By Ritu Khanna December 1996 The New Age mantra of a simple and holistic life has not left even your pet’s life untouched My name is Waggy. I am five years old, white, hairy, part-Spitz, part-stray. I belong to Laughy (she does have another perfectly sensible name, but if she can call me Waggy, I guess it is only fair that I give her a similar sounding name that describes what she does when she is feeling a sense of happiness and well-being). Actually, she is not a bad sort, except for a few irritating habits such as insisting I fetch a ball or bone or whatever she chooses to throw at some distance, or of asking me to shake hands for no reason at all. She takes me for walks, talks to me, pats me (instinctively she knows the places where I enjoy being stroked), feeds me, takes me to the vet… That brings me to the subject of the moment, a pet topic if you may allow me to say so. When all around us there is talk of humans looking for alternative therapies, cures that heal by working on the body, mind and spirit, is it not fair that we, too, are given an opportunity to be, say, treated by ayurveda, homeopathy, aromatherapy, and so on ? Why should reiki or pranic healing not be made available to us ? Or, for that matter, acupuncture or Bach flower remedies? We can also be made to turn to vegetarianism and not given a diet that comprises our fellow animals. For those skeptics who claim that we have no mind and hence no emotions, just answer this simple question; Why do I wag my tail when I am happy? Why am I called Waggy? Animal lover, activist and south Indian actress Amala Akkineni was horrified when, on shifting to Hyderabad, southern India, almost five years ago, she found that there was no voluntary organization looking after homeless animals in the city. She began picking up strays, keeping them in her garage. Within a week, she had started the Blue Cross branch in Hyderabad. Blue Cross of Hyderabad is a hospital and shelter providing care to between lOO and 200 animals-mainly dogs, cats and birds—at any given time. ‘We use a lot of alternative treatments here,’ says Amala. These include homeopathy for long-term benefits: ‘We dissolve the pills in water and even give them to cattle, horses, donkeys and birds.’ She also feels that herbal remedies—using methi (fenugreek), dhania (coriander), haldi (turmeric), etc.—are very effective for curing eye infections, maggot wounds and tooth decay. At home, Amala has three dogs, one cat, one tortoise, one rabbit and plenty of ‘baby, orphan birds’. Indian herbal cosmetic queen Shahnaz Husain, too, has always loved animals: ‘We have birds, several dogs, a miniature horse, a camel—I once even kept a monkey.’ It was this love that prompted Husain to think of using ayurveda on her pets: ‘I initially formulated ayurvedic products for them, and when we found the effects were remarkable, we decided to introduce an entire range, keeping in mind the needs of the animals.’ The Shapet range comprises a hair care balm, an anti-tick hair cleanser, a talcum powder, an anti-scabies skin oil, an antiseptic balm and an anti-parasitic lotion. ‘Most pesticides and products for pets, like soaps, are quite harsh and destroy the natural luster and health of the animal’s coat,’ elaborates Husain. ‘Ayurvedic products not only provide safety from such effects, but actually help to improve the coat and add shine. They also help to soothe and cure infections.’ She recommends the use of natural pesticides, such as neem, and has always been against animal testing. Peter Singer has also protested against this practice in his book Animal Liberation: A New Ethics for Our Treatment of Animals. Pointing out that animal liberation is human liberation too, Singer writes: ‘We are subjecting animals to scientific experimentation, wearing furs, leather goods, eating commercially produced meats—casually accepting animal slaughter as a necessary way of life, ignoring the inhumanity and illogic of our behavior.’ Another bit of unforgivable ‘illogic': the varak (silver foil) that we use in our sweets, paan (betel leaf), even prasad (sweets offered to deities), is made by placing a thin sheet of silver between the intestines of a freshly-killed buffalo. When the offerings we make to the gods are suspect, it is little wonder then that animal welfare activists are vociferously demanding vegetarianism. They give examples of prominent vegetarians such as Indian matinee idol Amitabh Bachchan, Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson, and even suggest we give a vegetarian diet to our pets. Writes animal rights activist Maneka Gandhi in Second Heads & Tails: ‘If you have a heart and the discipline to keep an animal in your home, you are already a special person. How can you, therefore, cripple your ability to communicate with another species by making food choices that feed the dead body-parts of one animal to another!’ But all is not lost. Vegetarianism for animals is a concept that is being debated—a good enough starting point for spreading awareness. Indian media personality Komal G.B. Singh’s four-and-a-half-year-old talking parrot, Coco, is a pure vegetarian. Coco is also into homeopathy, Bach flower remedies and reiki. ‘Whenever I am doing my self-healing in reiki, Coco watches and hears,’ says Singh indulgently. ‘He loves watching me, he goes into silence, and a sense of calmness comes over him. He sits like an angel, looking at me intently. I channel through my palms and use reiki to protect him and my fish. I think their aura definitely improves… in fact, I would say Coco is the most reikied bird you have ever met!’ Unless it is a serious life-threatening disease, Singh is more comfortable using alternative therapies. Once again, Coco responds well to the treatment: ‘When he is shedding feathers, I put homeopathy drops in his bathing water. Coco knows it’s healing for him-whenever he sees me with a dropper, he comes down quickly for his bath.’ Homeopathic treatment has also worked, almost miraculously, for Delhi housewife Anjana Bose’s Dalmatian, Begum. Though Begum had all the necessary shots, she developed a pain in her hind legs and got a very high fever. There was further twitching in her legs, followed by spasms. The vet diagnosed it as distemper, and referred the case to a homeopath. ‘It took almost nine months to cure Begum,’ observes a grateful Rose. ‘The thumping of the legs has reduced, she can even run. I used to sit up nights with her, giving her the pills every 15 minutes. There was no problem with that, she rather liked the sweet taste, and there were no side effects.’ Begum recently celebrated her first birthday. ‘I have been born and brought up with pets, I just could not think of my life without them,’ says a relieved Rose. Her dog’s recovery has also converted her: ‘My father being an allopath, I never used to believe in homeopathy. But recently, when my husband had a bad cough, we turned to homeopathy.’ Pet owners are exploring the possibility of alternative cures for their animals, often surprised by the effectiveness of these treatments. They then recommend them to their friends, increasing the circle of believers. They discover that a child’s dose in homeopathy is sufficient for an animal; that certain ayurvedic medicines work equally well on their dogs; that aromatherapy or even magnet therapy can help heal their pets. They then begin to improvise and innovate. Even though there is as yet no doctor/therapist working exclusively on alternative treatments for animals, there are some who are more than willing to include them in their list of patients. When Indian aromatherapist Blossom Kochhar’s dog was suffering from arthritis, she massaged him with one of her blends. ‘He began walking within an hour,’ recollects her daughter, Samantha Sapru. ‘Aromatherapy oils are used to treat various ailments such as arthritis, joint pains, bronchitis, tartar on teeth, smelly mouths, tick fever, fleas, etc,’ explains Sapru. She recommends the use of eucalyptus oil for bronchitis and lavender oil for ticks and arthritis, and also suggests using aromatherapy shampoos, conditioners and perfumes on tick collars. Her advice for arthritic pain: rub lavender oil on cabbage leaves. Warm these leaves and apply on the joints of your pet. Flower remedies is another way of treating various ailments, both physical and emotional. ‘While using these for human beings, we started getting requests from many of our patients for treating their pets,’ says Dr Rupa Shah, who, with her husband, Dr Atul Shah, founded Aditi Himalaya Essences in Bombay. ‘We are trained in allopathy and had no previous experience of treating pets with flower remedies. However, since they are safe to use, have no known side effects and are free from any harmful chemicals, we decided to give the therapy a try.’ The Shahs went about it just the way they would have treated their human patients-taking a detailed history, learning the symptoms, observing the patient’s personality. ‘However, to our surprise we found that the personality of the pet in most cases was almost like the owner of the pet,’ observes Dr Rupa Shah. ‘Our work was made much easier, as we were simultaneously watching the owner and the pet. In many cases we found that, leave aside the personality, even the physical conditions of the owner and his pet were similar.’ Among the formulae they offer for animals are First Aid Remedy, Fearfulness/Nervousness, Adjustment, Protection from Environmental Stress, Skin Cleanser, Hyperactive Pet, Emotional Balance, Grief, Jealousy and Ab
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