The real meaning of “holistic,” of course, is doing what’s right for your individual dog – and for you, taking into account your circumstances, lifestyle, budget, and beliefs. There is no template to follow, other than Know your dog – and yourself.
Holistic veterinarian Christina Chambreau has a great idea that too few owners follow: Keep a journal for each of your dogs. You don’t have to write in it religiously, but make a notation of things that may seem different or noteworthy: increased water consumption, changes in coat color or texture, seemingly minor health issues like a passing ear infection, sleeping later than usual, eating more ravenously, unusual discharge (from any of a number of places!), an odd odor.
Those little scraps of information – impressions, mostly – are fleeting and seemingly insignificant on a day-to-day basis, but taken as a whole they can illuminate patterns that can help in managing your pet’s health.
An ounce – no, make that a pound – of prevention. Most alternative healing modalities believe that disease is a manifestation of deeper imbalances. Rather than treat the symptoms you must go deeper and bring things into equilibrium.
The easiest thing to do, of course, is to make sure that the imbalance doesn’t occur, to begin with. That requires a strong, clean foundation: good food, good water, adequate exercise, mental stimulation, and a safe, toxin-free environment.
Our animals, our bodies, our energy fields crave balance, and that’s what we should strive for in caring for our dogs. On the one hand, be consistent: Give modalities a chance to work. Remember that problems take a while to brew and manifest, and so they can take a spell of time to resolve, too.
At the same time, don’t get stuck in a rut. Changing up every once in a while isn’t just a good idea, it’s a necessity. Rotating food sources, exercise patterns, and herbal supplements is important. As opportunistic omnivores, dogs are biologically programmed for variety. Their bodies crave it, and if we are to develop one habit, it is to remind ourselves in our busy lives to give it to them.
Go back to basics. Every time I am tempted to overthink or overdo things, I pick up a copy of Juliette de Bairacli Levy’s The Complete Herbal Handbook for the Dog and Cat, first published in 1955. Long before it became fashionable to feed locally or organically, de Bairacli Levy was there, sharing the wisdom she learned from the Gypsies, Berbers, and Bedouins.
In this day and age, when we expect precise directions and how-tos, her books can seem quaint. But there is powerful wisdom in them, reminders that the less interference we place between our animals and their source energy, the better off they are. De Bairacli Levy is one of the few authors who bothers to talk about the importance of sunshine in rearing healthy dogs. Fresh air, good light, the time and room to run free . . . I am reading The Secret Garden to my children at bedtime, and these are precisely the things that transformed the cranky, coddled twosome in the story, Mary, and Colin, into healthy youngsters. They are as crucial as food in that regard. And sometimes we need pragmatists such as de Bairacli Levy to remind us of the basics.
“I pray you who own me, let me continue to live close to Nature,” de Bairacli Levy wrote on behalf of the dogs. “Know that: I love to run beneath the sun, the moon, and the stars; I need to feel the storm winds around me, and the touch of rain, hail, sleet, and snow; I need to splash in streams and brooks, and to swim in ponds, lakes, rivers, and seas; I need to be allowed to retain my kinship with Nature.”
It is no coincidence, I think, that de Bairacli Levy’s line of Turkoman Afghan Hounds was so sought-after, and no mere happenstance that the stock she sent to the United States went on to produce a dynasty of the world’s most beautiful and biggest-winning Afghan Hounds.
Believe in intention. The most diffuse and hardest to grasp of these lessons, because it’s one that you feel your way to.
Early on, a good friend of mine who I consider a wonderful healer told me, “Intention is important.” In other words, wanting to make your dog well is an important part of getting there. I thought that was kind of obvious: Who doesn’t want their dog to get better?
Then I learned more about vibrational medicine, about the power of thoughts and feelings, and about the law of attraction, which created a big buzz a few years ago but which was brought home more powerfully to me in the Abraham work of Esther and Jerry Hicks. (Google them if the names are unfamiliar: The premise behind their work is a little “out there” for many, but make like a buffet, take what you like, and leave the rest.)
Yes, you can want your dog to be well, but that intention can be so clouded and weighed down with worry about things not going right, with visions of worst-case scenarios, with fear and doubt, that it defeats the purpose.
My outcomes are always best when I envision what I want for my dog, let go of any underlying wanting that feels desperate or forced, and just proceed in the moment, not fast-forwarding to dissect any of the what-ifs.