by Cheryl Caruolo, MFA
When I was a child, my maternal grandmother told me to always look to animals for guidance. “They are on a higher spiritual plane and are messengers of God,” she’d say in her native Italian. I remember one summer day my grandmother and I found a tiny gray figure on the pavement of the driveway. A baby sparrow with a broken neck. Almost without awareness, my grandmother scooped up the feathery ball and brought it into the house.
She rested it on top of a flowered face cloth in the merciless sunlight of midday as it burdened to breathe. “It’s okay if you must leave. I will stay with you,” she whispered to the ailing creature. Then she crouched on her heels and held a hand close enough for the sparrow to feel the heat from her body. After a few minutes the petite bird lifted its head slightly, looked my grandmother in the eye, took a final breath, and died. She turned to me, cupped my face in her hot hands, and said that we must show compassion for all sentient beings because we are all one intertwined creation.
Thirty years later, I received my first Reiki attunement and understood what my grandmother knew when I was too young to fully understand.
In the several years that followed, I experienced Reiki II, Master, and Teacher attunements and had some of the most extraordinary encounters with clients; I saw images, colors, and symbols; heard messages; released emotional blocks; and relieved fear. And then one day I received a call from my client Caren. She said that one of her horses had just undergone surgery and she wanted me to do Reiki on him. Her request intrigued me, but I wasn’t sure how to use Reiki on an animal that large. My teacher’s response brought back the counsel of my grandmother.
“Animals are naturally telepathic,” my Master advised. “Horses possess the powers of divination, and more than one legend speaks to their clairvoyance and ability to recognize those involved in magic. That horse knows you are a healer—let his instinct guide you.”
Sam was a desert sand–colored quarter horse with icy blue eyes. I had never seen a horse with blue eyes before, and their intensity surprised me. Despite his size, he was skittish. When I stepped into the stall, Sam hobbled back into the farthest corner. I felt his fear prickle up my back. As I advanced slowly toward him, he took a step and then dropped his head and hesitated. With my hand outstretched in front of me, I telepathically told Sam that I wanted to help. He lifted his head and walked up to meet me.
I was concerned that I didn’t know a thing about horse anatomy, but as soon as I touched Sam’s haunches, he began drawing energy, just as my teacher had said. During the twenty minutes I worked with Sam that first day, I stood along his left side the entire time with both hands resting against his side near his ribs. I felt as if my feet were not on the ground and I could see the ribbon of energy passing through me into Sam. The stream of energy was made up of honey-thick layers of rose, gold, and blue-purple light that felt warm running through me. In the time I had been working with clients, I had never seen the simplicity and purity of that light so clearly. As much as its flow was easing.
Sam’s pain, it was also soothing and relaxing me. I never realized the full power of Reiki’s universal energy until my hands faded into the aura of that horse.
I worked with Sam several times in the weeks that followed and every time he heard my voice as I opened the barn door, he’d try to maneuver his head through the bars on the stall to see me. To this day it makes me smile to remember his sheer blue eye looking sideways through the rusted metal. And for every treatment, all I had to do was place my hands against his side and energy began to flow like the rush of water released from a dam.
After three months of rehabilitation, including the Reiki treatments, the vet was amazed to see how strong Sam had become. The next time I arrived to treat Sam, he waited for me to open the stall and then walked up to me, lowered his head, and placed his face against my chest. I had never felt anything like the torrent of emotion rushing into me. I do not know how long we stood like that because I lost the sensation of the dusty dirt below my feet and the smell of the November dampness in the air. All around me were swirls of golden and purple light and I felt myself disappear into Sam. The feeling of joy and serenity was far beyond anything I had ever felt, or thought possible. And I think I finally understood how Reiki is symbolic of one consciousness.
Even after my healing work with him was over, I visited Sam often. Our inexplicable bond pacified my soul just to be around him. In his presence, I felt whole. Sometimes I’d sit on the cold, steel benches overlooking the corral while he galloped around. He seemed to be showing off for me like a child who craves a parent’s attention—look at me. He had that charmed lack of inhibition that children have when they talk openly to imaginary friends—their angels and guides—just as I had long ago. Animals and children are naturally open because they are closest to the creative source where the veil is thinnest and the silver cord is the thickest.
The corral’s enclosure was falling apart—the fence splintering, the gate warped, and the latch rusted. Sam could have gotten loose with one push of his massive head, but he never tried. He was content to be who he was, where he was. Through him, I understood that choice is the ultimate freedom. And, in our choice to return to wholeness, Reiki is a powerful tool.
Because of Sam, I started treating more animals—a boxer with an ear infection, a Great Dane with a lung imbalance, and a calico cat with hip dysplasia. Max the boxer sat on my feet as Reiki energy emanated down my legs rather than through my hands; the Great Dane, Champ, rested his head in the space created between my lotus-crossed legs; and Cleo formed her feline body around my neck in a half moon that draped over my shoulders. Max always fell asleep (along with my feet under the weight of him). Champ would audibly sigh every few minutes and then offer to shake when the treatment was finished. Cleo waved her tail back and forth like a metronome.
It took only a handful of fifteen-minute treatments for Max’s ear infection to clear up and six sessions for Champ to resume romping around the farm. Cleo returned to full mobility within a couple of months of weekly Reiki, but she continued to wrap herself around my head during our monthly maintenance treatments—I suspect she was secretly entertained by my hair spiking out in all directions from the static electricity. Reiki was a valuable tool in addressing physical discord for these pets, but it also brought astounding emotional healings as well.
A friend of mine took in a twelve-year-old cat found abandoned in a condemned building. Scarsdale (which seemed a fitting name), understandably afraid to trust anyone, took up residence under the bed. My heart went out to this ragged tuxedo cat but there did not seem to be a way to cajole him out from his safe shelter. During a meditation, I was reminded that Reiki works without the laying on of hands—that is precisely what the long-distance healing symbols are for.
So I sat on a high-backed Victorian chair across from the canopy bed and invoked Reiki symbols while holding an image of the tender feline in my mind’s eye. I rested my wrists on my thighs, hands flexed back, fingers spread wide, their tips pointing towards the water-stained ceiling. The first time I didn’t experience anything, not even the heat that usually rises in the hands, but I was compelled to continue to try. I sat in the shadow of sundown every couple of days for almost two weeks, and then one evening, as I lowered myself into the green cushioned chair, I saw the glow of a pair of eyes—they were simultaneously desperate and hopeful. For the twenty minutes I sat in my usual pose, those eyes sustained their stare. I smiled at the seemingly floating eyes, and as I rose to leave, I heard a faint “thank you” echo in my head.
When I returned a couple of days later to continue the vigil, Scarsdale was sitting in the Victorian chair. I lifted his frail frame into my lap and placed my hands gingerly against his protruding skeleton as prickling Reiki heat trembled through me.
Less than a week later, he was venturing downstairs, curving in and out of my friend’s feet. Eventually Scarsdale, his tuxedo beginning to fill in nicely, found the simple joy in chasing toys and sitting on the cool windowsill in the blinding winter sun.
Reiki healings with animals are magical. When they have drawn enough energy, they simply walk away. Working with them has helped me identify the difference between assisting someone to heal and trying to save them. One is based in compassion; the other is based in the need for my own success. Internal versus external. Spirit or ego. My four-legged soul mates taught me a great deal about the blocks we put in our way and the layers that complicate our lives.
My most profound experience to date was with an eighteen-year-old toy fox terrier named Sandy. Sandy had lost her hearing, her sight, and much of her mobility, but she kept going with one of the strongest spirits I have ever encountered. I worked with her to ease the stiffness from arthritis, and my client often asked me if she should put Sandy “out of her misery.” I would ask Sandy, and she always said an unequivocal “no.” Then one day when I went to work with her, she turned her head toward me with her eyes opaque from age and softly barked just once.
Sandy was done. I accompanied my petite friend and her human partner to the vet’s office. As the vet was preparing the injection that would ease Sandy back across the spiritual bridge, I asked her one last time. Resting contentedly in my arms, she lifted her head to reveal clear bright eyes.
The vet approached with a readied syringe, but as she gently slid her hand under the tiny paw, Sandy had already returned home. And in that moment, I realized that the Reiki experience that began with my grandmother and the baby sparrow almost four decades earlier had come full circle.
My most cherished memories of my grandmother were the hours sitting at her feet with my head upon her pillow-soft lap. She would stroke my curls with her small hands while she told me the stories of all the saints. My favorite was St. Francis because of his connection with animals. She said they communicated so freely with St. Francis because they knew he was spiritually pure. Each story was a reminder of the spiritual thread that was part of me, and it made me feel whole.
Just as Reiki makes me feel whole today.
I encourage every practitioner to try Reiki with an animal—whether you embrace a family pet or send long-distance Reiki to the Arctic wildlife now under siege. I promise they will openly receive it and you will learn an amazing lesson that can only be taught by the truly spiritually enlightened. Animals teach in an unencumbered way and define the term nonjudgment. These healing masters in fur and feather will help you develop confidence in your intuition, and that will make you a stronger Reiki warrior.
And the planet needs all the Reiki light we can radiate.