Reiki for animals? You bet! Read this chapter from The Pet Healer Project about this fascinating healing practice.
The Pet Healer Project by Sandy Johnson takes you around the world to explore cutting-edge healing modalities for pets, such as Reiki for animals. Each of the 14 chapters will expose you to new thoughts and possibilities about healing pets, profiling a remarkable animal healer in each chapter.
Enjoy this chapter from The Pet Healer Project, in full, that discusses Kathleen Prasad’s practice of Reiki for animals at the BrightHaven animal sanctuary:
The Light at BrightHaven
Fifty miles north of San Francisco outside the city of Santa Rosa is an animal sanctuary and hospice, BrightHaven. Founded in the early 1990s by animal rights activists Richard and Gail Pope, whose mission was to save shelter animals most at risk for euthanasia due to age or illness, BrightHaven has also become an extraordinary healing center. Set on ten acres, it functions as a rescue and adoption shelter for abandoned pets and a halfway house for animals as they await adoption. Currently it is home to more than fifty chronically ill and disabled senior animals—dogs, cats, horses, chickens, ducks, a goose, two cows, and a pig. Over the past twenty-five years, the compassionate hospice program has assisted in more than six hundred natural deaths.
In 2005, Kathleen Prasad, author, teacher, and Reiki practitioner, offered to bring the healing technique, Reiki, to BrightHaven, and to teach staff members and volunteers. The Popes accepted, and asked Kathleen to head up the program. To this day, Kathleen remains a part of the family.
Soon after Kathleen arrived, a feral orange tabby cat began to appear at the fence, apparently to visit with Tim, a paraplegic cat who lived there. The two would stand nose to nose, whisker to whisker, apparently communicating through the fence. Staff members, taking notice of the burgeoning friendship, tried to lure the tabby they named Johnnie inside. But Johnnie would always dart off into the bushes the moment anyone tried to get close to him, until one crisp autumn day when Johnnie decided on his own to slip through the gate to be with Tim. From that day on, the two cats were inseparable, Tim scooting along the ground in his wheelchair, Johnnie trotting along beside him.
Staff veterinarians examined Johnnie and found a myriad of ailments: renal problems, heart issues, severe dental disease, low potassium, and hyperesthesia. They treated him as best they could; still, they did not expect him to live more than a few months.
At first, the rest of the cat population was not so sure about the newcomer, but before long they began to sense something special about Johnnie, and soon he assumed the mantle of top cat. At BrightHaven, a hospice for animals that are in the final chapters of their lives, Johnnie would seek out those most in need and sit vigil with each one until the very end.
His attentions didn’t stop with animals. At student meetings, he would go around the circle and greet each person. Then, choosing a lap, he’d jump up and gaze into a student’s eyes before curling up and falling asleep, purring. For many, it was the first experience of connecting heart-to-heart with an animal. For others, Johnnie’s presence ignited a particular healing experience. One student, who had never cried after the recent loss of a parent, gave in to a stream of tears and released weeks of pent-up grieving.
Most of the animals that turn up at BrightHaven have either been slated for euthanasia at the shelters where they were kept, or dropped off by their owners because of a serious terminal illness. Kathleen Prasad says,
“But they come to BrightHaven and guess what? They live. We see that so often. BrightHaven has a very important recipe: love, natural diet, Reiki, homeopathy, and more love.”
She goes on to describe a cat named Frasier, who lived to be over thirty.
“He had had cancer for many years, and even lost his eye and part of his face to the disease. But he was the most beautiful, strong spirit that you could ever meet. Frasier loved Reiki. Whenever I came into the room he would run to me and jump on my legs wanting to be picked up. When we were doing the photo shoot for my first book, Animal Reiki, and we were photographing all the animals, Frasier wanted to be in every single one. ‘OK, Frasier,’ I’d tell him. ‘You were in the last five pictures. Now I’m going to go sit with the dogs.’ Nope, there was Frasier. We’d go out to photograph the horses, and Frasier was right there following after us. He lived for many, many years with cancer, and I do mean, living.”
Kathleen Prasad had never been particularly interested in holistic healing; before finding Reiki, her focus was on academics. Born in Berkeley, California, she did her undergraduate studies at Berkeley, majoring in American history, social studies, race relations, and ethnic studies. At graduate school in Sacramento she earned her teaching credentials in English and social studies, and taught language arts and social studies at a middle school. She also ran the drama department.
Her overriding mission was to reach inner-city youths who were at risk and falling through the cracks. At first, the students were tuned out and totally disengaged. Then one day, Kathleen decided to bring photographs of her dogs and cats to class and talk about all the many lonely and forgotten pets in animal shelters.
“Suddenly, kids started coming up to my desk to ask me questions and to share something about their own life. At last we had a connection.
I ended up writing a whole curriculum on kindness to animals, which I incorporated into the program, and asked the class to keep diaries of their activities. As a final project, students were to go into the community and volunteer at shelters. Kids who used to cut school and never finish an assignment were going out on weekends cleaning cages and making videos of what they had done.”
Kathleen discovered then the magical effect animals could have on the most tuned-out and disaffected kids. Animals could reach the most unreachable.
“It was right about then that Reiki came into my life. At first, I assumed it was a treatment for an illness. My mother-in-law had a severe post-surgery problem that was corrected after just three Reiki sessions and she urged me to try it. I can’t remember if I had a specific issue, just that it felt like a massage times a thousand. I was so relaxed—I felt like I was floating on a cloud. And that feeling stayed with me after I left. I had to know more. I had to learn this!
It took years of experience and hours and hours of classes before I understood that Reiki is not something you do—it is a state of being. I learned its five precepts: For today only: do not anger, do not worry, be humble, be honest in your work, and be compassionate to yourself and others. I learned techniques to become more mindful and to bring all my energies to the present moment. Because when we do that, our heart opens and we’re able to connect with others at the heart level.
Something in me was changing. I was so sure I would be a middle school teacher for the rest of my life, but now I started to wonder how it might be to try Reiki on animals. Back in the ’90s and early 2000s, Reiki was still new and intended for humans. But I happened to see a show on PBS about the plight of elephants around the world—I think it was called Urban Elephants—that featured an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee. As I watched, it occurred to me that these elephants, given the conditions they survived, might benefit from Reiki.
I emailed Carol Buckley, cofounder of the elephant sanctuary, and introduced myself: ‘I would love to be of service—to come and teach you Reiki so that you can share it with your elephants. I would like to do this as a donation to your group for all you do for the elephants of the world.’
Carol responded right away. ‘We’re not open to the public, and I don’t normally do this, but when I got your email, I felt that you must come here. You need to come here.’
I waited until the end of the school year, just before I retired, and asked Elizabeth Fulton, coauthor of my first book, to come with me. During the four or five days of our visit to Tennessee, I gave Carol and a few of her employees a demonstration of Reiki. We were allowed to meet some of the elephants, but not to work directly on them; only people who are going to actually be in their life are allowed to work with them. Elephants are very sensitive creatures and they really bond with people; it’s stressful for them to meet somebody and then have that person leave. But we were able to see them in their natural habitat, roaming free in the field. When you see all animals as spiritual beings and you open your heart to them, you understand how desperately needed these animal sanctuaries and their caregivers are.
After that, I dove into private practice and taught classes —some at Guide Dogs for the Blind, some at the local Berkeley Animal Care Services where I volunteered. I remember a very sick, eighty-pound pit bull I treated. They brought him to me in a small private room where I worked. The poor thing was shaking uncontrollably and so scared he couldn’t even walk upright; he was crawling like a lizard with his belly on the ground.
I never go put my hands on an animal. I always let the animal come to me. So, I sat with my hands in my lap and waited. When he finally came over to me, he curled himself up into a ball. After a while, I put my hands on him and did the Reiki meditation of love and kindness. He soaked it up. At some point during the treatment he began to shake uncontrollably again. Then he released, took a big sigh and fell asleep. I sat with him for about an hour more. When he woke up, I put him on his leash and he stood like any normal dog. I walked him over to the staff’s office, and said, ‘He’s all done, you can take him back to his kennel.’ They couldn’t believe he was the same dog. And that was just one treatment.
Not every animal responds after just one treatment, but he did. There were so many times when dogs that were completely stressed out would totally relax, and when dogs that were almost completely checked out would suddenly get the light back in their eyes. This is it, I thought. This is what we need to heal the world!”
Years later, after several years of teaching at BrightHaven, Kathleen faced her own health challenge.
“After my surgery for breast cancer, when I returned to BrightHaven, it was that wonderful orange tabby Johnnie who came running to me. He jumped right up onto my lap and stretched his entire body over my shoulder and across my chest, purring loudly. I closed my eyes and relaxed, allowing him to do his healing on me. As Johnnie’s breathing grew more relaxed and regular, I could feel a lessening of my post-surgical pain. He and I could both let go of our health issues and just be present together in that beautiful, peaceful space.
Johnnie taught me that true and lasting healing is not about curing this or that problem. We can be truly healed, or made whole, when we let go of the need to cure and instead simply connect to others from the heart with selfless compassion. It’s then that we create a space where all healing potential exists, and miracles of healing can occur!
Johnnie passed away after a long journey of healing so many others, even with his own many health issues. He had a peaceful passing surrounded by loved ones, just as he had sat vigil in hospice for others so many times.”
These days, Kathleen has a full schedule. She continues to teach classes both at BrightHaven and at partner sanctuaries around the world. Kathleen facilitates her online education and tele-class program, speaks at international conferences, and runs her nonprofit Shelter Animal Reiki Association. She has little time for her private practice. “The first seven or eight years of my full-time practice I went to people’s barns or their homes. But now, because my schedule is so busy, I offer distant treatments.
“In Reiki teachings, there is really no such thing as distance, because distance is just a perception. We’re all one, all connected. It’s only when we forget this connection that we feel separate. If we’re all one, it means that everything is right here already; within the oneness we create the healing space. So, it’s not like I am really sending Reiki here or there, or reaching across the world to do a healing; I’m going inward into my heart and remembering that it all resides within me already.”
Each February, Kathleen teaches healing at an exotic animal sanctuary in Florida where tigers, bears, and snakes reside.
“Talk about the wisdom of Mother Earth and the ancient wisdom. I mean, those snakes! When you connect with them it’s incredible! They’re safely in their little cage; I sit outside and practice my Reiki. This past September, I went to Animal Haven in New York City, a shelter in SoHo, where we were being filmed for a TV show performing Reiki on the shelter animals.
For me, it’s really about the spirit and compassion, and that underneath our differences of species, we’re really the same. True healing is about healing our spirit and remembering that we are all one. Because, in reality, we’re all going to die. This body will not last forever. Who we are is eternal. That beautiful bright light that exists within all of us, human and animal, is always there, it’s always perfect, and it goes on.”
Interested in reading more about new and innovative ways of healing pets, like Reiki for animals? The Pet Healer Project book is full of fascinating healing modalities and can be found at this link.
Learn more about Kathleen Prasad and her work by visiting her website.
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