By Sharon Callahan
Dr. Allen Schoen is a true pioneer. As a student and then as a young and idealistic veterinarian, he faced critics at every turn for his unorthodox beliefs, including his assertion that animals have feelings and emotions. Though schooled in conventional veterinary medicine, he instinctively knew there was more to treating animals than pumping them full of drugs or resorting to euthanasia. He also knew that they were -- like us -- sentient beings. Disturbed by what he felt to be a lack of compassion, he became a vocal advocate for more sensitive treatment. He also explored and embraced revolutionary research that others ignored, including groundbreaking work on the physical and psychological benefits of human/animal relationships. Today Dr. Schoen merges alternative therapies like nutrition, acupuncture and chiropractic, with tender, compassionate care. The results have been nothing less than astounding. Over the years, he has witnessed miraculous recoveries in both animals and humans, as well as an incredible interdependence between the two. Most important, heís learned that love and compassion may be the most effective healing tools of all. Dr. Schoen shares his amazing discoveries in
KINDRED SPIRITS: How the Remarkable Bond Between Humans and Animals Can Change the Way We Live.
S: Allen, do you believe that animals have souls?
A: Iíve pondered that question a great dealÖdancing back and forth between my left-brain, existentialist, skeptical mind and my inner voice and inner guidance. And basically, Iíve no question about it. Every time that I try to say, ďNo, nothing more exists,Ē I get cold all over. Do you know what I mean? And I just say, ďOkay, thatís just not possible.Ē
S: Thatís a great answer. Do you remember, Allen, how you felt or how you might have felt as a child if youíve been asked that question.
A: Oh gosh, as a child, there was never any question. I think as children we have this inner knowing and we have this connection with animals where weíre all communicating. And we know that connection with all of Nature. Itís only as that is ridiculed out of us and weíre indoctrinated to fit into society and get away from Nature that those questions, that inner knowing gets buried. And then part of our journey is the reawakening of that knowledge and wisdom.
S: Did you want to be a veterinarian when you were kid?
A: My grandfather said that the first words out of my mouth were ďAnimal Doctor.Ē It was just, from the first moments I can remember thatís what I was going to be. There was never a question. You know, it wasnít ďI want to be a doctor,Ē but this is what Iím going to be.
S: Knowing you as I do and knowing what a sensitive person you are, I imagine Vet school was very difficult for you.
A: Extremely. Half way through, I had a few weeks off before I started my summer job and I took a train across Canada up into the Canadian Rockies and went backpacking and just thought about dropping out. And I prayed and prayed. That inner voice said, ďNo, donít. Hang in there. Thereís a reason why youíre there.Ē
S: And how did you manage to get through all of that and stay the wonderful, sensitive caring person that you are?
A: Well, I think I did get hardened a bit. I know I did trying to prove myself. Some of the things that I had to do my first year out I cringed at and felt horrible about. And I just said ďNoĒ after doing them and ďIím not going to do them again." When I began to say no, the heart space started reopening. I was pretty much a lonerÖbut my closest friends in school were the most spiritual ones in the class. And we provided a bit of a support group for each other.
S: I think itís fantastic that youíre writing about your experience in vet school in your new book, because itís one thing to think them and to feel them and itís quite another thing to be brave enough to really put it in print.
A: Well, I talk about how I felt after I de-horned some adult cows and how furious my boss washow long it took mebecause I gave nerve-blocks and gave them painkillers. And he was furious that I did that.
S: Quite a saga Allen.
S: How do you feel our relationship and treatment of animals relates to our own spirituality and unfoldment as human beings?
A: It goes back to a Buddhist saying ďThe more love within, the more love without.Ē And the more you harden yourself, the more you do things to animals that later you may regret or question. And the more you open your heart and treat animals more compassionately, the more you nourish that in yourself.
Things that weíre trained to do as veterinarians and that were told itís okay to do, end up hardening you. And then it comes to a point where you say, ďGosh, my heart has shut down,Ē and it oftentimes leads to burnout. Then you start questioning everything youíre doing. And thatís part of the journey back, is first realizing that you have been shutting down and that youíre not okay with that.
S: A young woman called me for a consultation, a darling young woman whoís about half way through Vet school. Sheís just about that place you were when you went backpacking and feeling exactly as you did then. Not knowing whether she can continue because she feels herself getting hardened. What would you say to her?
A: What I would say to her is two thingS: one, to hang in there as my inner voice said to me;
and two, is to find a support group of like-minded classmates that you get together regularly to
share that concern.
S: What do you feel that we can do to enhance the spiritual lives of animals, believing as you do that animals as well as human beings have a spiritual life that needs nurturing.
A: I think through compassion and love just treat all living beings with compassion. Thatís the best thing we can do.
S: Would you say a little something about your relationship with your own animals, your companion animals.
A: At different times Iíve had different ones that Iíve connected to more than others. My two, right now, have unique personalities. Shanti, my dog, when I did a brain scan on him the only thing in there was a tennis ball. You know? Heís happy-go-lucky. His total focus on life is tennis balls.
S: Sounds good. Heíll probably be healthy and live to be very old.
A: Exactly. So, heís kind of a light, ďHi, here I am.Ē Kink of guy. Whereas Megan, who I wrote about in my first book, was a much deeper, older soul. My cat currently, Chi, is more of a serious old Tom. He doesnít joke around a lot. He just kind of likes to hang out with you. Heís a great companion. Iíve had other animal friends that Iíve had deeper connections with. I havenít been around much lately so that may be part of it. But I think these two beings are here to just hang out.
S: Sometimes thatís great. Life is serious enough, huh? A little tennis ball brain would be good for all of us.
A: Yes. I come in and Iím exhausted, tired, grumpy after days of just non-stop work and he just drops his ball at my feet, says, ďOkay, Iím ready!Ē And you canít take yourself too seriously then.
S: I'd like you to say a little something about the wonderful meditation retreats that you are doing for veterinarians.
A: My inner voice has been guiding me that way for five years now. And Iíve taken a lot of meditation retreats and I always say ďBoy, veterinarians really need this. They need a support group that isnít focused on a discussion of holistic health care tipsbut thatís focused on our own souls and caring for our own souls.Ē And then, I kept saying, ďNo, no, no, who am I to do them? I canít do them. Iím not qualified. And then I started mentioning it when I was lecturing. And everyone would come up and give me their business card and say, ďLet me know when you give those. I want to do the first one.Ē And all of a sudden, I had hundreds of vets wanting to do these spiritual retreats with me. So, finally, I created enough space in my schedule and I feel like Iíve gotten the right attitude about it where Iím not coming into them as the ďhealer with all the answersĒ but more as the creator and facilitator of creating a sacred space for us to explore.
S: I think itís just a fantastic idea. I donít think itís an ideaI think itís really a task youíve been given to do.
S: What you have said leads me to a question that I would love to have your input on. It seems to me that the whole veterinary arena is going the same way of the human holistic arena where thereís such a tremendous over emphasis on taking one more vitamin or doing one more kind of therapy rather than looking at lifestyle and it effect on our health and the health of our animals. And I just wondered if you had comments about that.
A: Yes! Actually, thatís on of the other reasons that has guided me towards these retreats, is that it seems like when you jump into the holistic field, thereís this inevitable subconscious search for the magic bullet. And after youíve explored all the different modalities, you realize that there is no one magic bullet. And really, if there is oneitís quiet. But sometimes thatís the hardest one to create.
S: Well, I think so too.
A: And that, that thatís where weíre at, you know, is that probably the easiest answer is the most difficult to get to. This is what the retreats will be all about.
S: It is so important not only to bring the veterinarians who come to the retreat into a still centered place, but to give them ways in which they can enable their clients to become more centered in their own lives.
A: Oh, absolutely. Thatís been my journey. Searching for the magic bullet. And it has made me realize, again, that the key is not the magic bullet for the animal but the key is creating that meditative inner peace which is the most healing.
S: And if you think about your own veterinary practice over the years, can you see a correlation between animalsí health and peopleís ability to be calm and centered and peaceful.
A: Oh, definitely. The most peaceful people have the most peaceful animals. The most frantic worried people have the sickest animals.
S: Thatís what I see too.
A: Our energy impacts on our animals and has a direct impact on their health.
S: So important for people to know. I think people do know it, but they really just need support in finding a way to be quiet and centered and peaceful.
A: Thatís why the retreats. Thatís why weíre going to give them not just for the vets but for the public as well. True healing comes from compassion and love for all beings. And creating a level of inner peace to share the outer peace. Because if you have inner anger, the outer peace is created superficially.
A: The inner is a reflection of the outer world, and soÖthe challenge in the past has been people either have been pushing for peace throughout the world but doing with angerÖand that doesnít work. Or other people spend all their time on their own inner peace and become so narcissistic, so much into their own inner peace, that they donít help spread it. So, the dance is between working on our inner peace, love and compassion in order to benefit all beings.
S: Thatís beautiful Allen, That says it all.
A: And thatís been my goal, now, for my life.
S: Well, that's a beautiful one.
For information on "Rekindling the Gift" retreats with Allen Schoen see the
Events and Conference page.