This post originally appeared on VICE Australia.
My cat is kind of a dickhead. His name is Alfie and he bites and scratches everyone, usually around the eyes and the jugular. Most people hate him, but I know that deep down he's a good guy. He just needs some therapy or something.
In an effort to find what that something might be, I stumbled across a site on holistic animal healing. As you'd expect, this is basically an extension of human-based alternative medicine and includes stuff like chakra cleansing, which is about purifying centers of power in the body; and Reiki, which is an energy-focused healing treatment that is usually done by touch. I discovered there was a cutely-named clinic nearby me called Pawsitive Animal Therapies that offered these remedies for "pets that exhibit behavioral or emotional issues such as stress, anxiety, fear, or aggression." It sounded like my answer.
I squashed Alfie into the cat box and off we went. Melissa, the owner and therapist behind Pawsitive met us at a nondescript building, but then lead us down an alleyway, through an unmarked wooden door, and into an average looking backyard. There was a shed in the corner and Melissa beckoned us inside.
With Alfie still in his box, I offered some facts about his age, weight, exercise, diet, and general ill temperament. Melissa recommended Reiki and a massage to help chill him out. Then she laid him across the table, closed her eyes, and lay her hands on his fur. The room was silent and Alfie lay uncharacteristically still. Things seemed to be going pretty well.
In 2012, which is the year of the last study, Australians spent an estimated $1.2 billion dollars on "other" pet care services. This included such services as fitness classes, photography, as well as pet therapy like the one I tried. Dogs received the bulk of these expenditures, but felines still got a sizeable chunk of $16 million, spread among about eight percent of the nation's cats. However, dog owners from New South Wales, where I'm from, are the ones most likely to indulge in pet therapy. So although he didn't know it, Alfie was pretty damn lucky.
He obviously didn't know it because he started hissing. "If he's going to be like that," murmured Melissa, "I'll have to do Reiki from a distance." She sat still with her palms facing up, breathing deeply. Alfie went for a bit of a walk.
According to Melissa, Alfie's problems stem from his childhood. "Being taken away from his mother at such a young age diminished his heart chakra," she explained. "He was never shown a family hierarchy so he now mistakenly believes that he's the head of your family. It's like he thinks he's a human." At this signal, Alfie elegantly lifted his leg and started licking his balls.
To distract from the awkward ball-licking, I asked Melissa how she got into animal Reiki. She explained that she'd grown up on a farm and always loved animals, but found putting them down as a vet too disturbing. She wanted to help animals holistically. Like a lot of therapists, she does that through massages, Bowen Therapy (cross-fibre massage), Craniosacral therapy (head and spine work), and Reiki (energy healing).
"I prefer to be next to the animal," said Melissa with her palms still out. "But I find Reiki from a distance works just as effectively." She went on to explain that the animal doesn't even need to be in the room. Sometimes animals can be as far away as the US and the process is still the same. "I get clients to send a photo of their pets and I can perform the treatments telepathically," she said in a matter of fact voice.
Meanwhile Alfie had chilled out completely. Melissa's diagnosis was that his head and heart chakra were in competition with each other. This was why he showed affection but didn't want to look weak. Typical cat. And with that, the session was over.
In the car ride home, Alfie made a horrendous noise like a vacuum cleaner sucking up a fork. It was vicious and awful, but that night he cuddled me in bed. That's never happened before. And although he's been meowing a lot recently, he does seem calmer. I was suspicious but I'll admit it: I think something weird happened in that shed. I can't explain it, and Alfie won't say anything about it, but he's definitely become a nicer pet.
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