Health December 8, 2008

Holistic Healthcare for Animals, too

Animal companions, especially dogs, are obviously a priority in this Valley. My dog, Zipper, expectantly awaits a treat from the bank teller at the drive-through window, from the ticket-taker when leaving the airport, and from any one of five neighbors. If he hasn’t had his fill after doing errands around town, he can saunter by the local bagel shop and fish out a bagel from the doggy bucket at the front of the shop. Ahhh, it’s a good life here for these fortunate dogs.

It’s fair to say that our own happiness and well-being are intertwined with that of our animals. While we aren’t quite to the point of dropping our dogs off at their own yoga or meditation class, many of us do consider doggie day care an important part of caring for our pets. Our animals are intuitive, sensitive, protective beings, so it’s a small pleasure to be able to give some of that unconditional love back to them.

Several holistic practitioners in the Wood River Valley offer contributions to our pets’ emotional and physical health. As humans rediscover that allopathic and holistic medicine can be combined as a way to benefit our overall health and increase our life span, we are also finding that the same is true for animals.

These practitioners consider their work complementary to veterinary science, and are quick to point out that they do not diagnose illnesses (in the same way that humans generally do not diagnose a broken bone through a massage therapist). Once a diagnosis has been made by one of our locally renowned veterinarians, several specialists are available to treat animals with Reiki, acupuncture, massage, or other therapies.

Barbara Baker shares our animal friends’ thoughts and perspectives with us through telepathy. A popular and regular participant in the Sun Valley Mountain Wellness Festival, Baker has communicated intuitively with dozens of animals in town. Her passion is aiding humans in building a co-communicative relationship with their animal companions, thereby improving emotional and physical well-being in both species.

By telephone from her home in Bellingham, Washington, Baker shared with me specific characteristics about Zipper, along with some of his thoughts: how much he loves his new collar, his concern for a canine friend named Mischief, and his marginal interest in playing Frisbee. Baker translated energy and images from Zipper, noting that he is unusually close to and protective of me. She touched on all the intimate personality traits that only Zipper’s owner—or an animal intuitive—would know.

Bill Turner is another practitioner in the Valley who witnesses incredible emotional, physical, and performance enhancements in animals. Turner is a Reiki master, having a decade of experience with Reiki energy work and over two decades of experience with Chinese Healing ChiGong. The word Reiki translates literally to “the flow of Universal Life Force.” The practice is described as a method of harnessing universal energy, using it in a way that heals the body on both a physical and an emotional level. Benefits are said to include increased blood flow and circulation to injuries, a stimulated immune system, and emotional ease and stability.

Turner has witnessed powerful results in human, canine and equine patients, in pre- and post-surgery conditions, sports injuries, back pain, and emotional and stress-related issues. He carefully documents his results, and says they have been profound and lasting regardless of species. It is the work he has done with horses, however, that has captured his soul.

Turner, who is well known in the local horse community as “the hands-on-the-horse guy,” describes horses as intelligent, noble animals that perform with heart and soul, often asking nothing in return. The competition horses he has worked with have shown increased performance, emotional relaxation, and physical rejuvenation.

His stories are numerous and impressive, but it is the way the horses visibly respond to Turner that truly communicates their appreciation of him. I watched as three horses received their Reiki treatments, and saw that throughout the sessions, their eyes relaxed, their mouths gently chewed and yawned, and their knees softened in relaxation.

They eased into their treatments with total release and lack of inhibition or fear.

Heather Jones of Full Moon Farms, a serious equestrian competitor, instructor and trainer, is a faithful client of Turner’s. According to Jones, her horses are more fluid, centered, grounded, and energetically rejuvenated after treatments. One of her horses, Tarnish, actually seemed to move forward into Turner’s hands, guiding him toward a past injury on her back legs. She finished the session with a soft nuzzle to his chest.

This direct and honest appreciation from animals is what compels Ginger Ferries, owner of Hound Around, to dedicate herself to her work heart and soul. Ferries, a former massage therapist for humans, now works full-time—with extreme passion—as a certified canine massage therapist, dog-walker, and dog-sitter. She has developed a keen sense of what each client needs in terms of pressure, according to his or her muscle structure, age, and fitness.

One of her first clients was a dog that had undergone major surgery after being hit by a car. The dog’s owner wanted to do everything possible to speed his dog’s recovery, and to heal both physical and emotional trauma. Ferries massaged the injured animal twice a day for three to four weeks, and then once a day, and finally one time per week.

Ginger had just completed an intensive certification training in canine massage with Holistic Touch Therapy founder, C. Sue Furman, Ph.D., a faculty member of the Biomedical Sciences Department at Colorado State University. Says Ferries, “I could quickly see such improvement in the dog. It was amazing to watch the recovery process. Now, the dog is almost fully recovered.”

According to Ferries, people’s pets are usually finely tuned in to their owners, and most owners will do anything they can for their pets’ health. Ferries believes that dogs can sense this support. Among the benefits of massage, she includes enhancement of post-surgery recovery, increased blood flow and circulation, and emotional support during times of stress.

Heather Mack, V.M.D, is a traditionally trained veterinarian, educated at the University of Pennsylvania. Mack uses a combination of plant essences, chiropractic and postural adjustments, acupuncture, muscle testing, and herbs to bring animals into total balance. She cares for horses and dogs, but, like Bill Turner, Mack says her heart is truly with horses.

“Horses are reverent animals,” she says. “They are powerful human healers that keep us grounded to Mother Earth. They are intelligent and telepathic, capable of healing the human soul.”

Mack’s approach to animal health care is one of total wellness—physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. She has a solid veterinary medical understanding of the animal, along with an energetic and intuitive understanding of its spirit. Word of her work has spread throughout California, and in the past ten years Mack has worked with the best horses in the country, including Olympic show jumpers and dressage horses.

Mack divides her time among clients throughout the western states, but enjoys spending time regularly at her ranch in Tippanuk, Idaho, and in the Wood River Valley. Her goal is to be part of a circle of wellness advisors for animals and to share her philosophies and methods, rather than practice as a primary veterinarian. To that end, Mack has created a school—Advanced Whole Horse Dynamics—designed for anyone, professional or otherwise, who is interested in a higher understanding of horses. This five-day course offers studies with a team of four holistic mentors who are considered the best in their field, including an equine dentist, a Rolfer, and a farrier. They will teach together in several locations across the country this year.

The Wood River Valley is a place where pets seem to co-exist on an almost equal level with humans. Nearly every place in the Valley is dog-friendly—at least as far as the Health Department will allow—and some places in the south county still offer hitching posts if you choose to ride in on your trusty steed. It just makes sense that in this atmosphere, a network of professionals would arrive to care lovingly for our four-legged friends.



This article appears in the Winter 2005 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.