In my first book, PEOPLE I SLEEP WITH, I wrote an extensive section on the Health Benefits of the Human-Animal Bond. It seemed a natural next exploration to delve into that healing aspect. Increasingly, many disciplines within Western medicine are accepting and sharing the belief that our relational connection to our animals can actually heal us. Most of the research to date has used dogs and cats, but it is understood that all animal connections have the potential for positive and direct effects on our immune system. it is the chemical and psychological shift in our mind, body, and spirit that is affected, whether we are grooming a guinea pig, riding a horse, gazing into the eyes of a Golden Retriever, or petting a boa. As Dr. Marty Becker has commented, “Basically we’re talking about life support systems cleverly disguised as pets.”
“Life with the animals was an unself-conscious web of mutual support, survival, and pleasure. Only later, when I moved out into the world, did I realize how far we humans have come from that connectedness. It seems to me that we are distancing ourselves with increasingly dangerous results from our common bond with other species, from our old intuitive recognition that we are one with our fellow creatures: the same stuff of life, cell by cell, molecule by molecule.”
PEOPLE I HEAL WITH is a black & white photography chapter book, about people healing animals and animals healing people. I interviewed and photographed Temple Grandin, professor of animal science, consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior,
& autism spokeswoman; Linda Tellington-Jones, animal behaviorist, equine expert, & the creator of Tellington-Touch; Soraida Salwala, creator of The World’s First Elephant Hospital in Thailand; Dr. Carol Noon, famous primatologist, who rescued abused chimps that were victims of medical experimentation and the space program, by moving them to a permanent sanctuary called Save The Chimps; inmates in the Prison Pet Partnership Program in Washington state; two doctors of Oriental medicine in California that have done extensive research with cancer sniffing dogs; the creator of Eddie’s Wheels in Massachusetts, the first to offer mobility aid to disabled dogs; and Andy Howington, a dedicated herpetologist in Georgia, who educates the public on reptiles and amphibians and their value in our ecosystem. I also spent time with a gifted animal communicator; a dog in Alabama that works with deaf dogs that helps deaf children reluctant to learn sign language; a therapeutic horseback riding facility; a Philadelphia feral cat rescue group, and a reading dog that
helps child problem readers learn to speak out loud.
“A dog wags its tail, but a snake simply has different cues. It has the same moods and feelings as the dog, but a snake isn’t going to hop in your lap. Every animal has a different demeanor. It’s just that you have to learn how to read them, to understand them, and to communicate with them.
I think the problem is refusing to believe that there’s something beyond that which can’t be quantified. Many communications happen in the unseen. Animals intuit and trust and their behavior follows. I know how
to read that with my reptiles. It comes from years of experience and observation and love.”
— Andy Howington
The chapters are punctuated with insightful essays by leading animal activists and scholars, who explore the interdependency of humans and animals, as well as difficult subjects important to bring to planetary consciousness. There are human choices and behaviors that clearly affect the lives of animals for better and for worse, and I feel it is crucial for conversations to begin, and awareness to be expanded with our two-legged species. Some of the essays writers and their subjects include:
Rupert Sheldrake - The Unexplained Power of Animals: the biologist and author of Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home, discusses animal telepathy and premonitions
Ingrid Newkirk - Making Kind Choices: The president and founder of PETA discusses personal actions humans can take to protect animals
Derrick Jensen - Awakening From the Nightmare of Zoos: called the philosopher poet of the ecological movement, Jensen addresses the killing and depleting affect of zoos on the animals imprisoned there
Deena Metzger - The Trouble With Animals: They Have Their Own Minds: this novelist, peacemaker, and medicine woman discusses an animal’s Divine right to it’s own true nature and creation
Other subjects to be addressed: the link between animal abuse and human violence and the importance of sanctuary for abused animals.
On a personal level, much of my focus is educational. I feel the importance of inspiring young people to understand and respect the animal kingdom, and supporting educators to engage their students in the life lessons that rekindle their curiosity and compassion. With PEOPLE I HEAL WITH, I want to include a supplemental workbook that will include lesson plans that instructors can use to ignite
in-depth studies of important subjects illuminated by the chapters in my book.
An example of a Lesson Plan: Andy Howington, and the chapter on reptiles and amphibians. So many people freak when I tell them about this chapter, immediately making judgments about snakes, even though they may have never seen, touched, or been bitten by one. The lesson plan around this chapter will explore prejudice against those we fear & hatred and negative beliefs toward someone or something different than what we may have been exposed to or taught.
All lesson plans will be designed with a variety of experiential processes that will enlist students to walk in the world more consciously. And, for discouraged, exhausted educators, I believe these gifts will help return all involved to a deeper connection with ourselves and the world.
“Quinn, being part Pit Bull, would be considered a throw away. Normally, he would be immediately euthanized, simply because of his breed. And me, being an offender . . .society considers me a throw away too. But Quinn has a spectacular personality, and is loving, and still so giving, even though he has been through so much. And it’s my job to teach him to be responsible, and to perform a good service, and to deal effectively with people. And by teaching him, he teaches me how to do the same. Through the dogs and this program, it’s much easier to see that having murdered someone is always going to be a part of me — and my experience, but that is not all that I am.”
— Connie, with Quinn
PEOPLE I HEAL WITH will contain many current and belief-changing stories about animal behavior and intelligence, intended to shift limiting perceptions about our animal co-habitants. I will continually ask the question: What if it is more complex than most of us know? What if animals are here on assignment to keep an eye out for their human co-travelers, helping us fulfill dreams and accompany us on them? What if they are journeying on an alternative, more esoteric level, and are available for transferring messages to our daily lives?
Just because we humans put constraints on our understanding of their intelligence levels, does not mean they are not perhaps more
evolved than us in some ways.
We have finally begun to realize that many kinds of animals seem to know when earthquakes, volcanoes, avalanches, or any number of catastrophes are about to strike. Other animals are totally capable of warning us about imminent seizures or changes in their human’s smell that might indicate the early onset of cancer.
Several days after the waters from the 2004 tsunami covered the shores of Thailand, Sumatra, and Sri Lanka, Peter Jennings reported
at the tail end of his nightly broadcast, “Statements are beginning to trickle in that no elephants, or for that matter any animals at all, were killed during this devastating tidal wave. Wildlife sanctuaries are reporting no deaths. Amidst the human chaos, it seems the animals escaped. How is that possible? Did they know something we did not know?” I was in the kitchen, cooking spinach pasta, when I heard myself yell out, “Well of course they did Peter. They still know because they have access to their instincts. We human types have long lost those abilities.” My cats looked up at me with puzzling expressions, and promptly left the kitchen.
I remember asking my gardener once, after observing a large robin redbreast lightly walk along my green lawn continually for ten minutes, suddenly jam his beak precisely into the grass, and pull out a wiggly pink worm with one quick motion. How did he know where the worm was? Is it x-ray vision? A lucky guess? My gardener assured me there was no luck involved, and said, “ He could feel the movement of the worm vibrationally deep in the soil through the bottom of his feet.” I laughed. What if we humans went to the grocery store, took off our shoes at the door, and then walked around the linoleum floor until we felt broccoli??!! We would starve to death! But after learning that amazing tidbit, I knew there was no way a massive elephant would be unable to pick up on seismic earthquake tremors through his feet.
But it was the stories that followed the tsunami that left skeptics scratching their heads, and animal lovers grinning with elation. It seems that about twenty minutes before the first wave hit near a resort in Phuket, Thailand, some of the elephants that were used for tourist rides, began to trumpet and become extremely agitated. Routinely tied to trees by their keepers, several of the elephants broke free and helped other elephants tear off their chains. They all climbed up a hillside to higher ground, bellowing all the way. Many native people followed them up the hill, understanding that there was a reason for such odd behavior. Then the waves hit.
After they subsided, the elephants charged down the hill, and started picking up terrified people with their trunks, and tossing them on their backs, then turning and running back up the hill. One report said the elephants saved 42 people; we may never know the full count. Not until the task was complete would they allow their handlers to mount them. Then, with handlers riding on their backs, the elephants began removing rubble and searching for the dead in places inaccessible to trucks and equipment. Days later, they found people still alive
in the debris.
All sorts of questions arise inevitably with this profound story: How did the elephants know what was coming? This question elicits the possibilities of intuitive knowing and unseen communications. And also, the elephants could have run up the hillside and saved themselves only, so why did they save people too? Was it instinct, sheer ability, compassion and empathy for a fellow creature? All of the above?
PEOPLE I HEAL WITH is looking for a publisher. There was a time before the recent recession that ten publishing houses were interested in this book. If you know of anyone, publisher or agent, that might be interested, please direct them to me.
I am passionate that this book be offered to the public.
The author on a walk-about with elephants in Thailand - Photo by Colleen Kelley