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Aiding dogs… with Reiki?

Would the principle of an organisation prevent you from donating money/time/items if you disagreed with those principles? This is a question I posed a short time ago on Twitter, when I wondered if atheists felt that they couldn’t donate to religious based charitable organisations, because of the conflict in belief. There was a mixed bag of answers, though many seemed to think that, as long as they were providing valuable aid, and not leaning too heavily on the bible-bashing, that it was worth donating money to help those in desperate need. Leaving religious clashes aside, is there ever a point at which you would question your charitable donations, based on your knowledge of what the organisation will do with that money? For me, this question was raised again yesterday, when I discovered that a dog sanctuary in Ireland regularly uses its donations to fund alternative therapies for its animals (see note below – 16/11/11).

Dogs Aid is an animal sanctuary in Dublin, primarily for dogs, but also housing other animals on occasion. The following is from its website:

Dogs Aid is a charity set up by three ladies in 1987 to help dogs that were unwanted and abandoned in Dublin, Ireland. Since then we have helped rehabilitate and rehome hundreds of dogs. Dogs Aid has a no destruction policy so we never put a recoverable dog down, and as a result the sanctuary is a permanent home for many forever dogs that are “too old or too bold” to be rehomed. From time to time we also take care of other animals including rabbits, bats, birds, foxes, feral cats, hedgehogs etc.

Dogs Aid is entirely staffed by volunteers and entirely funded by public donations, and all of our money goes to help the animals. We are currently in the process of building a new sanctuary on our permanent site and look forward to moving the dogs to their new home later this year.

Dogs Aid, like many animal sanctuaries, is funded by public donations, and they are the kind of organisation that I would have donated to in the past, but yesterday, while looking through their website, I found the following paragraph describing the condition of one of their “forever dogs” (emphasis is my own):

When Daisy came into us it was clear that something wasn’t quite right. The vets diagnosed her with brain damage and blindness resulting from the brain damage. After regular meals and regular reiki healing she’s doing really well. Daisy doesn’t spin as much as she used to and is a happy, confident girl.

At Dogs Aid, Daisy benefits from regular reiki healing.

Reiki healing focuses on the manipulation of chi, in conjunction with meridian lines and chakras. The practitioner can use many techniques (but often a “laying on hands” approach) to manipulate the chi and flow chi energy into the patient in order to heal them of many ailments. Despite repeated attempts to demonstrate the effectiveness of reiki, it is widely discredited as having no stronger effect than a similarly administered placebo. In 2008, a review of clinical trials involving reiki concluded that there was no evidence to support its efficacy for any condition, and serious methodological concerns were noted with regard to the trials (many of which were so poorly constructed that they had to be excluded from the review).

One, off-hand mention of the use of reiki might not be enough to discourage one from donating to, or otherwise helping, Dogs Aid, but a look at their “Useful Links” page was enough to discourage me. Pride of place, above even links to Veterinary services, is a link to a Pet Healer, who practises “Small animal healing, specialising in Reiki and Seichem which is great for relieving stress, boosting energy, vitality and immune system responses.”

The Pet Healer in question is Marese Hickey, and she treats both animals and people. In people, she uses a combination of therapies that she has learned, mixing hypnosis with other “energy medicine” techniques. In animals, she uses both reiki and seichem, which she says allows her to safely perform “psychic surgery”. Further examination of her site yields a story of her own cat, who outlived her expected death by several months – a situation which Hickey attributes to her own healing, and to homoeopathic remedies prescribed to her by Emily McAteer, a homoeopathic vet. The cat in question suffered from cancer of the ear (squamous cell carcinoma) and chronic renal failure, and in the last 6 months of its life, received no treatment for either condition.

It’s clear from her own website that Hickey believes her cat lived as a result of her healing, and the fact that she consulted a homoeopathic vet cements her attachment to alternative medical treatments. Many people point to the response of animals to alternative medicine (such as homoeopathy) as proof that it works, stating that animals cannot know about placebo responses and other explanations for feeling better after alternative medical treatment, and therefore must be healed by the treatment in order to seem better. It is true that animals probably aren’t aware of the concept of placebo treatment, but it is also true that their owners are susceptible to confirmation bias – simply, the owner expects the pet to  improve, and so sees an improvement. This effect may be enhanced by the owners behaviour toward the pet – the owner’s behaviour may change, and the pet may respond to this change by also changing its behaviour. Finally, if a pet is receiving no treatment for a serious medical condition, it is possible that pain and sickness will cause it to change its behaviour, and that this behaviour will be misinterpreted as an improvement in condition (e.g. pet moving around much more attributed to an improvement in the condition, but could equally be due to the pet’s discomfort and inability to find comfort in any position).

I’m afraid that this is, absolutely, enough for me to question further donations to Dogs Aid. I don’t support alternative, unproven therapies, directly or indirectly. It is clear that, at least some of the volunteers there do support these therapies, and will continue to use them, and advertise them as a viable method of treating your sick pets. As a donor, I can’t stipulate where my money goes – I can’t simply phone Dogs Aid and say that I will only donate money toward veterinary bills with real, qualified vets using actual medicine – so the only choice left is to raise an objection, and withdraw support. Sorry, Dogs Aid, but I’m out.

 

Update: Dogs Aid have been in touch to clarify their position, and state that “Marese Hickey comes to the sanctuary regularly to volunteer her reiki skills, entirely without cost to Dogs Aid.”.

5 replies on “Aiding dogs… with Reiki?”

“In 2008, a review of clinical trials involving reiki concluded that there was no evidence to support its efficacy for any condition, and serious methodological concerns were noted with regard to the trials (many of which were so poorly constructed that they had to be excluded from the review).”

Link please? I hadn’t heard before that Reiki had been discredited. My standing on it has been that I expected science to prove that it works, because that was my impression. Ta.

Ooops, I thought I had linked it actually. The 2008 study in question is here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1742-1241.2008.01729.x/abstract;jsessionid=6979FFECFC4C1D21B6B8049087FE6866.d03t01 Many studies were excluded because they didn’t meet a minimum Jadad score (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jadad_scale – used to assess methodological quality of studies).

A later study in 2009 (http://www.liebertonline.com/doi/abs/10.1089/acm.2009.0036 ) also concluded that the severe methodological deficiencies in the trials conducted essentially precluded a definitive conclusion of efficacy, and noted that proper, randomised and controlled trials were needed to ascertain efficacy. Existing trials purporting to support the efficacy were found to be extremely poor in terms of quality, methodology, etc.

There is some info here from the American Cancer Society also mentions other studies, and generally concludes that the evidence doesn’t currently support its efficacy.

One example of a more recent study, which did use double blinding, found that there was no significant difference in the group receiving reiki healing and the control group: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22021729

QuackWatch is, as ever, a useful source, containing references to numerous studies: http://www.quackwatch.com/01QuackeryRelatedTopics/reiki.html (just scroll to the end for reference links if you don’t want to read the rest).

In general, the evidence doesn’t seem to support its efficacy, and the only trials gleaning positive results are those with severe design flaws.

It has been brought our attention that you have written the above article about Dogs Aid and why people should not donate to our charity. I would like to make one thing very clear – we do not use any donations or funding to pay for any alternative therapies. Many people volunteer their skills to us, always for free. Marese Hickey comes to the sanctuary regularly to volunteer her reiki skills, entirely without cost to Dogs Aid.

There are many varied views on Reiki, but regardless of anyone’s opinion you simply can’t dispute that one on one time with any abandoned dog can only benefit that dog. The dogs love to see Marese coming, the old dogs particularly love to see her and queue up at the gate to go with her.

The links in our Useful Links section are people who have donated either time or money to Dogs Aid, or are very loyal supporters, or other charities. The link to Marese Hickey’s website is at the top of the list simply because it was the last one added, this is not a conspiracy to place alternative therapies above veterinary medicine.

From your above article you state

“As a donor, I can’t stipulate where my money goes – I can’t simply phone Dogs Aid and say that I will only donate money toward veterinary bills”

If you had picked up the phone to ask if any of our donations go towards reiki you would have been told honestly that no, Marese volunteers her skills for free.

If you have any further questions about us or our policies may I suggest you either email us at info@dogsaid.ie or ring us on 087 2944310 for correct information before you write unsubstantiated articles.

Aine McAnally
On behalf of Dogs Aid Animal Sanctuary Committee

Thank you for taking the time to come and clarify your position. With regard to the Reiki being volunteered, I will make a note in the article pointing out your correction.

The article was raising a general point about donating to charities, and whether one would (or would not) stop donating as a result of policies or beliefs of the charity, which is a question that has arisen several times before. I have no doubt that regular care and affection benefits dogs – we are the proud owners of a rescue pup ourselves, and can see how much she has come on with the love and support of my family. I don’t believe that Reiki benefits dogs, because the evidence doesn’t support it, and Reiki is not the same as just spending time with an abandoned dog. I’m not disputing the value of spending time with a dog, but the value of alternative healing for dogs, and the two are quite different. I can’t agree that Reiki benefits a dog (or anyone) any more than simply spending time with them.

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