the other shelter dogs who coped well and felt there was no physical reason for her to be so depressed. She lived in the puppy yard a secure walled space with sheltering tree where the puppies and younger dogs can move around freely.
As soon as I went into meditation and offered her Reiki she began to move towards me, over to where I sat on a concrete platform passing by my feet then settled directly in front of me a little way off where she made direct eye contact and accepted Reiki for a while (I took the photo when I felt she had enough) but then she came towards me again and tried to climb up on to the concrete platform – at this point one of the staff members reminded me not to touch this dog as she was ‘dangerous’, kind of breaking our connection!
I felt we had made progress so that evening back at the hotel I offered Reiki again distantly and felt an instant connection. I picked up a strong feeling of ‘regret’ and she showed me how her life had changed in an instant, and she just didn’t see the point without her legs. This was really hard to hear and I was determined to help her see that she was now in a safe place where she would be taken care of and loved. We continued with a very strong connection for some time.
Next morning I started my day in the office making up remedies and essential oil blends while Rachel and the veterinary staff made their rounds, then I thought I could go and spend some extra time with the little black and white dog. But it was not to be, she had passed away while I had been in the office, my first thought was why didn’t I go straight to her?, why couldn’t I help her?
Had I really listened to what she was saying I would have realised this was her choice, we have no influence on the outcome and by holding the Reiki space help them to pass in peace and move on if that is their choice. So we sat together in a Reiki space for a while.
Remember – No Expectations, Detach From The Outcome
H9 or Harry is a beautiful soul. He has mange and infected wounds when he was brought in to TOLFA. The mange dogs have suffered twofold, the condition itself is debilitating and leaves them open to secondary disease and complications and emotionally they can be very depressed. As a result of their appearance they are unwanted by the community and often chased away from their homes. It is a common sight to see people throwing stones at such unfortunates, they become pariahs.
Harry is a severe case possessing only a few tufts of hair on his head, the colour reminding me of Prince Harry’s hence his name, I’m sure he’ll be very handsome when it all grows back!
Harry was on my Reiki list and we soon became friends, he is a lovely gentle boy always ready with a wag of his tail. Towards the end of October the weather turned unexpectedly cold at night, earlier than usual, catching everyone off guard (normally shutters are drawn and blankets dispensed to help the more vulnerable dogs cope with the cold. Rajasthan is a desert state and temperatures can drop to minus 0 in the winter months. On checking Harry one morning found him cold to the touch, we moved him out in to the sun and he was given emergency fluids and treatment. He didn’t seem to be responding and other signs meant that things weren’t looking so good for him, my heart sank as I prepared myself for the worst. As I sat with him I felt drawn to chant the mantra for the master symbol, the power of the vibration merging with the sounds of the dogs around us, I would be with him holding the Reiki space while he passed – Harry had other ideas, imagine my delight when he sat up looked up into my face and wagged his tail! Reiki can provide that spark that a soul needs to heal when they are just not ready to go – it is their choice we just consciously bring the energy within their reach.
He continues to improve and before I left found a lovely thick fleecy blanket in the market for his bed. He is still receiving Reiki and his Spirulina milk shakes, which from the photo you can tell he loves.
UPDATE FROM RACHEL AT TOLFA: “Today was funny…I was doing Reiki with another little mange guy in H7 but kneeling in the gallery and your man, promptly got out of his bed (which he hardly ever wants to leave) and pressed himself against the kennel gate trying to get in on the action…he was lapping it up!!”
Remember To See With Your Heart
I would feel a constant presence at my side while working – even when I was sure I had closed gates – I would turn and this little dog would be standing at my leg. I gave up trying to contain him, he could squeeze through any hole, gap, drain and he was just there – while I walked the other dogs, gave treatments, and offered Reiki. Mouse was a new addition the group of Shelter dogs who live permanently at Tolfa and Rachel explained he had come in as a suspected rabies case and had been rescued from a not so nice area of a nearby town, with an unusual canine tooth/jaw arrangement going on, he looks as though he is about to bite and this had led to him being neglected and abused.
I started to look forward to his quiet calm deep thinking presence during my day, I’m sure he was joining in with my Reiki sessions. So with a little patience and the kindness shown to him by people who could see beyond his appearance, he is settling in well at Tolfa.
UPDATE FROM JEMMA AT TOLFA: “I came in the other morning and was trying to work out who he lively, happy little dog was instigating play with Ginger and Honey… really, it took me a while to realise it was Mouse! He was jumping and leaping about without a care in the world!”
Our class was held in a lovely room in the education centre overlooking part of the shelter compound on one side and fields on the other, a beautiful healing space. We were joined in the morning by seven orphans – five newborn puppies whose mother had just been brought in to Tolfa, but had passed away while giving birth during the night, another poorly 2 week old puppy and a feisty newborn kitten.
By the end of our day all of the puppies had passed away to join their mum, a big lesson for any practitioner is that healing doesn’t always mean the restoration of physical health and can be purely spiritual, and I am so proud of my students, although sad, we all recognised what had taken place, we had helped them on their journey in peace and with love. The kitten continues to thrive.
This reminds me of another essential part of our practice, self healing, the work we do is so emotional and can be draining, we really need to include ourselves in the healing process so that we can continue to give our best. Please read Kathleen’s brilliant workshop/article on Self-Healing for Animal Caregivers.
I thank all of the wonderful people doing this difficult but rewarding job at TOLFA and all of the animals I met they made my visit very special.
Now that TOLFA is a SARA Shelter all animals passing through its gates will be offered Reiki and will be available to support the staff and caregivers.
Left to Right: Jemma Sadler, Cristal, Maria Jose Sanchez, Rachel Wright.
Written by: SARA Teacher Alison McKinnon