You are currently browsing the Tulsa Animal Welfare tag.

Reiki for Rover

posted September 21st, 2013 by
  • Share

by Lauren Cavagnolo

Photos by Foshay Photography

Eyes closed, legs crossed and palms open, Karren O’Sullivan sits on the floor deep in meditation surrounded by kennels of barking and howling dogs. A 3-monthold Lab Retriever desperately paws at the blanket she is sitting on. Meanwhile a Catahoula stares her down, quietly growling, and various other dogs continue their barking and whining.

Her calm presence amid the chaos of anxious and confused animals is quite a sight and garners several curious stares from passersby.

Moments later, animals begin to settle down all around her. She has turned her back slightly to the growling Catahoula and has offered her hand to the puppy who craved her attention.

O’Sullivan is a level III Reiki practitioner, making weekly visits to the shelter to offer the holistic therapy to homeless cats and dogs since January.

“To be loved by an animal is truly a blessing,” says O’Sullivan. “And that’s why I’m here. I don’t care if people think I look strange sitting down in an aisle in a meditation space.”

Reiki, which is Japanese for spiritual energy, uses a variety of methods such as meditation and breathing techniques, to create a relaxing and healing space. Animals can then choose how they participate, if at all.

“I am just the facilitator of this beautiful spiritual energy and offering, inviting the animal to participate in the space if they choose,” O’Sullivan says. “Animals already have very highly developed senses, and energy is their language. They don’t have a verbal language like humans. And so they sense energy like fear or peace or calm or worry or relaxation. They completely get it.”

Shelter animals who receive Reiki therapy may be able to eat and drink more, begin to perk up, gain a sense of hope and get more rest.

“They’re scared to death here,” says O’Sullivan. “This is a very anxious environment.”

With Reiki, “they can start eating more. The medications the vets are giving them are working faster; they will get rebalanced many times. It’s helpful, and then the next day someone may come in and adopt them,” according to O’Sullivan.

Reiki therapy does not take the place of traditional veterinary care, but is complementary. Reiki practitioners do not diagnose or treat animals. In fact, it isn’t even necessary that they know exactly what is ailing an animal, says O’Sullivan.

“We are there to create this space of calmness and relaxation so that the own animal’s body takes over, and its own immune system becomes strengthened, and their own way of healing themselves becomes stronger,” O’Sullivan says. “When you are relaxed and feel good, you heal faster.”

Manager of City of Tulsa Animal Welfare Jean Letcher says the shelter is lucky to have O’Sullivan as a volunteer.

“Karren is a gift to TAW, and we are going to take advantage of that gift

at every opportunity we can,” Letcher says. “The talent and work she does to maintain the calm in the chaos is amazing and to share that with the animals is a benefit to them. These animals are stressed, and we know that depresses the immune system.”

Letcher says O’Sullivan’s visits not only benefit the animals, but the staff as well.

“Her presence has impacted the staff in that they see her just being with the animals. And for both people and animals, it’s a wonderful and calming presence,” she says.

Outside of the dogs and cats seen at the city shelter, O’Sullivan has offered Reiki therapy to a variety of animals including her own gecko and rabbit, horses, a cardinal, a dove, a paralyzed hog, goats, an owl and butterflies.

Most recently she offered the holistic therapy to a baby hummingbird knocked out of his nest after a heavy July storm. The tiny bird was safely delivered to Oklahoma Veterinary Specialists and later thrived under the care of a WING IT volunteer.

O’Sullivan also offers her services to pet owners who feel their animals could benefit from the therapy.

Kris Allison sought out O’Sullivan when traditional methods of training just didn’t seem to work for her Hurricane Katrina rescue dog.

Allison describes her dog Yoshi as a typical bossy, territorial cattle dog. The problem was helping Yoshi to get along with Allison’s much older dog Greta.

After four sessions of Reiki therapy, Allison noticed a difference in the two dogs’ interactions with each other.

“They got to a point where they were more interested in being around each other,” Allison says of her two dogs. “They interacted a lot more, and it was just much more peaceful. The last part of [Greta’s] life, Yoshi was just much nicer to her. It was a wonderful experience to have that taken care of and not have to worry about that.”

Allison, who is also a TAW volunteer, has since gone through Reiki therapy training with O’Sullivan and says she has used it on both foster dogs and herself.

“As long as you maintain that calm focus, you can see the shift in their behavior and their personalities,” Allison says. “It’s definitely helpful.”

O’Sullivan says she hopes to spread the practice of Reiki to more people like Allison and the community at large through teaching.

“Teaching is really driving me right now,” says O’Sullivan. She has already taught one class at TAW for staff and volunteers with another on the books.

Her dream is to teach the practice of Reiki to veterinarians, staff and volunteers at every Tulsa-area rescue.

“I would love to teach their staff so they have another tool that they can use not only for the animals but for themselves,” O’Sullivan says. “They are in a very high-stress position.”

The two-day class is limited to 10 people because of the amount of content covered and personal attention provided. Those interested in future classes may email O’Sullivan at osullivan. [email protected] or call (918) 636-1220.

Schooling for Success

posted July 15th, 2013 by
  • Share

Free Training Classes Help Shelter Dogs
and Their New Owners

by Nancy Gallimore Werhane, CPDT-KA

It is 6:15 p.m., on a Thursday at Pooches, my dog care facility in Tulsa. Boarding dogs are being fed dinner, and daycare dogs are heading out the door to their homes—another busy day is winding down. At the same time, several dogs and owners parade in the door and head for the training room where their work is just beginning. There, they are greeted by the wonderful smile of Beth Sharp.

Beth Sharp is a dog enthusiast, trainer and unsung hero who well understands the journey a rescued dog and new owner can take. Her interest in working with dogs was born when she adopted her dog, Cooper, a stray that showed up on her property about nine years ago. Cooper uncovered the “latent dog lover” in Sharp, who had not had a dog since her childhood.

“The training bug bit while taking classes with my unruly Pit Bull mix,” Sharp says. “It was fascinating to watch him learn and to have this completely different species understand what it was I was asking. You can actually see the wheels turning in their little brains, and I love it!”

Sharp participated in several training classes with Cooper, exploring different training methods until she was introduced to force-free, positive training techniques. “I completely geeked-out on it and read every book about learning theory and animal behavior that I could get my hands on— and I still do,” she says. “The results I got were amazing, and I never looked back.”

Sharp’s experience with Cooper inspired her to want to help other dogs, but she wasn’t ready to commit to adding another dog permanently to her family. Instead, she opted to foster dogs waiting for adoption. Providing a temporary home for a variety of dogs not only helped local rescue groups but also gave Sharp a great opportunity to develop her training skills. “I loved the idea of fostering, of helping a dog past its fears and showing it how to be part of a family,” she says. And a bonus was the strong sense of accomplishment she felt when her foster dogs were adopted into good homes.

In addition to providing a foster home, Sharp also started volunteering at the City of Tulsa Animal Welfare shelter (TAW). “I’d been feeling like I wanted to try to have a bigger impact on the animal overpopulation problem in Tulsa. Helping one or two dogs at a time is a lot of fun and very much needed, but I was looking for ways to do more,” she says.

Initially, she helped out at the shelter by walking dogs and assisting with adoptions. As she spent time at the shelter, she realized that it would be helpful to offer some basic training tips to new dog owners in an effort to help adopted dogs settle into new homes successfully and reduce the number of dogs that are returned to the shelter. “I would have loved some tips when I got Cooper to help me avoid wasting time and effort, trying a litany of things that don’t really work,” Sharp says.

“Sometimes new and even experienced dog owners have issues with their dogs that seem overwhelming, but many issues have very simple solutions and that can be the difference between keeping a pet or having to return it to the shelter,” explains Sharp. That theory quickly developed into a free, three-session training class that Sharp would make available to anyone adopting a dog from TAW.

With the help of TAW Manager Jean Letcher, and volunteers Ann Stiles and Cindy Bucher, the training program started in May 2011. Classes were initially held in a small trailer behind the shelter but moved to the Pooches training room for additional space to accommodate more students.

According to Letcher, the program is making a difference. “It’s such a neat deal to be able to tell people about the class—especially if they are adopting their first dog. I have no doubt Beth’s classes have helped reduce our return rate,” Letcher says.

Sharp’s goal for the shelter training program is to show people how to communicate clearly with their dogs in a manner that focuses on positive motivation rather than correction-based training that might include yanking on the leash, yelling at the dog, or using prong collars and choke chain collars. “That stuff really is no fun and not terribly effective—in fact, it can actually be counter-productive to training goals,” Sharp says.

One of Sharp’s former students has nothing but praise for the free classes. Anne Lassiter adopted her Terrier mix, Woodstock, from TAW. A very fearful dog, Lassiter felt that bad experiences in Woodstock’s past had caused his issues, and she wanted to help him learn to enjoy his new life. When Lassiter and Woodstock arrived at their first class, the little dog tucked his tail, raised his hackles and immediately retreated to the space under Lassiter’s chair.

“I thought I made a mistake by bringing him, but Beth assured me that this was exactly what Woodstock needed,” Lassiter says. Sharp helped Lassiter understand that with time, training and positive experience, Woodstock could gain self-confidence. “He quickly fell in love with Beth and would not let her out of his sight,” she says. “He might be under the chair, but he was watching and learning from her.”

Sharp encouraged Lassiter to continue formal training with Woodstock following the three complimentary classes, and that’s exactly what they did. Since that time, Woodstock has graduated from four levels of training, including a trick class that required Lassiter and Woodstock to perform in a show.

“It was hard to believe the little dog I found curled up in the corner of the shelter cage was now on stage performing like a pro,” Lassiter says. “He now has boundless confidence… the transformation has been amazing, and I thank Beth for helping us get started.”

Lassiter says the jumpstart with training that Sharp provides is of vital importance during a crucial time of transition for shelter dogs. “Her gentle hand is reaching out to help, so they are not returned to the shelter before they have time to adjust to their new lives,” Lassiter says. She is certain Woodstock would not be the happy, wellbehaved dog he is today without Sharp’s assistance and encouragement. One glance at Sharp’s new group of students tells a story in itself. One dog is barking nonstop.

One dog is sitting in a corner drooling. One dog is straining at his leash, trying to visit everyone in the room. In the middle of the chaos, Beth Sharp smiles, introduces herself and dives right in, helping each owner/dog team learn how to work together. Before the hourlong class ends, the dogs have settled, the owners have relaxed and progress is underway.

When asked about her classes, Sharp’s response is immediate. “I’m having a blast doing this!” she says. “To date over 150 dogs and owners have gone through the program, and we’re adding more every month.” That’s a lot of dogs and people—past, present and future—who can be very grateful for the inspiration of a once unruly dog named Cooper and a very devoted dog trainer named Beth.