This year I had the opportunity to offer the Let Animals Lead Method® of Animal Reiki to wildlife and non-releasable animals at a local nature center. The staff asked me to offer Reiki to two non-releasable Eastern Box Turtles; Zeus, an 80-year-old with arthritis, and Roger, a young turtle with a shell birth defect. It has been an honor to offer Animal Reiki to these turtles, and it has developed into an amazing learning experience for me. The turtles have truly been my teachers.
Turtles are very sensitive to our energy; however, their ability to show their preferences or willingness to accept Animal Reiki can be extremely subtle. Unlike a dog or a cat that can run out of the room if they choose to decline a session, land-based turtles are very slow moving. They may already be tucked into their shells or their burrows or hideaways before I’ve even approached their tanks. I’ve learned to watch for the subtlest movements of their bodies – a stretch of the neck or slight turn of the head, a small dig of the nails into the soil, a retracting or extending of a leg, or a very slow crawl toward or away from me. It is definitely a lesson in patience and observation!
With the Let Animals Lead® approach, I offer Animal Reiki with an open mind and heart. I invite the turtles to participate if they choose, and I do not pick them up or remove them from their enclosures. Instead, I observe their subtle responses, and I use my Reiki eyes and feel with my heart in order to gauge their comfort with how close I can approach their tanks. I also watch for subtle signs of comfort or discomfort if I hover my hands near the glass walls of their tanks.
In my practice with turtles, I keep myself open to whatever arises. Roger and Zeus are in separate tanks in different rooms at the nature center, with a variety of other turtles also in those rooms. What has been particularly interesting is that during each individual session with them I have become aware of another turtle watching me. In each instance, a turtle crawled, or in one case swam, across their tank to observe what I was doing. It reinforced for me that having an open mind and heart allows a variety of animals to step into the space, even when I think I am intending to share Animal Reiki with a specific animal.
As this pattern of being observed continued during my sessions with Zeus and Roger, I turned one day and looked into the eyes of an Ornate Box Turtle named Toby. He had moved across his tank and was observing me. In that moment I had a revelation. This wasn’t just Animal Reiki. This was also enrichment.
Enrichment is significant for animal welfare. It is a key aspect of mental, behavioral, and physical well-being for animals that are in human care, especially those in nature centers, rehabilitation clinics, sanctuaries, zoos, and other similar facilities. I spent over a decade as a wildlife rehabilitator and caregiver for non-releasable raptors. I know that enrichment is a vital part of creating a healthy environment for animals where they can explore natural behaviors, be comfortably curious about new stimuli, and most importantly, have choice as to what enrichment they engage with in their environment. Having choice, or agency, is a key aspect of both Animal Reiki and enrichment. When we go inward during our Animal Reiki practice, we enable animals to choose whether to step into a healing space of compassion and love.
As a theory and application, animal enrichment is often thought of as providing natural foraging or simulated hunting opportunities, access to materials that allow for natural movements such as climbing, placement of toys or objects for mental stimulation, and/or facilitating safe interactions with other animals. But Animal Reiki can also be a means of animal enrichment. It is an opportunity for connection, engagement, healing, mental stimulation, and emotional support, all through a natural energy that is already familiar to animals. I believe the Let Animals Lead® method easily fits into the theory of animal enrichment.
In the situation with Zeus and Roger, my practice also created a space where other turtles felt comfortable to investigate and observe. Even if the other turtles chose not to connect with Animal Reiki, they did choose to be curious and observe on their own terms my meditation practice. This experience of observing an Animal Reiki session could also be considered enrichment. They became aware that something was happening in their environment, they approached to investigate, and they had agency to make a decision on whether or not to connect. This concept of Reiki as enrichment has the potential to broaden the scope of the impact of Animal Reiki on animals.
But enrichment is not just for animals, it’s also for us. The Let Animals Lead® Method of Animal Reiki enriches us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It opens us to new and exciting connections with animals, with each other, and with all of the natural world. Our meditation facilitates these connections. Our curiosity causes our practice to grow as we explore new meditation techniques, as well as additional therapies and modalities to offer animals (e.g., herbals, crystals, nutrition, training, end of life care, etc.). Animal Reiki is truly the path to enrichment for both us and animals.
As I reflect on this connection between Animal Reiki and enrichment, several questions arise for me. How does the concept of Animal Reiki as enrichment enhance my practice? How does this concept expand my understanding and awareness of how animals engage with the Let Animals Lead® Method of Animal Reiki? How can the concept of enrichment become part of my dialogue when discussing the Let Animals Lead® Method of Animal Reiki with nature centers, sanctuaries, shelters or other animal care facilities? To help frame this concept in our Animal Reiki community, I invite practitioners to share their thoughts and experiences on Animal Reiki as enrichment.
By SARA Practitioner Lisa Pichnarcik