Creature Features

A Touch of Love

Hands-On Healing for the Animal Kingdom

Our two new barn cats sat inside their oversized traveling crate, surveying the view. After a full day chasing mice and exploring the great outdoors of the ranch, they’d retreated back into the security of their “home” to rest.

CoverStoryGraphic.jpgAshes already followed us around like a puppy and repeatedly flopped onto his back asking for belly rubs. His aptly named twin sister, Majestic, remained aloof. I reached into their crate and trailed my hand softly down her stiffened back, before picking up their empty food bowl.

Just as I turned to walk away, Majestic attacked. She bit me hard on the back of my leg and leapt onto my back, sinking her claws and teeth deep into my skin before racing away to hide.

I was stunned. I didn’t know anything about cats, but I’d enjoyed training horses over the years, had cared for many other creatures, and certainly thought I had a way with animals. Majestic had been vaccinated against rabies, so I assumed her aggression resulted from territory or distrust issues. But whatever the reason for her behavior, it just wouldn’t do.

After tending to my wounds, I searched various problem-animal sites on the Web. Especially intriguing was the “Trust Touch” (TTouch) therapy and training work of Linda Tellington-Jones, practiced by more than 1,400 certified practitioners in 26 countries. As the Web site ( explained, TTouch treatments focus primarily on a series of clockwise circular motions of varying pressures, performed by pushing the skin with the fingers.

My interest piqued, I scheduled an appointment with the certified practitioner, Barbara Janelle, in Santa Barbara ( Janelle said that aggressive behavior is an instinctual response to fear, and that the TTouch technique rapidly eases fear, distress, and pain. She assured me the technique would allow me to provide better care for all the animals I work with—aiding in their training, increasing their contentedness and confidence, and serving as a potentially lifesaving method of calming an animal in an emergency.

A few days later, Janelle greeted me at her door and ushered me into her living room. We sank into deep, soft chairs to discuss her long history working with animals, including the past 22 years teaching clinics and numerous seminars.

Janelle demonstrated several TTouch treatments on Magic, her 17-year-old black cat, including an “Ear TTouch” that would help me to relax Majestic. She said that a cat’s ear contains 397 acupressure points that affect every major system in its little body. Janelle also demonstrated the “Clouded Leopard” TTouch, named for a Clouded Leopard at the Los Angeles Zoo whose aggressive behavior was successfully treated with that particular therapy. I learned how to rest one hand “as light as a cloud” on Magic’s shoulder, curving my fingers slightly while placing the flat pads of my fingers on his skin, then pushing his skin in a circle rather than sliding or rubbing my fingers against it. Meanwhile, I supported the cat gently with my other hand, to help hold him still. Janelle reminded me to relax and keep breathing, pointing out that when I held my breath, so did Magic.

When Janelle recounted how she has also applied the technique to friends with great results, I rolled up my sleeves to show her my rather severe case of poison oak. She walked to the kitchen and returned with clean towels, which she wrapped around my swollen and blistered arms. Working through the protective cloth, she began a series of barely perceptible “Raccoon TTouch” circles, using the very tips of her fingers and fingernails to push my skin gently, in clockwise circles, over and over again, moving slowly in rows up and back down my forearms. Within minutes my taut skin softened and the swelling began to decrease considerably, easing my pain and at least slightly soothing the intensity of the itch. Perhaps another type of massage would provide similar results. But whatever Janelle was doing sure seemed to work, and I liked it.

In the weeks after Janelle’s demonstration, I devoured several of Tellington-Jones’s 13 books and began experimenting with TTouch on our cats, baby horse, and my husband Victor. I wasn’t sure if the circles themselves were responsible for the good feelings in our little family, or if it was just the extra love and attention. Perhaps all Majestic needed was to grow accustomed to us, but after a few TTouch sessions she quickly became as fun, trusting, and playful as her brother.

As Tellington-Jones tells it, her work is largely informed by human-potential pioneer Moshe Feldenkrais. While attending a four-year course at his institute in San Francisco in the 1970s, “a statement made by Feldenkrais electrified me,” she said. “[He said] that by using non-habitual movements that would activate unused neural pathways to the brain, it is possible to improve learning potential.” Already an accomplished horse trainer, Tellington-Jones began applying Feldenkrais’s teachings to her trainees.

By adapting and applying the various techniques she learned, Tellington-Jones gained considerable notoriety within the equestrian world in the ’70s and early ’80s. Then, in 1983, while demonstrating on a cranky mare at a veterinary clinic, Tellington-Jones was struck with an intuitive impulse to begin pushing the mare’s skin in small circles—a departure from her more complex Feldenkrais-based approach. “When I saw the effects on this mare, I realized that there was something special in the circular movements that anyone could learn,” Tellington-Jones said. What has emerged over the ensuing decades she calls Trust Touch.

Dr. Stephanie Cote, a veterinarian in Ontario, Canada, incorporates TTouch into her work daily. “My patients are frequently scared and concerned about having something painful examined,” she said, “I am constantly asking myself, ‘How can I make this easier for them?’ TTouch is always a part of the answer.”

Dr. Kerry Ridgway, a noted equine veterinarian based in Aiken, South Carolina, often recommends TTouch as a preventative or follow-up therapy to his clients. He said that “the results of [Tellington-Jones’s] work cannot be placed in the mold of ‘evidence-based medicine’ through double-blind studies. However, like acupuncture, TTouch should be considered ‘proven to be effective’ based on the thousands of case studies and the empirical results that accompany them.”

Art Goodrich practiced TTouch at the world-famous San Diego Zoo, where he served as master zookeeper from 1973 until his retirement in 2000. He remains an avid proponent of TTouch today. “I have used TTouch on everything from aardvarks to zebras,” he said. “Giraffes especially enjoy the relaxing of the muscles and the relief of painful areas.” He said that all the animals he handled received a measure of TTouch, and, “They all loved it and wanted more.”

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Horse Rescue

The Equine Sanctuary Saves Horses from Slaughter

by Alastair Bland

Horse slaughter in the United States is illegal, but that doesn’t stop it from happening on a very large scale. While most Americans would say no to the offer of a horsemeat dinner, many Europeans and Asians have a fondness for the flesh, and in the wake of mad cow disease, the demand for horsemeat has increased in recent years. Many horse owners, racers, and breeders now speculate in this profitable trade — and it’s not just the sick and the old horses that are at risk. Young, healthy animals are prized for their quality flesh, and the horsemeat trade even includes wild horses. Estimates vary slightly, but approximately 90,000 horses meet their ends in United States slaughterhouses each year, in spite of the law.

“I can’t tell you how many people have no clue about all this!” said Alexis Ells, director of the Equine Sanctuary in Ojai and a vehement opponent of horse slaughter. “There are people who love horses like family members and would do anything to keep a horse from harm, but they are clueless about the slaughter. A lot of people even sell their horses into slaughter without realizing it.”

The Equine Sanctuary, now in its fifth year, is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization founded on a simple love of horses. The sanctuary’s ultimate goal is to end horse slaughter in the United States, and it does its part by rescuing injured performance horses and rehabilitating them to the point that they can offer companionship to a new owner. The sanctuary has a worthy reputation among horse fans, and in 2006 it received the very prestigious Thoroughbred Charities of America Grant for its goodwill and achievements.

Unfortunately, however, it’s an expensive task to restart the life of just one horse. “We take on these horses as well as the financial burden of each,” said Ells, “and we receive none of the money that this horse generated in its career.”

That revenue remains in the hands and pockets of the industry magnates and jockeys, who have since moved forward to round up new and promising athletes. Their fresh horses may create headlines, hoopla, and glory for a while, only to be disposed of in due time. This cycle continues at a rate that Ells and the Equine Sanctuary cannot match, for it takes from four months to two years to rehabilitate a single horse, and the five-acre sanctuary can handle a maximum of just 30 horses at a time. A lack of space and funds is the most significant problem at the sanctuary, causing Ells to turn animals away almost every day.

Ells eventually finds new and satisfactory homes for almost all of the sanctuary’s residents. However, some have suffered physical or psychological damage to the extent that they must remain at the sanctuary as permanent residents. It’s not a bad life for a horse. They receive first-rate love and care, and many enter the Goodwill Ambassadors program, which offers educational and therapeutic experiences for children, students, adults, and the disabled.

“But we want to have as few permanent residents here as possible,” said Ells. This allows more space to receive, retrain, and replace horses into the hands of trustworthy people.

Other sanctuaries exist around the country, mostly back East where horseracing is most popular. But Ells said that, to the best of her knowledge, the Equine Sanctuary is one of the only places in the United States that aims to rehabilitate abused horses both physically and emotionally. Thus, the demands and stresses on the sanctuary are huge, and Ells and her volunteers simply cannot save every horse in America from becoming an entree abroad.

Education remains as the most powerful tool. “It’s my goal,” said Ells, “to develop consciousness and compassion so that we don’t keep throwing these horses on a meat-hook when they’re no longer profitable.”

Currently, there are three foreign-owned plants in the United States that welcome, kill, and dismember equines for the horsemeat trade. Congress has approved written regulations that should have ended the slaughter several years ago, but the language is unclear and full of loopholes that effectively allow the slaughter to continue.

But not all people in the industry dispose of their horses this way, acknowledged Ells, and she said that some are even horse-rights advocates.

“But there is a serious issue today with the slaughtering of the horses. It is extremely widespread and prevalent — more than most people know — and I don’t think it’s acceptable.”

The Equine Sanctuary survives by the support of monetary donations and fundraising events. On August 19, the 2006 Santa Barbara Youth Polo Invitational will be held at the Meeker Polo Field in Carpinteria, where attendants may enjoy a silent auction, music, barbecued food, and the competition itself. Most notably, every last proceed will go to the Equine Sanctuary.

“This is the biggest fundraiser of the year,” said Ells, “and it’s a great way to teach the kids that they can play polo for a cause rather than just because they’re privileged and they can. We’re charging them an entry fee, too, which will show them that their sport can have direct, positive effects. We really want them to be aware of this issue and where their horses might end up going when they’re finished.”

4·1·1 Contact the Equine Sanctuary at 453-4567 or visit; check the site’s calendar page for polo benefit details.

Best Friends

Remembering My Dog Sadie

by Randy Arnowitz

When my golden retriever, Sadie, died I canceled the paper and unplugged the phone. I let the battery on my cell run out past the one-bar danger zone and beyond that annoying beeping reminder. I didn’t want anything to get in. I hauled my bed up into the secret loft that is accessed by a wooden ladder in my bedroom. I wished for a loft above my loft so I could go even farther up. Farther up and away.

Away, from the haunting and grainy X-rays that to me resembled ominous, dark gray storm clouds gathering, twisting, billowing over a dangerously still and eerily quiet Kansas landscape but to the veterinarian, unquestionably showed that Sadie’s lymphoma had rapidly — in a short two weeks — progressed to the point that even chemo would prove useless. Away, from the time now past that I shared with this remarkable dog, who loved me so completely and constantly that I sometimes felt unworthy and burdened by the responsibility of all that love and all those warm nose-kisses.

It would be weeks before I could bring myself to vacuum my apartment; I didn’t want to say goodbye to the last remnants of her that were still blowing from room to room around my apartment like fluffy, golden tumbleweeds. I felt comforted by the fact that part of her was still with me and was convinced that in some miraculous way I could sweep up all those ghostly puffs and make them into another Sadie. I figured that if they could reassemble a dinosaur from the DNA leftovers found in Jurassic-period amber, I should be able to clone my dog from all that dog hair. Because her passing was so startlingly sudden it seemed as if she had magically disappeared into what seemed to be my instant history. My current life now excluded her and it was unthinkable that the only tangible evidence of her was now in the Hoover.

A few months have passed and I have descended from my loft. I’ve turned on my phone. I’ve begun to allow in bits of the sweet memories that have started to shine through one snippet at a time.

One morning, when I first got Sadie, I had stopped in for one of my ritual blended mocha drinks at a local java hut. After placing it in the cup holder, I got out of my truck for a moment to go into the bank to run an errand. When I returned, all the whipped cream had mysteriously vanished from inside the plastic bubble dome that covered the drink. When I looked over at Sadie, she was very nonchalantly and just a little too innocently gazing out the opposite window while stealing occasional, darting glimpses of me from the corner of her eye. How she got her dainty, silky tongue through the little hole in the top of the drink and cleaned out all the whipped cream in such a short time I’ll never know, but from then on, I always made a habit of accidentally leaving my mochas unattended for a few moments.

I have since returned to Hendry’s Beach (Sadie’s favorite dog beach) where on a Sunday there is such a hodgepodge of canines running, digging, barking, and playing tag that I feel as if I’m window shopping. A burly chocolate lab hurdles over a Dr. Seuss wiener-dog mix while a nappy-headed labradoodle plays giant kelp tug-of-war with a Hungarian puli. I mentally try each of them on but know that inevitably my heart will be stolen by another special golden dog that will mend the break and again make my heart glow and sing.

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