By Ritu Khanna
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 Abandonment. Tassel flower, ashoka flower, chicory, holly, walnut, radish, morning glory and lotus are used to treat pets. The Shahs have treated dogs, cats, birds and horses and suggest treating the pet and his master together. ‘The results in pets are in fact very quick, clear and long lasting,’ continues Dr Rupa Shah. ‘They require a much shorter course of treatment, for pets are like children-less complicated in the mind and emotions.’
Magnet therapy also works on animals, says Major General Pramod Anand who does integrated healing at his Positive Health Clinic in Delhi. His only experiment with a dog (his own, Pluto, a Labrador) was a success; ‘I found that Pluto was limping in the right foot and was in agony. I made him lie down and applied the south pole of a strong magnet under his foot, and the north pole on the top of the foot. I held them in my hands, for Pluto would have moved otherwise. I did this for seven minutes, twice a day, for two days, and found that Pluto had stopped limping. There was no need for any injection, or any other treatment. By the third day the swelling had completely disappeared.’
Anand has been giving magnetized water (mixed water, both poles) to Pluto for digestive disorders and has found it ‘good and effective’. Pluto has also responded well to reflexology.
Even the ancient science of vaastu shastra has options for animals. ‘In any particular plot, the northwest is the zone meant for animals. A kennel built here will mean that the animals will be healthier,’ explains vaastu expert Rajesh Kant. There is one exception, however. Cats tend to go where no other household pet will: ‘They seem to be drawn towards the negative energy field, ‘ says Kant. ‘That is one reason why you can keep both dogs and cats in your house-each will have his own space. Dogs, horses, etc, go to the positive energy field, unlike cats.’
Dig a bit more, and you will find other alternatives that come almost naturally to our pets. Your dog will eat grass to cure his queasiness; he will lick his wounded portions to disinfect them.
Our pets are also practitioners of natural childbirth. Observes Amala: ‘When I was pregnant, I used to watch stray dogs give birth with no fuss, not even a whimper. Nature’s wonder then dawned on me, I realized that childbirth is really a natural thing. Also, watching them look after their babies with selfless devotion, ready to risk their lives for them, I discovered that there is no bad mother in nature. They gave me wisdom to deal with my own child.’
In a way yoga is a part of their scheme of things, for why else would the yogic postures, from cow to cobra, be named after animals? At the Sivananda Yoga center in Delhi, a teacher tells his students to be like a dog, who, on waking, stretches his limbs before getting up.
And Madhu Tandon, who conducts dream workshops, insists pets have dreams: ‘They get agitated in their sleep, and start beating their paws up and down.’ According to Tandon, this movement of paws or tail is indicative of a threat, illness or injury, or some form of distress or excitement. ‘Since they cannot communicate the images, their dreams remain in the realm of hypothesis, though nothing can be proved,’ adds Tandon.
Prozac-prescribing psychiatrists and psychics who work on pets are increasing in number in the West. The closest we could come to finding an animal ‘shrink’ is Debasis Chakrabarti, listed as India’s only dog psychologist. Chakrabarti runs Dog’s Own in Calcutta and is a founder-trustee of Compassionate Crusaders Trust, an organization comprising animal lovers whose aim is to rehabilitate dogs with behavioral problems. He is also a board member of the Calcutta Chapter of People for Animals.
Animals certainly respond to treatment of the mind, especially dogs, agrees Chakrabarti: ‘By body language, facial expression and tone of voice, you can encourage them towards the desired traits or the reverse… Understanding the personality and behavioral patterns of the animals not only helps in healing them, but is also essential for the healing process itself. Like human beings, animals also suffer from psychosomatic diseases and can be treated without medication.’
According to Chakrabarti, both dogs and cats respond to psychotherapy: ‘However, unlike dogs, cats do not adopt the master’s personality. Hence the methods for treating ,cats are mostly guided by the knowledge of their basic animal instincts, and manipulating these natural instincts to produce the desired changes in their behavior.’ The problems that he has encountered in dogs include ‘over-aggressiveness, possessiveness, over-shyness/timidity, stealing food, fussiness about food, marking and an overdeveloped mating urge’. The common cat problems: ‘Marking, fighting with other cats—exclusive to males—and stealing food.’
Treating the mind of an animal is the theme of the best-selling novel and equally popular movie The Horse Whisperer, written by Nicholas Evans. It is the story of a 13-year-old girl, Grace, who is hit by a truck, injuring both her and her horse, Pilgrim. Grace’s mother, Annie, is convinced that her daughter’s well-being and destiny is linked to that of Pilgrim’s. She simply refuses to put the traumatized horse to sleep, taking him instead to a horse whisperer, Tom Booker.
Whisperers are people ‘who could see into the creature’s soul and soothe the wounds they found there’, writes Evans. ‘Often they were seen as witches and perhaps they were. Some wrought their magic with the bleached bones of toads, plucked from moonlit streams. Others, it was said, could with but a glance root the hooves of a working team to the earth they plowed. They were gypsies and showmen, shamans and charlatans.’
They were also, in today’s parlance, alternative therapists. For not only did they use a different approach to heal, guided by what we can easily call an animal instinct, they also added a body-mind-soul dimension to their mode of treatment. Tom took Pilgrim to his darkest hour, the hour that comes before the dawn, and let him make his choice. The horse chose to survive. He came back to Grace, whole and happy, just the way she always knew him to be: ‘giving and trusting and true’.
Tom was willing to live and die for his horses. He loved and understood them, for him it was a relationship dominated by the heart.
And to that treatment there is no alternative.
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