By Pamela H. Sacks
Telegram & Gazette Staff
Aileen D'Angelo became a convert to Reiki when she found it eased her severe joint pain. For Ms. D'Angelo, who suffers from systemic lupus erythmetosis, pain medications had proved ineffective. She was in the middle of a bad flare-up, and a friend who is a practitioner of Reiki, a type of energy healing, suggested that she give Ms. D'Angelo a treatment.
"I was a big skeptic, but I was in enough pain that I was willing to try anything," Ms. D'Angelo recalled the other day. "About 20 minutes later, I started feeling better."
Ms. D'Angelo would go on to become a Reiki practitioner and master teacher. Yet it was an experience with her greyhound, George, that defined the type of practice she would develop. She treats people, to be sure, but she also works on dogs, cats, horses, birds, ferrets, "anything four-footed, furry and feathered."
"I've even done an iguana," she said, laughing.
Reiki is on a growing list of holistic treatments that are gaining popularity with the public and acceptance among a contingent of mainstream health practitioners, including physicians and veterinarians. A Japanese word meaning "universal life force energy," Reiki is a method by which a trained person acts as a channel to receive healing energy, which is spiritual in nature and comes from the universe. The practitioner is said to pass the energy to the recipient. This can be done via the hands, or, in the case of a practitioner trained in distance healing, by thought.
Reiki is said to help alleviate a wide variety of physical and psychological ailments, from headaches to cancer to depression. Many believe the method works best in conjunction with traditional Western medicine. There is no governmental license for practicing Reiki, but the International Center for Reiki Training issues certificates to its graduates.
Ms. D'Angelo, 47, was so impressed with her own improvement that she soon signed up for a Level 1 class and then started giving herself daily treatments. She moved on to Level 2, which is said to allow a practitioner to transmit the healing energy by thought. Then, Ms. D'Angelo took a year of study with a master, in order become a master teacher herself.
Ms. D'Angelo recalled that her greyhound was near death when she transmitted to him by thought the healing energy of Reiki. She had met George through a rescue group. A retired racer, he was at a track in New Hampshire during that first encounter "I fell in love," Ms. D'Angelo said.
George had yet to be neutered, so Ms. D'Angelo was told to pick him up in a week, which would give him time to recover from the surgery.
Shortly after the procedure, she was informed that George had collapsed and was bleeding internally. "I sat down and started sending him Reiki," Ms. D'Angelo recalled. The greyhound's condition turned around, and Ms. D'Angelo has been giving him treatments ever since. George is now 10 years old.
When it comes to the array of holistic methods for treating ill health, Dr. John J McDonnell, veterinary neurologist at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, keeps an open mind.
Dr. McDonnell treats many animals with seizure disorders. He said he is willing to consider any approach that will diminish the frequency and severity of seizures, which can arise from a variety of causes. A treatment's measure of success is an improvement by 50 percent, Dr. McDonnell said. Although Dr. McDonnell said he has not had experience with Reiki, he is familiar with acupuncture, herbal remedies and homeopathy.
"One of the great things about those treatment modalities is they seem to mesh well with Western medicine," he said. "I have animals that are on Western, allopathic medications, as well as Eastern medications. They seem to work better together than separately. It's almost a synergistic effect."
Veterinarians have increasingly gotten involved in holistic approaches in recent years, and the membership of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association now stands at 900, according to Dr. Carvel G. Tiekert, the organization's executive director. Members practice well established methods, such as acupuncture and chiropractic, as well as more obscure methods, including Bach flower remedies and magnetic therapy.
In Dr. Tiekert's view, Reiki, while certainly not new, seems to be coming into its own. On the AHVMA Web site (www.ahvma.org), 87 members are listed as Reiki practitioners.
Dr. McDonnell's interest led him to attend a workshop on Reiki organized earlier this year by two Tufts veterinary students, Rachel Russo and Katie Cross. The students had formed a veterinary holistic medicine club on campus.
"One thing that is tremendous is that we are all working to help animals," Dr. McDonnell said. "We all really, really want to help the animals out."
As with Ms. D'Angelo, Ms. Russo's pet played an important role in convincing her of Reiki's effectiveness.
Ms. Russo's Lab, Zoe, had surgery on her knee. Pain medication wasn't working, and Zoe was having a difficult time sleeping Ms. Russo's mother, a Reiki master, suggested that she give Zoe a treatment.
"Within minutes my dog was fast asleep," Ms. Russo said. "That's when Reiki had me."
Ms. Russo describes Reiki as "a very subtle form of healing." Now trained to practice Reiki, Ms. Russo uses it on animals in intensive care.
"I'll sit with them for a half hour and put my hands on them," she said. "It's very calming to them."
Ms. D'Angelo, meanwhile, runs her practice, Hoof, Paw and Claw Reiki, out of her Worcester home. She also makes house, stable and kennel calls. She charges $25 for a half-hour session and already is booking appointments into July.
"I believe treatments like Reiki can serve as complements to the traditional stuff," she said, echoing Dr. McDonnell. "I don't use the phrase `alternative medicine.' I prefer the phrase `complementary medicine.'"
April 27, 2004