Prana for pooches

Susanne Aichele does Reiki on dogs. And why not? There's a booming trade for both New Age metaphysics and pet pampering in the Yukon. Combining the two could be a potent mix.

Susanne Aichele does Reiki on dogs.

And why not? There’s a booming trade for both New Age metaphysics and pet pampering in the Yukon. Combining the two could be a potent mix.

At least, that’s what her business, Passionate About Healing Services, is betting on.

Reiki, for the uninitiated, is a form of energy healing. Like acupuncture and other forms of Eastern medicine, it shares the belief our health depends upon the flow of invisible energy that surrounds us.

Chinese call it chi. Indians call it prana. Aichele just calls it energy.

What sets Reiki apart from other types of energy healing is that its practitioners often don’t touch their patients. They claim to manipulate energy fields from afar, with the wave of a hand.

Aichele shuns the New Age label. She insists her practice is an ancient one. And, true enough, the laying of hands was practiced by early Christians and by healers of other creeds.

But Reiki was invented by a Japanese Buddhist monk in 1922, making it a modern creation. The International Centre for Reiki Training claims the practice

“has aided in healing virtually every known illness and injury including serious problems like: multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and cancer as well as skin problems, cuts, bruises, broken bones, headache, colds, flu, sore throat, sunburn, fatigue, insomnia, impotence, poor memory, lack of confidence, etc.”

Aichele has more humble aims. Reiki can make dogs happier and healthier, she says.

It helps form a tighter bond between master and pet. And that “can offer a competitive advantage in animal sports such as dog mushing, skijoring or endurance races,” according to Aichele’s website.

But I didn’t want to take her word for it. So I asked Aichele to work her magic on the worst dog I know.

He’s Dexter, a snub-nosed, shifty-eyed, three-year-old, black Labrador retriever.

Dexter’s not ill-tempered or vicious. He’s just scheming and conniving – a dog with a Machiavellian mind. He belongs to my friend Colin Nickerson, and his long-suffering partner Kelly Sanford.

A pet trainer says Dexter wants to be good, but I’m not so sure. He shows no signs of guilt while caught stealing food. Instead, he looks triumphant after snatching a sandwich from someone’s hand during a picnic. It’s like it’s what he’s born to do.

He also appears to exercise a negative influence over Louis, Nickerson’s two-year-old blond Lab. Together, the pair run riot over the home whenever I visit, bounding at guests and swiping snacks off the kitchen counter.

Dexter eats everything. He gnawed up a dining table and chairs, which have since been replaced. He destroyed a recliner, chewing it down to its wooden supports.

He crawled beneath the sofa, chewed through the cushions, stuck his head inside and ate the stuffing.

This evening, he stole a peanut butter cookie from Sandford, shortly before Aichele made a house call.

I warned Aichele that Dexter would be a handful. She agreed to meet him. “You never know what the energy will do,” she said.

Aichele, 45, grew up on a farm in southwest Germany. As a child, she claims she healed a calf by touching it. So began her mysterious relationship with animals.

Aichele moved to the Yukon 14 years ago and lives in Carcross. She became a Reiki master one year ago, under the tutelage of Silvana Arathi Ma, a Reiki master in Vancouver.

Aichele knows of people paying upwards of $10,000 to become a Reiki master. But she became a master for “basically free,” under Ma. It helped that Aichele already knew Jothi, another form of energy healing.

She credits Reiki for helping her overcome chronic fatigue, and for keeping her dogs youthful and spry.

“It’s like the light goes inside and it starts to come out of us,” she said. “We’re all beams of light. We’re all vibrations.”

When Aichele arrived at the Nickerson household, she started with a disclaimer: she wasn’t making any promises to change Dexter’s behaviour. She’s “just a conduit” for the energy.

She gave Nickerson and Sanford a short lecture on dogs and discipline. “Dogs don’t deal well with democracy,” said Aichele. “They need a leader.”

She sat on the stairs and hoisted Dexter on to her lap. He squirmed and licked her face.

Aichele can’t see energy. But she feels it everywhere.

Her hands “get warm and get that tingly feeling” at times when energy is flowing. She briskly rubbed her hands together, then held them apart and slowly drew them together.

“You can feel other people’s energy. Kids are really good at that. They don’t have all that crap in their heads.”

Once Aichele meets a client, she’s able to send energy to him or her without meeting. “I can give energy to someone in Europe, China. It doesn’t matter where.”

She can also send energy into the past, and the future, she said, explaining that she sent energy to Dexter before we arrived.

“He’s not desperate,” she said. “But he’s drawing in a constant flow of energy.”

It’s hard to argue with that. He seemed to prefer standing a few stairs above Aichele, putting him out of easy reach but within striking distance for a surprise lick to her face.

After an hour of Aichele doting over Dexter, he does calm down. Whether from Aichele’s soothing influence, or the simple absence of food to steal, Dexter laid down on the kitchen floor and, for a moment, there’s peace.

This occurred just as Aichele explains the importance of “being, not doing.” Coincidence? She didn’t think so.

“What a big difference,” she told me later. “I think it’s just an amazing thing.”

Later, I called up Nickerson and asked if Dexter had become a different dog. No such luck. “Basically, it didn’t really do anything,” said Nickerson.

Nickerson appreciated some of the practical training advice – not that he hasn’t heard it before. He already knew Dexter needs a firmer hand. “If we didn’t let him get away with it, he’d be better.”

And Dexter liked Aichele. “He was happy around her. But I wouldn’t truthfully be able to say I noticed any real difference to other nights.”

Nickerson, it should be noted, would never have signed up for dog Reiki without my interference, making him far from an ideal customer. He’s skeptical about Reiki’s claims.

So he won’t be taking up Aichele’s advice to douse Dexter with a floral spray. Nor will he purchase a Amethyst Bio Mat, which Aichele helps distribute.

It’s a mat, stuffed full of crystals, which is marketed as a “negative ion and far infrared therapeutic treatment system.” It sells for $2,400.

“It heats up the core of the body,” said Aichele. She uses it to get the chill out of her bones during Yukon winters, but she’s found the crystals tend to overwhelm dogs. “It seems the dogs get a little bit antsy.”

Aichele charges $70 per hour. That’s more than double what a heavy equipment operator, electrician or carpenter makes working for the Yukon government. But it’s probably not out of line with what’s charged by Yukon’s reflexologists, naturopaths and colon cleansers.

There are several Yukoners who practise energy therapy on pets. But, to Aichele’s knowledge, she’s the only one to offer Reiki for dogs.

The most comprehensive medical review of Reiki, published by researchers with the University of Exeter in 2008, found “the evidence is insufficient to suggest that Reiki is an effective treatment for any condition.”

But even skeptics acknowledge that complementary and alternative medicines can cure – as much as a sugar pill. It’s called the placebo effect: the belief that you’ve been cured can have powerful, real-world results, even if the medicine is a sham.

But does a placebo work on a pet? And how do we know, when the interior lives of our animal companions remain, ultimately, a mystery?

These are likely questions for the ages. The big question for pet Reiki remains what the animal’s owner thinks. After all, they’re paying the bill.

Contact John Thompson at