The Spiritual Realm
Most of my patients have a physical problem. A problem you can see, feel, and treat with a physical result. Either it diminishes or it doesn’t; either the patient physically improves or he declines. Yet now that you’ve followed me this far, and perhaps read enough case histories to believe that alternative therapies may often produce physical healing better than conventional ones, I have a confession to make.
I’m not sure illness always begins as a physical condition.
At the start of Chapter Five, I explained that I always consider a pet’s emotional as well as his physical being, that the two are both important in diagnosing and treating disease. Because that chapter was devoted to actual therapies I use to treat my patients, I let the implications of that statement go unsaid. But I feel this book would be incomplete—and less than honest—if I failed to acknowledge them.
Consider, as a starting point, this credo: “Illness exists first in the nonphysical realm of spiritual need, emotional confusion, or mental aberration. It is never primarily physical. The body is the reactor. It vibrates to stress and is an outward manifestation of inner turmoil.” The person who wrote those words is not a veterinarian, not even a medical writer. She’s a channeler named Pat Rodegast, whose Emmanuel’s Book is so wise and wondrous that I keep it on a shelf right above my desk and often use it with my clients to lend inspiration.
In many readers, no doubt, the word “channeler” sends off warning bells. (I hear them ringing even now.) I won’t try here to make the case one way or the other for channelers’ claims: believe, or disbelieve, as you like. My own feeling is that whether or not Emmanuel exists as an actual being or as part of Rodegast’s own higher self, the book conveys such illuminating insights that they’re worth embracing. Among them is one that I’ve observed again and again in my practice. Illness in pets really does appear to begin with the emotions—and, yes, the spirit—at least as much as it does with genes, germs, and the immune system.
I have no double-blind studies to support this intuition. I cannot prove that disease begins in the nonphysical realm, or draw you a Venn diagram illustrating how and where the physical and nonphysical origins of disease overlap. I do know that healthy animals radiate a vital energy—a life force; a spirit, if you like—so evident that the Chinese have a word for it: chi. And I know that in sick pets, the chi is dulled. Does the chi diminish or get blocked first, allowing disease to take hold? Or is it the other way around, as conventional medicine would have us believe? I happen to think that often the chi dims first. My sense, moreover, is that a pet is intuitively aware of the ebbing of that force, and understands that the illness which follows is a natural consequence. That, to me, is definitely spiritual.
I can suggest that a pet’s illness starts with his spirit, you can agree or disagree, and there we are, with nothing more to say. The longer talk we can have is about what might best be called spiritual interdependence. I think that a pet and his owner both have spirits, that those spirits interact, and that the interaction affects the mental and physical well-being of both. For that, I can give you all the anecdotal evidence you’d ever want to hear. The stories are interesting in themselves; they also make a practical point. Open yourself to the possibility of a spiritual realm in your relationship with your pet, be aware of what its effects might be, and your pet’s physical health may be improved. As, indeed, may be your own.
Let’s start with the obvious. Is there anyone who hasn’t observed the startling physical resemblance between some pets and their owners and wondered what’s behind it? One of the first examples I remember was a lady who bred boxers and looked exactly like a boxer herself. Same jowly look to her face, same masculine manner; she even had a rough voice like a boxer’s bark. I’ve seen men who look like their cocker spaniels, women who look like their Afghans (even a man and wife who both looked like their Afghan); I knew someone once who not only looked like his standard poodle but had the same black curly hair, cut the same way as his dog’s.
As most of us would confirm from personal experience, the resemblance between pets and their owners is usually not just physical. Whether the individuals are high-strung or laid-back, playful or glum, the affinities of temperament and character are often remarkably clear. You can say that owners are drawn, subconsciously or not, to pets who mirror themselves. Or you can wonder, as I do, if pets choose us more than we choose them—and in so doing, take that first little tentative step toward the spiritual.
If you’ve never gone to an animal shelter to choose your next pet, you may not appreciate what I mean. If you have, do you remember how you felt as you walked past cage after cage of needy dogs or cats? Probably every one of those caged animals tugged at your heart. Yet when you reached a certain cage that held a certain pet, something deeper was stirred. Was it just a greater degree of desire, like settling on a shirt at the Gap, or one of Baskin-Robbins’s thirty-one flavors of ice cream? Or did the pet that would become your own recognize you as a kindred soul, and look at you in a way that made you realize you needed each other?
From my first days in practice, I noticed that this affinity often reached a deeper level between pets and owners who had become part of each other’s lives. It affected their health. An overweight woman who had a crippled right leg and used a cane came into my clinic, accompanied by an overweight dog who had a severe limp in her right hind leg. The heavyset, potbellied man who looked like an ex-wrestler came in with his equally heavyset, muscular, and aggressive bulldog. The visibly nervous woman in her forties clutched a visibly anxious tiny poodle.
It began to dawn on me that a pet’s internal conditon might duplicate his owner’s, and vice versa. A beagle was brought to me with an arrhythmic heartbeat that defied easy diagnosis. Concerned, I sent the dog over to a major animal hospital to be examined by a cardiologist, who concluded that the beagle was suffering from some newly reported heart condition I’d never heard of, and prescribed three different medications. When the dog was sent back to me, I had the owner come in and ticked off the cardiologist’s recommendations. “That’s odd,” the owner said. “My wife and I are on the same medication. Not only that—my daughter is, too.” The beagle, it turned out, had lived problem-free with the owner’s brother a year before. Only when the beagle had been placed in his new home had the symptoms of his heart condition begun to appear.
At first, I assumed this was coincidence. But as I spent more time in practice, coincidences no less striking appeared. I’d just begun practicing acupuncture, and was still one of the few veterinarians to do so, when a dog was referred to me with neck pain that medication seemed unable to ease. She responded very well to an initial acupuncture session, and I heard nothing more for months. Then the pain returned, so the owner brought her dog back in. On a hunch, I asked the owner if she’d been having any neck problems herself. “As a matter of fact, I have,” she said. “Why do you ask?” I figured that practicing acupuncture made me seem eccentric enough, so I responded with some noncommittal comment about relationships between owners and pets, and started my physical examination of the dog’s back, manipulating each of his vertebrae from the top down. When I reached her lower back, the dog jumped back in pain.
“Oh, I know what you’re going to say,” the owner told me. “You’re going to ask if I have lower-back problems, too. Well—I don’t.”
I continued my exam.
“Wait a minute,” the owner said. “My husband has chronic lower-back problems, and his back went out yesterday. Which is when the dog’s back went out….”
The owner was, in fact, a nurse, and more open to the implications of what I’d taken to calling “resonance” than another owner might have been. Curious, we rigged our own little experiment. Instead of working on the dog’s neck, which was the source of the chronic pain that no therapy but acupuncture had helped, I massaged acupuncture points on the owner’s neck. She felt instant relief. The next day, she called to say the dog’s neck was fine. Two days later, when her husband’s chronic lower-back pain eased in response to his medication, so did the dog’s.
I came across an odd little book at that time which made my suspicions seem more credible. Your Pet Isn’t Sick—He Just Wants You to Think So was written by Herb Tanzer, an extraordinary veterinarian who, as it happened, had been my brother’s first employer. Tanzer made the case that there is a tremendous subconscious interplay between owners and their pets which often manifests itself in disease. I also became aware of Kirilian, or infrared, photography. Take an infrared picture of a person and you’ll see an energy field surrounding the body. This isn’t mysticism, it’s science. The energy field, also called the aura, is communicated on a wavelength we can’t see with the naked eye. Yet it’s clear in infrared photographs, and when two human beings are photographed by this special camera in close proximity to each other, we can see that their energy fields overlap. As do those of a person and his pet. The fact that our five senses are too limited for us to perceive auras makes them no less real than the high-pitched sounds that animals, but not humans, can hear. Similarly, electromagnetic waves are passing through us right now from our computer monitors, our television sets, and our overhead utility wires; we just can’t perceive them. In fact, our bodies are being bombarded by signals right now that you can’t hear or see, signals you remain oblivious to until you turn on the radio that can convert and broadcast them.
We know that couples who live together for many years often develop sympathetic symptoms, as do female college students who after several months of rooming together find that their menstrual cycles are aligned. How less likely is it that pets, whose whole worlds are defined by their owners, should acquire sympathetic symptoms as their energy fields overlap with those of their owners? After all, they can hear sounds we can’t hear, smell scents we can’t smell, and sense fear or danger to a degree we can’t begin to understand. Why not absorb an emanation of illness and then express its symptoms, perhaps out of empathy, perhaps as a way to help the owner by holding a mirror up to his own condition, perhaps just as an instinctual adjustment to the new relationship between the owner’s physical being and the surrounding environment?
I came upon another astounding example of this phenomenon when treating the dogs of a woman named Gabe, who owned a farm with many different animals. One day I began a routine neutering procedure on an eighteen-month-old black Labrador that Gabe had adopted. As I castrated the dog, some uncharacteristically dark blood appeared around the testicles. Because that part of the scrotum is actually connected to the abdominal cavity, I wondered if something might be wrong in that area. A needle inserted into the belly yielded pure blood, indicating internal bleeding. When Gabe gave me permission to perform an exploratory surgery, I discovered a ruptured spleen. Gabe thought one of her horses might have kicked the dog earlier that morning. That sounded plausible to me, too.
A while later, strangely enough, another of Gabe’s dogs, a German shepherd, collapsed, and was so deathly pale by the time he reached the clinic that I suspected internal bleeding. He too, as it turned out, had a ruptured spleen, this time secondary to a tumor. A few months after that, Gabe’s short-haired pointer also ruptured his spleen. Oddly enough, just at that time Gabe asked me to recommend a holistic doctor she could see for her own health. When he examined her, he found that she, too, had an enlarged spleen.
What could possibly cause four spleen problems within one family? Gabe was sure the drinking water was to blame. I told her to get it tested, but I had my doubts, since the houses in her immediate area were on the same line from the same aquifer. Sure enough, none of the neighbors had enlarged or ruptured spleens. To this day, no medical explanation fits the facts. But I sure would have liked to have taken an infrared photo of Gabe and her dogs in their home to see how their energy fields interrelated.
The pet who made me realize just how far-reaching these relationships can be was a cat named Sneezely May. Sneezely was brought to me some months after she’d been hit by a car. Her hip had healed in an awkward manner, with a bone pushed into the pelvic canal, so that she couldn’t defecate easily and had to be put on a daily regimen of stool softeners. Sneezely was an outdoor cat, or at least fancied that she still was, and sometimes managed to escape for a couple of days into the neighboring woods. When she returned, we’d have to tranquilize her and manually remove the stool that had accumulated, then give her an enema. It wasn’t a terribly pleasant procedure, but we all got used to it, and otherwise Sneezely appeared fine.
One day Mrs. Sneezely, as we called her owner, came into the clinic because Sneezely’s two-year prescription for stool softeners had run out. I examined Sneezely, then wrote a new prescription and handed it over to Mrs. Sneezely. “Hey, isn’t this funny,” she said. She took out another prescription from her pocket. It was for the exact same medication—to be given to Mrs. Sneezely’s mother.
“Wow!” I said. “How come we never thought of that?”
“Because my mother lives in England,” said Mrs. Sneezely. “She just happens to be visiting now.”
“Where was she when this happened to the cat?”
Mrs. Sneezely paused. “That was the last time she visited us. Several years ago. I know that for sure because it was my mother who found Sneezely by the side of the road after she’d been hit by the car.” Believe it or not, Mrs. Sneezely’s mom turned out to have also had a car accident injury that fractured her hip.
That’s what I call acute physical resonance. Less dramatic, but no less real, is chronic resonance. Its manifestations are physical, but more subtly so, over a longer period of time. More often than not, in these cases the causes are emotional.
A classic example was my own dog Daniel, a red-haired golden retriever who liked to shamble into neighboring villages and properties, making friends wherever he went. One day he met a woman named Cathy Soukup, who was sitting on the hill behind her house, watching some local children play. The two got along so well that Daniel began sleeping over at Cathy’s house on a regular basis, which pleased Cathy enormously, and pleased me, too. (That first day, Cathy called the phone number on Daniel’s dog tags, which was the Smith Ridge clinic, and we had the first of many chats without actually meeting.) Soon enough, the clinic staff began referring to Cathy as Daniel’s mom. For Cathy, Daniel became more than a dog companion. He seemed to understand exactly what she was feeling—more than she did herself.
“I was in a very destructive relationship,” Cathy wrote later in a tribute to Daniel. “And of course I didn’t want to see it, feel it, or know it. When it came time for the relationship to come to an end it took three years to do it. Daniel stayed close beside me through it all, watching me cry, scream, get drunk, get sick, and fight, to keep this relationship. During this time Daniel got so sick he couldn’t get up. He acted as though he had aged one hundred years. It was as if all the life had been sucked out of him. I called Marty the first time it happened. He did the normal things: blood analysis, supplements, fasting—and Daniel improved. Then I’d get sucked back into that relationship and Daniel once again would sink into this lethargic state. Finally Marty said, ‘I’m taking Daniel back until he gets well.’ It took several months before Daniel was well enough to return to me. When he did, I realized he was mirroring my pain and agony, and manifesting it in a physical form to show me that continuing the relationship was life-threatening. Daniel’s sacrifice actually helped me to walk away from that relationship—an incredibly generous gift of unconditional love.”
I’m sure that pets I had earlier in my life demonstrated similar shows of chronic resonance. But the first one who made me aware of such “mirroring” was my Siamese cat Scrimshaw in the mid-1980s.
That was my frantic period, of too much work and too little pay and stress that wouldn’t quit. At four years old, Scrimshaw developed the heart condition known as cardiomyopathy, the chief symptom of which was congestive coughing. I was often congested myself at the time. When Scrimshaw’s coughing worsened, I would stay home more often to tend to her; when I did that, my own congestion would improve, too. I was too busy to think much about it. In fact, I was at the end of a two-year stretch in which I’d taken only four days off (including weekends). Finally, even I realized I needed a vacation.
By the time I was scheduled to leave, Scrimshaw’s condition had worsened. So had mine, though I tried not to notice it. Indeed, both of us were in such bad shape that I worried that Scrimshaw might not be alive in two weeks when I returned. Yet I was so run-down myself that I felt I had to get away for my own survival. Guiltily, I found a friend to cat-sit for me and headed off to Jamaica.
The first question I asked my friend when I returned was: Is Scrimshaw alive? My friend looked at me strangely. “Of course,” she said. “She did really well.” Scrimshaw appeared from around the corner, purring contentedly, her congestive coughing gone. My cat-sitter hadn’t heard her cough once.
Coincidence? Perhaps. But to me, the lesson was clear. Scrimshaw had mirrored me. I’d thought I was caring for her because she was in bad shape; in fact, I was caring for myself. And as my own condition improved, so did Scrimshaw’s. My absence had helped, too. By removing my run-down energy from the house, I was allowing Scrimshaw to heal in a healthier environment. One can read more into this than may be the case: I have no idea if Scrimshaw got sick in order to force me to take care of myself. But I did see then, and have seen in other cases since, that when you care for an ill pet, you’re sometimes led to take better care of yourself, too.
Maybe because I see so many patients with cancer, the incidence of corresponding cancer in their owners’ families or environment seems that much higher. Perhaps if most of the pets I treated had cardiomyopathy, I’d hear of more owners with heart disease or corresponding symptoms. But everything I know about cancer makes me think that it too easily serves as the perfect example of the phenomenon of resonance.
Let me be very clear about this: neither people nor pets “catch” cancer from each other. As discussed in Chapter Eight, most cancers have genetic origins, to which environmental factors and general health contribute. If pets do have the ability to mirror their owners’ medical conditions, however, then a dog or cat with a genetic predisposition to cancer might have a greater chance of developing it by living in close contact with an owner who has cancer than with an owner who’s in excellent health. Call it fantasy if you like, but I’ve treated many, many pets whose owners turn out to have some form of cancer in their family. To be sure, I’ve treated many more whose owners don’t have cancer, so the fact that your dog develops a mammary tumor shouldn’t be taken as a sign to rush out for a breast exam. These are just indications worth considering, given that resonance between pet and owner with cancer seems to occur. Anyway, why not get a breast exam?*
Skeptics may feel free to disregard the above. But even they must acknowledge that in the treatment of cancer, a patient’s attitude is fundamental to his prognosis. What I’ve found is that with cancer in a pet, the owner’s attitude is fundamental. To me, the ramifications of that are definitely spiritual.
By the time I see a pet with cancer, the owner has likely heard the diagnosis from his own veterinarian and had days, perhaps weeks, to ponder the news. Chances are he’s become frantic, depressed, or just plain pessimistic. If the pet has gone through a regimen of chemotherapy or radiation which hasn’t eradicated the cancer, the owner is likely to be all the gloomier. How can a pet whose life is devoted to pleasing his master be unaware of this attitude? Of course he feels it, and interprets it in the only way he can: as rejection. And when nothing he can do seems able to make his master happy again, how does he react? By growing depressed! Maybe not outwardly, but inwardly. Which, especially after the assault to his immune system from chemo or radiation, diminishes his will—and his ability—to survive.
That’s why, during a cancer patient’s first visit, even before I take a blood sample to have it sent out for analysis, I deal with the owner, too. I show him albums of before-and-after pictures of terminally ill dogs and cats we’ve saved with Immuno-Augmentative Therapy and other holistic measures. I tell him the stories I’ve told in this book. I make him understand that the word “cancer” is not a death sentence, that patients do get well. That there is, in a word, hope. And always, I read aloud this quote from Emmanuel’s Book: “If we could launder the word ‘cancer,’ hang it out in the sun to dry and bring it in bleached white and beautiful, I promise you that there would be less cancer and less death from it. Souls would choose other ways. The issue of cancer is the issue of fear—cancer brings a message of fear—that is so prevalent in all your world. And so the illness must be dealt with squarely as fear. Once cancer is cured there will be something else. People have to deal with fear because it is one of the greatest denials of the reality of God.” I can’t tell you how often clients have called the next day to obtain initial blood results only to tell me, before treatment has even begun, that their pet seems a little better. The owner’s new optimism has lifted the pet’s spirits, with real, physical results.
A first-time client named Debbie Ewing provided a perfect example of this one Saturday morning, when she arrived at the clinic with a cat diagnosed as having terminal leukemia. As I examined the cat, Debbie launched into an anguished speech about all the New Age measures she’d taken to try to save him. It was everything I’d ever learned in the holistic field. Homeopathy, diets, crystals. Even pyramids: one of her measures involved pointing the cat under a prismatic pyramid at a certain hour, facing a certain direction. Suddenly she broke down in tears. “I don’t understand!” she said. “This is the third cat I’ve owned, and it’s the third cat that’s dying of cancer.”
“Whoa,” I said. “I want you to understand something. Every time you have a cat, it dies of cancer. Think about it.”
“What are you saying?” she said. “That I’m to blame?”
“Forget about whatever caused the deaths,” I said. “Forget about blame. Just consider that there’s a pattern, and that now we have an opportunity to break it.”
By then, I’d come to see that there are three steps involved in addressing any problem: to identify it, to accept it, and then to handle it. The steps work in conjunction with each other, and in that particular sequence. Ignore any one of them, or follow them out of order, and the problem persists. Try to handle a problem before identifying it—you won’t be able to. So often, owners come to Smith Ridge obsessed with getting their animals better right away. “What can we do to get him well today?” They want a quick fix without even knowing what’s wrong. A quick fix may alleviate symptoms, but it won’t address the underlying problem. What’s really wrong with their pet? With Debbie, the problem wasn’t that this cat was dying of leukemia. It was that one after another of her cats was getting cancer.
The second step is probably the most difficult to follow. You have to accept the condition as it is—its severity, and the reality it has in your pet’s life and your own—in order not to be at the mercy of it. This was the step that Debbie had stumbled on. Rather than accept the fact that her cats had cancer, after considering why they might have gotten sick in the first place, she obsessed about how to make the problem go away. As soon as most owners hear that their pets have cancer, they assume the worst and become driven by the disease. In this way, they surrender control, and the disease almost inevitably wins. When they can see their pet’s condition exactly as it is—when, that is, they can accept it—they can take charge. Which means going to the next step.
Once the first two steps have been surmounted, the third is easier to climb. The need here is simply to gather knowledge, learn all that one can about how to address the condition, and then apply that knowledge in working toward a cure.
Within a day of his visit to Smith Ridge, Debbie’s cat died. The leukemia had been too advanced to be treated by any measures. I told Debbie that until she could identify the pattern in her own life that seemed to create such similar tragedies and fully accept it, she shouldn’t get another cat.
Debbie began calling me regularly, as if I were her therapist, asking questions I couldn’t answer. “Could it be the diet?” “Something about my rugs?” “Am I really a bad person deep down?” Then one day I got a different kind of call.
“I think I got it,” Debbie said. For the first time in months, she seemed calm.
“I was walking down the street and I passed this pet store, and there were these kittens in a cage,” she said. “They looked at me, and I saw my entire life flash in front of me. I saw the anxieties and fears and all the baggage I’d been carrying with me, but then I had an epiphany. Life, even with all the baggage, seemed okay. Suddenly, it all just lifted off my shoulders. I looked at those cats, and named them, and saw them as healthy—as staying healthy, in my care.”
Sixteen years later, we are working long-distance on one of the cats she chose from that pet store. He’s been healthy all that time. Now he has cancer, most likely from a rabies vaccine. I’ve treated it successfully for three years—a fibrosarcoma that kills most cats in a few months—and I’m convinced that part of what’s pulling him through is his owner’s positive attitude. You can’t put into a medical textbook what Debbie felt, either before or after her revelation at the pet store. I see it as a shift in her energy, which in turn must affect the energy of her cat. Whatever it is, it seems to have helped keep Debbie from doing something that may have nudged cancerous cells into replicating in her cats. And if her change in attitude, after three dead cats, is merely coincidental with her next cats’ long and healthy life spans, why not believe?
Almost every day in my practice, I see owners who’ve come to depend on their pets not merely for company but for an essential, life-affirming connection. Older owners who live alone and, for whatever reason, seem to have no friends or relatives. Younger owners who have emotional difficulty communicating with other people and practice, in effect, with a family dog or cat. Owners who have an illness and draw sustaining comfort from an affectionate pet. These last, in my experience, provide the most dramatic examples. I could give you dozens; I’ll settle for one.
My acquaintance with a client named Jessica began with a frantic Saturday phone call from Trenton, New Jersey. Jessica’s little dog Sally, a tan-and-white terrier, had been diagnosed with an aggressive cancer called neurofibroma on one of her legs. Veterinarians at the University of Pennsylvania had removed it, but after just weeks it had grown back. Now the veterinarians wanted to amputate Sally’s diseased leg and put her on chemotherapy. I told Jessica that with a tumor this aggressive, she should bring Sally to my office Monday morning.
“I can’t do that,” Jessica told me.
“Because I’m admitting myself to a mental hospital tomorrow.”
Great, I thought. And we’re worried about the dog?
“Even if I did,” she said, “I have a phobia about driving over bridges, and there are at least two bridges between me and where you are.”
For twenty minutes, I stayed on the phone with her, trying to reason out a solution while my schedule backed up. Finally I said, “Look, you just have to be here Monday if you want to save your dog. And that’s that.”
Monday morning at about 11:00 a.m., I was in my examining room and called for the next patient. A very spooked-looking woman entered with her little dog. Beside the woman was a young, jovial-looking guy who seemed completely incongruous. It took me a minute to connect this woman with the one who’d called two days before.
“Congratulations on not admitting yourself to the hospital,” I said. “How’d you get over those bridges?”
“Ralph, my neighbor, drove me,” Jessica said, indicating her sidekick.
I examined Sally and then showed Jessica my photo album of before-and-after cancer cases. She barely looked up at them, and not once did she look up at me. “It’s not going to work on my dog,” she said more than once. “I don’t even want to look at those pictures because I’ll just get depressed knowing my dog couldn’t be saved.”
If Jessica was unreachable, though, Ralph was beaming as he looked at the pictures. He really got it. As for Sally, I realized that this little twenty-two-pound bundle, despite her cancer, was delighted, too—by the pictures, or just by the sheer fun of taking a trip, who knew. For some reason, seeing how happy that dog was made me a bit slaphappy, too. Still unable to get through to Jessica, I tried a new tactic. “Do you realize that if it wasn’t for your dog’s cancer, you’d be in a nuthouse now?”
Jessica suddenly looked up. “What?”
“So maybe there’s a reason Sally has cancer.” I was really winging it here, just looking for any reaction.
“Wait a minute,” Jessica said. “I never thought about that.”
“So do you think that maybe this dog grew this tumor to save your life?” I said. “Because without this tumor, you’d be on drugs now. Hell, you’d probably be having electroshock therapy.”
“Wow,” said Jessica. “I never thought of that. Show me those pictures again!”
As soon as Sally’s blood samples were analyzed, we started IAT long-distance, sending Jessica the appropriate dosages and having her inject Sally herself. Jessica reported that the tumor was diminishing. Then she told me it was gone. Uncertain about her judgment, I arranged to speak with her local veterinarian. He confirmed the absence of the tumor. I never saw Sally again, because Ralph moved to Cincinnati and Jessica still had her phobia about bridges, so she couldn’t get up to the clinic. After several years, Sally came off IAT and I lost contact with her—until a new client told me that she had been referred by Jessica, who sent her regards. From home, not a mental hospital. I assumed Sally was dead by now, and refrained from asking about her, but the client volunteered that Sally was doing fine.
Six years later, a dog whose leg would have been amputated and whose life expectancy even after surgery was said to be a year at best, was healthy and cancer-free—at about twelve years old. And Jessica, whose own lease on life had been nearly as tenuous, sent her regards.
Had Sally kept Jessica from entering a mental hospital? Had she saved her life? At the least, some very real emotional bond had enabled pet and owner to help each other profoundly.
One incident involved a shih tzu named Barney, who belonged to two of my now-dearest friends, Suzen Ellis and her husband, Bob. Barney had a melanoma in his mouth, which I’d removed with cryo-surgery. Unfortunately, it had grown back, and after a lot more therapy we began to fear that Barney might die. Suzen, who had always been open to New Age ideas, took it upon herself to contact an animal communicator, and to tape the conversation. I listened to the reading later and found much of it vague. Toward the end, though, came a message that was specific—and baffling. “He’s really upset,” he said, “because you took his view away.”
Suzen was mystified until the next morning, when she turned in her bed to look out a window that extended from the floor nearly to the ceiling. There, at floor level, was the large air conditioner that had just been installed for summer. Barney’s bed was right by that window, overlooking Suzen’s beautiful wooded landscape. There was no way the communicator could have known that.
A second occasion was more personal. In the early 1990s, I was married to a woman named Quenya, who loves dogs as much as I do. One day, while we were still engaged, I went out to Port Jefferson, Long Island, to conduct one of the all-day seminars that I’d begun to give on my holistic therapies, and Quenya came along. The seminar’s sponsor was a woman who bred papillons, the Thumbelinas of dogs. With her was an eight-week-old puppy, all of one pound. Quenya fell in love with him immediately. “We have to have him,” she declared.
Unfortunately, the papillon cost $800, and for me at that time, finances were tight: I was counting on the $900 I would get from the seminar to pay for a number of upcoming wedding expenses. Moreover, Quenya already had a dog named Kico who was in the final stages of old age, and getting a new dog now seemed disloyal. Enduring Quenya’s hurt and resentment, I said no. Some days later, the breeder called Quenya, who then gave me the good news: the papillon was to be given to us as an engagement present, so impressed was the breeder by my seminar. (The breeder had merely given Quenya a modest discount. But I didn’t learn that until later.) And so Alexander, as Quenya named him, joined our growing menagerie.
Not long afterward, Kico’s condition declined and Quenya contacted an animal communicator to see if she could understand better what he was going through. A lot of the comments were along the lines of “Well, he’s tired, but he wants to fight….” Then Quenya asked about Alexander. “He was one of your dogs in a past life,” the communicator declared. Quenya then identified this dog as a dog named Julie she had when she lived in Colombia. “By the way,” the communicator said of Alexander. “He wants you to know he was really upset when you left him behind the first time.”
This communicator lived way up north, near Syracuse. She knew no one we knew, so how did she know that?
A word of warning, though, on using animal communicators. A client whose pets I’d treated before came into the clinic with a dog who seemed to have some serious respiratory problem. I was leaning, reluctantly, toward taking an X ray when the client announced that before I did so, she would contact a world-famous communicator who had experience with animals. The communicator did her thing long-distance, channeling a sense of the dog’s condition by phone, and then reported her findings to me. A lot of what she said sounded plausible, and when she suggested that the dog’s lungs were cancer-free, I put off the X ray. When the dog failed after weeks to improve on nutritional supplements, I finally heeded my instincts: X rays showed that the dog was riddled with lung cancer.
That was the first and last time I’ve let an animal communicator affect my medical judgment to any degree. I will second a client’s decision to seek one out, simply because the communicator’s report may make the owner feel better and even shed some light on the overall situation. And I do keep an open mind. But I proceed with caution when channeling and veterinary medicine are combined.
That said, I’ve come to believe more and more strongly that pets and their owners do communicate in a nonphysical way, one that’s not just emotional but spiritual. The concept as I sense it defies easy definition—that’s part of what makes it spiritual!—but I can say one thing about it. As far as I’m concerned, a basic principle of holistic veterinary practice is that there are no coincidences.
I was reminded of that just last week when my friend Andrea Eastman, a Smith Ridge client of long standing, called to report that Oliver, her fourteen-and-a-half-year-old black-and-white mixed-breed dog, was having worsening eye problems. Another holistic veterinarian had prescribed some natural products that elicited no response. He then referred Andrea and Oliver to a board-certified ophthalmologist, who examined the dog and decided that surgery was necessary to save the troubled eye. Just to get another opinion, Andrea asked me to talk to the ophthalmologist, so I did. He seemed to have weighed the options with due care, so I agreed with his decision that Oliver needed surgery. Before I rang off, I also agreed to help him by stopping by Andrea’s house to take a presurgical blood sample, and to make sure Oliver could withstand surgery.
In my office at the end of the day, I gathered the tools I would need to take the blood sample and happened to notice a bottle of Cosequin, the natural supplement discussed in Chapter Seven for the treatment of arthritis and other joint problems, sitting unexpectedly in the middle of my examining-room counter. “What’s that doing there?” I mused. Suddenly I remembered having seen an article, many months before, on the topical use of an injectable substance similar to Cosequin—known as Adequan—in the treatment of corneal ulcers. Why not give it a try?
I made up a solution of Adequan with sterile water and added it to my doctor’s kit. When I got to Andrea’s house, I administered a couple of drops to Oliver and took the blood sample. An hour later, she called me amazed. “What did you do?” she said. Oliver’s eye was already better.
We canceled the surgery and kept on with the Adequan. Within three weeks, Oliver’s eye was completely healed.
So was it a coincidence that that bottle of Cosequin happened to be on my desk, and that I happened to notice it, and that I happened to remember an article about the topical use of Adequan for corneal ulcers?
I don’t think so.
Now consider an even more mind-bending thought: What if Oliver somehow communicated to me a plea not to undergo invasive surgery? What if that helped nudge me to think of the Cosequin? If that seems bizarre, consider Carlyn’s story.
Carlyn Clayton, whom I mentioned in Chapter Two as having had a cat die of FIP, later suffered the loss of her dog Blackjack from mast cell cancer. Before Blackjack died, she asked him to come back to her in another dog’s body, and to let her know when he did. Months later, Carlyn found herself walking past West 71st Street in Manhattan, near where she lives, en route to her dentist. A strong image came into her mind as she did—the image of a black bear cub. She went on to the dentist. Two hours later, as she was returning home, she envisioned the bear cub again, just as she was crossing 71st Street. She turned up the street, not quite knowing why she did, and found herself drawn toward her local pet store. In fact, she had bought all her supplies at the store just two days earlier.
“What are you doing back here?” the proprietor said with a smile.
In a cage behind him was a black puppy with fluffy hair.
“What’s the story on that dog?” Carlyn asked. The puppy looked exactly like Blackjack.
“Oh, I sold him a while ago, but he got sick, so his owner returned him to me,” the proprietor said. “He does seem very sick; he hasn’t moved since he came back. I’m afraid we may have to put him to sleep.”
Carlyn peered in at the inert dog. “Blackjack,” she whispered.
The dog sat up.
“Hey,” said the proprietor. “What did you do?”
“You’d never understand,” Carlyn said, “but I’m taking him home.”
As soon as the new puppy entered her apartment, he seemed to know its every corner as well as Blackjack had. He sought out Blackjack’s special places; he curled up with Carlyn in just the same way. As far as Carlyn is concerned, he is Blackjack.
Far-fetched as it sounds, I do suspect that dogs and cats—and perhaps all animals—have powers of consciousness that we don’t understand. And that along with those powers, they may be able to communicate on levels we can’t perceive. After all, if dogs can hear high-pitched sounds that entirely elude us, who’s to say they can’t transmit sounds or signals outside our conscious range of perception, either? Consider this notion from the naturalist Henry Beston, which appeared in his book The Outer Most House in 1928:
We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals…. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.
There’s one other phenomenon that I think of as spiritual, because it occurs among some pets with no explanation except, possibly, that their spirits have prevailed.
With every serious case, I do what I can to instill hope in a patient’s owner. Holistic medicine is nothing if not a therapy of hope: until an animal actually dies, there’s hope of recovery from even the direst condition, because when you allow for miracles by persisting with the right natural supplements, sometimes they occur. Keep up hope, I tell those owners, for hope breeds perseverance, and perseverance, I’m convinced, is often the element that makes the difference in desperate cases. Yet privately, even I perceive some cases as hopeless, and send a sick pet home expecting to see no improvement, or to hear, soon enough, that he’s died. And then, once in a while, the unimaginable occurs.
So it was with Annie, a bichon frise already paralyzed by the time I saw her. When you have a dog with a severe spinal problem, you have to decide whether to try acupuncture first or to send her right in for surgery. As a determining test, you stick a needle in the tip of the dog’s tail. If you get a detectable movement from the tail, that’s enough to make acupuncture the right first treatment. If you don’t, into surgery she goes. With Annie, there was no tail movement. “Get her over to Dr. DeAngelis,” I told the owner.
Martin DeAngelis, the well-known board-certified surgeon who’s referred at least as many cases to me as I have to him over the years, started by doing a myelogram: injecting a radiographic dye into the spinal canal to see which of Annie’s spinal discs was causing the paralysis. He injected the dye from both directions, yet the dye streams failed to meet; in between there was a space large enough to indicate that she had two ruptured discs, a very uncommon condition.
Still, Dr. DeAngelis went in surgically, actually removing the part of the backbone over each ruptured disc, then sewing the muscles back over them. After such operations, you hope for obvious signs of improvement within three weeks. With Annie, some feeling did return—but no movement, despite follow-up acupuncture treatments at Smith Ridge. Unfortunately, we told her owner, Annie would be paralyzed for life.
Over a year later, I got a call from the owner. “Annie’s started walking,” she said. “Right,” I said. “No—she is!” the owner protested. “I don’t believe it,” I said. I felt sure she was mistaking a reflex reaction for conscious movement. “Bring her in.”
In came Annie, walking slowly, but on all fours. I called Dr. DeAngelis and reminded him of the case. He laughed. “Do you know why she did that?” he asked.
“Why?” I said. I expected some complex medical analysis.
“To show you it could be done!”
“Far-out!” I said. Here was a distinguished veterinary surgeon celebrating the unexplainable. Acknowledging the spiritual. Suddenly, as a holistic veterinarian, I didn’t feel so alone anymore.
As remarkable, in its own way, was the story of Shiki, a sixteen-year-old white poodle diagnosed as having terminal cancer of several internal organs and declared a hopeless case by the Animal Medical Center. Shiki belonged to a writer named Pat Lazarus, who was no stranger to holistic practices, having interviewed a number of holistic veterinarians, including my brother and me, for a book called Keep Your Pet Healthy the Natural Way. The following account is in her words, and begins with the first call she and her husband Joe made to Smith Ridge about Shiki.
Dr. Goldstein had, oddly (or so we thought at the time), urged us not to take Shiki immediately to him, but to “keep her at home with you for two days. The first thing we need to do is let her recover from the stress of separation and all the fright she’s felt being in a hospital. Give her a few days to feel all comfy and safe with you again.”
When we saw her crumpled there on the hospital floor, we felt that Dr. Goldstein was wrong. Shiki wouldn’t last another two days without any medical care at all. Then again, the only medical care the center offered was to put her to sleep. We carried her down to the street and propped her up on the ground while we waited for the car service to take us home. (She couldn’t bend her legs to lift forward as animals do, you see. If you didn’t hold her up, she toppled onto her side, which distressed her so much.) Joe and I took turns kneeling beside her and holding her upright. Then I decided to test Dr. Goldstein’s idea that “once Shiki feels she’s going to be safely back home with you, you’ll see improvement.” Gingerly, I took one of my hands off her body. If she was going to topple, as I was sure she would, my other hand could still keep her basically upright.
Eventually Joe said, “Let me know when you get tired holding her up. The last thing we need right now is for her to fall over and hurt herself.”
“Joe,” I said, “she’s been standing on her own for ten minutes.”
Shiki did indeed improve further in the two days of Dr. Goldstein’s prescribed “cozy time” with us at home. In those two days, he received all the Animal Medical Center’s tests and records…. Using his training as an animal chiropractor, Dr. Goldstein found a point on Shiki’s spine “that’s really out of whack,” he said…. [He] slightly twisted Shiki’s neck in a way that looked as if he’d just gently nudged her to look to her left. Then he lifted her off the examining table and put her down on the floor. “Who’s her favorite parent?” Joe was, as much as I hated admitting it. “Okay, Joe. Hold your hand up high in the air, and let’s see if she’ll try to get to it.”
Shiki stood up on her hind legs grasping toward Joe’s fingers. When she realized the fingers were too high, she made a straight-up leap in the air. Shiki wasn’t going toward food, because Joe had none. She wasn’t even repeating a trick she had been taught. She just saw her person obviously wanting her to do something, for some strange reason, and—since she was now physically able to do it—she did it.
Shiki’s recovery wasn’t quick or without cost. It was several weeks before she was back to her old spunky, bullheaded self. And the therapy was more complex than holistic therapy often is: it involved a rigidly controlled diet, several vitamin and mineral supplements, enzyme tablets, and two homeopathic remedies. But the cost of all this was about the same as it would have cost us to bury her.
Even Shiki’s case pales next to that of Snoopy, whose story is so remarkable that he’s become the poster boy for my affiliated foundation, Alternative Solutions to Animal Health, Inc., and a testament, more broadly, to the therapy of hope that holistic medicine is.
In 1994, Snoopy was an eleven-year-old terrier mix who one day fell down the stairs of his house. At first, he seemed fine, and his owners, a lovely couple, thought he was merely being clumsy. Soon, however, he began walking with difficulty. As his condition worsened, his owners took him to their local veterinarian, who referred them to a board-certified neurologist. The diagnosis: a tumor of the spinal cord in the neck region which was, the neurologist said, cancerous and inoperable. There was nothing to be done.
In despair, the owners came to Smith Ridge. Initial blood tests indicated cancerous activity in Snoopy’s immune system, which aligned with the neurologist’s diagnosis. So we started him on IAT, as well as supplements based on a nutritional analysis. Then—perhaps this was in bad taste—I asked the owners to videotape him over time as we treated him. Most likely the owners would end up with a videotape that simply showed the sad, irreversible decline of their beloved dog—hardly a tape they’d want to keep. But we had seen so many cases of “inoperable” tumors which we hadn’t documented, and experienced such success with them on IAT, that it seemed a shame not to have a visual record of the treatment. If Snoopy did improve, what a testament that videotape would be.
Month after month, we treated a dog who remained paralyzed in all four legs. To transport him, Snoopy’s owners took one of those firewood carriers made of canvas and cut four holes in it, one for each of his legs. When he wasn’t being carried that way, Snoopy would be wheeled in a baby crib. Or just hung in the firewood carrier from a low branch of a tree in the yard. In this period, his weight dropped from twenty-five to fourteen pounds. In his neighborhood, he acquired a nickname: “Road Kill.” And yet, as unlikely as it seemed, Snoopy remained one of the happiest little dogs I’d ever worked on. His mood was just always up—due in large part, I realized, to his owners’ determination to be optimistic. And at least he could wag the tip of his tail, so I knew that his nerve system wasn’t completely shot; somehow, a neural message was traveling from his brain to his tail.
After about six months of IAT treatment, blood tests showed that Snoopy’s immune system had improved. Indeed, it seemed so healthy that we stopped the IAT program. He did remain paralyzed. At that point, I put him on intravenous vitamin C for three days. At the same time, I administered intravenous ozone. I’d just begun to work with ozone, and I’d read reports that it could be effective with canine paralysis.
Within a couple of weeks, Snoopy experienced a little movement in all four legs. Encouraged, his owners tried to make him walk by propping him up, then letting him stand free—letting the video camera run as they did. Every time, he just plopped down like a rag doll. Then came the unbelievable moment. An in-law pulled into the driveway; Snoopy, propped up, turned to see who had arrived; and then, on four shaky legs, he walked over to the visitor’s car to see for himself.
Almost seventeen years old, Snoopy now walks normally. All evidence of the cancerous tumor is gone. He is, incredibly, a healthy dog. And happily for Smith Ridge, his remarkable odyssey, from paralysis to full recovery, including his first miraculous walk, was captured on videotape. That makes him a poster boy of a very different sort from those that sadly represent the fight against muscular dystrophy and other dread diseases. The poster need not illustrate a campaign in search of a cure.
It illustrates that the cure is here.