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The Coloradoan

Fort Collins, CO

Sunday, August 3, 2003


‘It's some level of the mind that I'm tapping into. ...At the subconscious level, we are all
connected. I know there is a conversation that is going on. I'm not pushing it.'


NO MORE SURGERY: Ozzie, a 10-year-old Labrador retriever, relaxes while Brenda
McClelland, a veterinarian, ‘tunes into' his medical concerns. McClelland believes she can
communicate with animals, and relays the information to their owners.


Vet lets pet patients do 'talking'


It's every pet owner's dream.
    To be able to ask your dog or cat a question and get an answer back. And not just with the wag
of the tail or the perking of an ear. But in complete sentences, in English.
    "Why are you having trouble walking?" "Why are you peeing on the carpet?" "Do you want a
    These are some of the questions Brenda McClelland, a licensed veterinarian, Reiki master and
certified healing-touch practitioner, asks her pet clients. And the funny thing is, McClelland
said, she often gets answers.
    McClelland's animal communication work was featured in the new book "The Angel by My
Side" (Hay House, $23.95), by Mike Lingenfelter and David Frei, which chronicles how a
golden retriever was able to alert people of impending heart attacks.
    The 31-year-old Fort Collins veterinarian has worked with guinea pigs, dogs, horses, birds, cats,
pigs, sheep and rats, among others. Pet owners bring their animals to McClelland for alternative
therapies such as Reiki - a Japanese healing art similar to acupuncture but without the needles -
and healing touch, a form of energy work developed in the 1980s. Both are designed to help
clear energy blocks in the body to improve a person's or animal's physical, mental, emotional and
spiritual health.
    "Reiki is sending healing energy and letting the body do with it what it wants. Healing touch has
the same premise as Reiki but also involves the manipulative interaction of energy," said
McClelland, who also does energy work on humans.
    In addition to their interest in energy work for pets, many of McClelland's clients also hope to
communicate with their favorite companions with her help.
    "When I tune into the animal, I ask questions and get answers in English and complete
sentences," said McClelland, who prefers that pet animal owners use another veterinarian as an
animal's primary caregiver. "But I don't prescribe anything. The way I portray everything to the
client is that they check with their vet or specialist."
    While she is confident that alternative therapies like Reiki and healing touch can be helpful for
some pets and that "listening" to pets is one way to get clues to what they want and need,
McClelland is a firm believer in traditional Western veterinary medicine. She's been a vet for
six years and has been practicing Reiki and healing touch for five.
    "If your pet needs steroids, I'm going to recommend that you talk to your vet about steroids,"
McClelland said. "My philosophy is a combination of traditional medicine and complementary
therapies. You can't disregard the traditional medicine."
    Take her approach to a 10-year-old yellow Labrador retriever named Ozzie.
    Ozzie had knee surgery in November, and in July, he injured his shoulder. Then he got an
infection in his elbow that landed him in the hospital.
    When Ozzie comes for an appointment, McClelland first discusses with owner Connie Fredman
how the dog has been feeling and what his orthopedic surgeon has said. She also asks what
questions Fredman has about Ozzie's health and well-being.
    Then she turns to Ozzie. In a meditative pose, she places her hand above his torso. The picture
of complete concentration, she sits for more than five minutes, her brow furrowing periodically.
For his part, Ozzie is completely relaxed - only his ears perk up on occasion.
    But as quickly as McClelland goes into this meditative state, she comes out of it and puts back
on her "traditional veterinarian" hat.
    She tells Fredman that Ozzie is not thrilled about the idea of surgery. An older dog, Ozzie's
three other legs are arthritic and unstable, and recovery from surgery is iffy. McClelland
suggests finding out more about braces and carts.
    "Since the orthopedic surgeon also does not want to do surgery, I suggest you check with him
about these options," she said to Fredman.
    McClelland, who charges $50 an hour, is confident that in many cases, the animals know what
they want and need. How they communicate this to her, however, she can't exactly explain.
    "It's some level of the mind that I'm tapping into. ...At the subconscious level, we are all
connected," McClelland said. "I know there is a conversation that is going on. I'm not pushing
    Many animal experts, however, regard animal communication as, at best, improbable, and, at
worst, a disservice to animals.
    Suzanne Hetts, an animal behaviorist and partner with Animal Behavior Associates in Littleton,
worries that the field contributes to the widespread and sometimes dangerous impulse to treat
animals like humans.
    "I don't put much stock in it.... No one can get in an animal's head and know what they are
thinking," Hetts said. "I think the animal communication aspect really appeals to people. We
would love to be able to communicate with (pets) and treat them in a whole lot more empathetic
way. What leads to the best communication is when people get to know what an animal's
behavior is in an objective way rather than trying to turn animals into people. That's why I think
this field does animals a disservice."
    Hetts, who earned a Ph.D. in zoology with a specialty in animal behavior from Colorado State
University, claims that some animal communicators seem to be successful because they have
learned be good observers of animal behavior.
    "I think there probably are animal communicators who have gotten very good at observing
animal behavior," she said.
    But Marc Bekoff, a professor in the department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the
University of Colorado at Boulder, said the jury is still out on animal communicators. Bekoff
works in the field of cognitive ethology, which is the study of animal minds. He is willing to
entertain the notion that observing behavior might not be the only way to communicate with
    "I get contacted by a lot of animal communicators. I've seen some stories that have been
verified. In a lot of cases, they seem to be doing exactly what they claim to be doing. So I'm
open to the idea that they are doing just that," Bekoff said. "There is a lot that we don't know
about neuroscience to completely dismiss them."
    McClelland is not thrilled about opening herself up to ridicule among her scientific peers, but
she's confident about her ability to communicate with animals.
    As a teenager, she found that when she began practicing meditation, she was able to "tune into"
people and help them with their problems. It wasn't until she went to vet school and then trained
in Reiki and healing touch, though, that she rediscovered the ability and found it could be
applied to animals as well as people.
    "Something about the energy work amplifies the communication," she said.
    McClelland has been particularly successful with pets that are ill and won't eat. Fort Collins
resident Monica Keefe visited McClelland with a 12-year-old Great Pyrenees named Diamond
who was not eating. Diamond communicated to McClelland that he wanted chicken, Keefe said.
"I did that, and this guy just started eating," Keefe said. "I have no doubt in my mind that he
communicated this."
    Fort Collins resident Lois Samer turned to McClelland when her 11-year-old greyhound Sasha
was diagnosed with advanced bone cancer in her spine.
    At one point, Sasha was having problems walking. Samer naturally thought the problem was the
growing cancer in her spine. But the dog communicated that the problem was her arthritis,
Samer said. After consulting with Sasha's vet, Samer was able to increase the arthritis medicine.
"She started getting better. She started walking and generally enjoying life more," Samer said.
    And with weekly Reiki treatments to help alleviate her pain, Sasha never had to be given
morphine, Samer said.
    Like many of McClelland's clients, Samer appreciates that McClelland is philosophically
grounded in Western veterinary medicine.
    "She really talked about the medical problems that existed," she said. "I'm a very Western
medicine oriented person. ...Because she was grounded in Western veterinary medicine, it
was easier to accept an Eastern philosophy. I didn't need to question it."
    And Samer said the energy work and communication was absolutely worth it.
    "There is no doubt in my mind that Brenda prolonged (Sasha's) life and improved the quality of
it," Samer said.