The Spiritual Nature of Animals: A Country Vet Explores the Wisdom, Compassion, and Souls of Animals

The Spiritual Nature of Animals: A Country Vet Explores the Wisdom, Compassion, and Souls of Animals

by Karlene Stange DVM


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Beloved Companions, Kindred Spirits

Karlene Stange’s spiritual journey began as she drove her pickup loaded with medical supplies to attend to animals throughout southwestern Colorado, where the Animas River carves the landscape. As an ambulatory veterinarian, she has experienced the challenges, sorrows, and joys of working with creatures great and small and feels a powerful kinship with these beautiful beings, a bond that goes beyond flesh and fur and feathers. The Spiritual Nature of Animals chronicles her amazing exploration through the teachings of various religious and cultural traditions, as well as her encounters with the magnificent Rocky Mountain terrain and the quirky characters — both animal and human — who inhabit it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781608685158
Publisher: New World Library
Publication date: 11/07/2017
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 830,097
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

As a child, Karlene Stange, DVM, wanted to be an “animal doctor” before she knew the word “veterinarian.” Today she incorporates acupuncture, traditional Chinese herbal medicine, and nutritional therapy into her Rocky Mountain practice. She often speaks at conferences and lives in Durango, Colorado.

Read an Excerpt


Ambulatory Horse Doctor

"Honey, if you don't come, she's going to die," said Mr. Hall.

The day's schedule was full. My neck ached. Instead of taking lunch, I was driving to the chiropractor.

"She fell in the irrigation ditch this morning, and now she's too weak to stand," explained Mr. Hall about his three-day-old foal.

My psychotherapist warned me. She said, "You need to take care of yourself. Take more time off; just say no." That was easy for her to say.

"I'll come right now," I said, turning the truck around. A three-day-old foal is a neonate — a term containing deep meaning for a veterinarian. People had planned for and anticipated this foal's arrival for more than a year; the mare had spent 345 days in gestation to produce this precious, fragile being full of hope and promise; and now, after three days, it was ready to drop dead at the snap of a finger. The idea of a sick neonatal foal set off alarm bells in my brain and made my heart race.

It was June 6, 1995, and a heavy morning frost was making life challenging for a newborn. This nice old man, Mr. Hall, was right — she would die without help. My neck could wait, and if I had any snacks, I would eat them in the truck.

From 1990 to 2010, I worked as an ambulatory veterinarian, and I lived in my truck. Four trucks met their mileage limits during that time, but I always drove white three-quarter-ton F250 Fords, four-wheel-drive vehicles with a regular cab and full-length running boards that allowed all five foot four inches of me to reach into the veterinary utility box that lined the eight-foot bed. That utility box, called a Porta-Vet, contained a hidden water tank in the center. The side compartments raised up at a slant, exposing a deep floor near the cab and shelves holding medications and tools toward the rear. On the driver's side, the deep area closest to the cab held a refrigerator where I kept vaccines, hormones, and antibiotics. Overhead, a roll of paper towels hung from the door. On the floor sat a trash can and a lockbox for controlled substances, such as euthanasia solution, analgesics, and anesthetics. Just above and to the right of the refrigerator sat a covered dish filled with surgical tools: needle holders, scissors, curved needles, hemostats, and forceps. Another slotted compartment farther to the rear contained hypodermic needles, acupuncture needles, syringes, a stethoscope, thermometer, and test tubes for blood collection. On the passenger side, in the section of the Porta-Vet closest to the cab, was a deep compartment where I kept an X-ray machine and a case of intravenous fluid bags. Toward the back were shelves with hoof testers, hoof nippers, an oral speculum, dental floats, deworming medications, and oral anti-inflammatory drugs.

The tailgate of the utility box dropped to provide a work space. The left inside wall of the rear compartment was equipped with switches for lights and a water pump. A hose to the water tank hung next to them on a bracket. A large pull-out drawer held a stainless-steel bucket and a box of ropes and halters; on the right, a small upper drawer contained bandage materials, while a lower drawer transported a computer and printer, each enclosed in padded gun cases.

The truck's cab interior was always gray. The driver's side door held sunscreen, hand sanitizer, and snack bars — or so I hoped that June morning. Jammed behind the seat were coveralls, boots, down jackets, vests, and numerous hats and gloves to suit the ever-changing weather. In the early-model trucks, the cellular phone was perched on a post in the center of the floor. (When the first cellular phone company came to town, I won that phone in a contest by writing in fifty words or less why I needed a cellular phone.) Mounted on the hood of each truck was a bronze horse-head hood ornament with a liver-chestnut patina.

My truck was more than a mobile animal surgical office. It was my home away from home.

Mr. Hall's filly was as cold as the weather. Because neonatal horses do not have the ability to thermoregulate like adults, she was suffering from hypothermia. We needed a place out of the wind to warm her. I spotted an old, abandoned chicken coop, and Mr. Hall agreed. He carried the limp youngster as I led the mare, who followed her baby while voicing concerned grumblings. The door into the coop was short and narrow, and the ceiling of the shed was low — an entrance intimidating to most horses — but the mare entered without balking, following her offspring like a good mother, caring more about the babe than her own safety. Inside, she stood quietly watching over everything we did.

If love means caring about another's well-being more than our own, then postpartum mares demonstrate the definition of love. Mares can be dangerously protective, but when their babies are ill, they seem to understand that I am there to help. I remember a large bay quarter horse dam who hovered over her recumbent foal for several days. She watched attentively as I treated her colt for abdominal pain. On the third day, exhausted, she collapsed to her knees next to me with a grunt. I looked into her eyes and said, "Please lie down and rest. I'll take care of him." She rolled to her side and slept deeply, until her foal suddenly recovered, stood up, staggered over to her heaving side, and struck her abdomen and udder with his front hooves, demanding she rise so he could nurse. She did, and they both lived happily ever after.

Rarely, a mare will refuse her foal, just as some human mothers have trouble bonding with their newborns. That is another emergency — the foal must get the first milk, the colostrum, within the first twelve hours of life to be protected from infection. Usually sedation and restraint of a reluctant mare are enough to get the two to bond. Once the neonate nurses, the hormone oxytocin flows through the mother, and she becomes attached, which is also true for humans. We have the same hormones (oxytocin, estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and so on), and the same emotional responses to their effects.

Mr. Hall's mare showed a strong attachment to her filly, although her engorged udder indicated that the foal had not nursed for some time. I knew the neonate was dehydrated on the inside even though she was wet on the outside. Without the precious elixir of the mother's milk, hypoglycemia would be another problem. We found a 100-watt lightbulb in the chicken coop to provide heat, and we dried the neonate with towels. I fitted an old down vest on her body with the snaps connecting along her back, and I placed a catheter in her jugular vein to administer warmed fluids. I added antibiotics to the solution of dextrose and electrolytes because foals have very little immune protection and get infections easily. Once the fluids had run and her body heat returned, the neonatebegan to come to life. She stood with our help, but her head hung down to the ground, eyes closed, as she wobbled, her spindly legs sprawled wide apart. She needed to drink her mother's milk to survive, but I learned long ago not to push foals to nurse; they just push back, and she might fall. Still, I gently nudged her to the mare, whose udder started dripping milk as she nickered to her baby and nuzzled her bottom. The foal replied with a weak, high-pitched whinny and a tail swish. She moved closer, head hanging below the udder as milk poured from the teats and dribbled over the filly's drooped ears. She shook her head, wrinkled her brow, and turned her lips down as if she felt annoyed. "Just open your mouth," I begged. After several long minutes, her whisker-covered muzzle opened, her pink tongue curled and reached up; she suckled without making contact at first, and then, to our relief, finally found the glorious goodness of her mother's nipple. The pair emanated love. I wondered how anyone could say animals do not experience love.

Although most scientists deny there is any evidence that animals feel love, there is a test to determine who loves you more — your dog or your spouse. Lock each one in the trunk of a car for an hour and find out which one is happy to see you when you let them out. This is a joke, but it rings true.

For a veterinarian like me, who observes animals in intimate situations, it feels intuitively obvious that animals love their offspring.

As I drove away, I thought of the many neonates I had saved, and in the warmth of fulfillment, I forgot about my pain and busy schedule. Then I remembered the precious ones that had died in my hands. My eyes blurred, my throat tightened, and the pain returned.

Veterinarians dance with death daily. When the phone rings outside of normal business hours, we get out of bed and go, not for the reward of money — other professionals with our education level earn much more than we do. Rather, we attend emergencies because we love the beautiful creatures and the ugly ones, too. We want to help them all. Their spirits touch us and bring us joy. At the same time, we have to make peace with tremendous suffering and our failures.

Ambulatory veterinary medicine is far from glamorous. Rather, it is blood in the mud, life-and-death decisions made outside of normal business hours, often during bad weather. Even in a hospital, during the day, emergency work is challenging. I faced this gruesome truth immediately after earning my doctor of veterinary medicine degree. In 1985, I began working at Animas Animal Hospital, where late-night and weekend emergencies were common and stressful, and I started my own equine ambulatory veterinary practice in 1988, which made me the sole person responsible for my client's animals around the clock. I loved my profession, but I whipped and spurred myself to attend emergencies past the point of exhaustion, and I agonized over the suffering of each animal I attended. My body felt like a sagging ridgepole about to splinter apart in the middle. After years of castrating untrained colts, watching horses thrash in pain, filing horse's teeth, treating bloody, maggot-infested wounds and pus-filled uteruses, and performing too much euthanasia, I needed a mental diversion to help avoid spontaneous combustion from burnout. At the same time, my close relations with animals from birth to death made me wonder how people could make certain statements about animals, such as "They do not feel love," "They are not conscious," and "They do not have souls." None of these made sense to me. I reached a turning point when I decided to research the world's religious, scientific, and spiritual teachings about the nonphysical aspect of animals. The quest to understand their spiritual nature became my passion and salvation.


I set out to understand the spiritual nature of animals, and in so doing, I discovered my own. Creatures great and small dragged me down a rabbit hole and through sacred tunnels into a world of dragons, shamans, gurus, lamas, monks, nuns, demons, priests, rabbis, preachers, scientists, clairvoyants, channels, mystics, animal communicators, and spiritual teachers. Those adepts schooled me and gave me refuge from the drama and trauma overburdening me. They introduced me to the anima — what Jungian psychology refers to as the animating principal present in all living beings.

Anima is the Latin root of the word animal. It means soul, breath, and life. Veterinarians share a personal relationship with the anima; we watch it drain from a body only to meet it again as a newborn foal or pup. Yet veterinary education rarely mentions it. We learn detailed information about bones, blood, and the other physical components, but little is said of the nonphysical aspect — the animas of animals. I now believe it is the most important part.

Firemen do not enter burning buildings or ascend to the tops of tall trees to grab a hunk of meat known as a "cat." They rescue a beloved family member, a companion. The incorporeal light in an animal's eyes reaches into our hearts. It touches us more deeply than any physical thing. We humans have the capacity to connect with the spiritual nature of animals; it makes us happy.

I wanted to be an animal doctor before I knew the word veterinarian. As a young girl in Wisconsin, I remember attending a stallion showing. The handler enumerated the attributes of the handsome, gray Arabian stud as I stared at a gray-haired man in the audience. He appeared humble and placid and wore a vest monogrammed with the veterinary emblem. I learned that he was the local large-animal veterinarian. Although I did not know him, something about his wise, yet nonjudgmental demeanor attracted me, and I longed to be like him. I had yet to learn how the fires of veterinary practice would burn and melt me before forging me into the person I aspired to become.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), the suicide rate for veterinarians is four times higher than the national average. This may be due in part to the gory wounds and difficult procedures, the death and euthanasia, and the stress of long hours treating emergencies, but it may also be because of something I call "compassion overwhelm." We care too much. We tend to be compulsive overachievers who sacrifice our lives for the job, as did the cattle practitioner I read about once in the AVMA obituaries who drowned trying to save a calf stuck in a muddy pond. Or perhaps suicide appeals to us because of our familiarity with death.

No matter the reasons, my experience convinces me that an understanding of the spiritual nature of animals benefits the mental and emotional health of veterinarians and animal-loving people who anguish over the suffering of pets and wildlife. Furthermore, veterinary clients may harbor strong religious beliefs that influence their decisions, and we must show them respect and speak to them with wisdom. I hope the insights shared here provide comfort to those who live with, tend to, and love animals. Perhaps, once they learn of their beneficial qualities, some may even come to see and appreciate the simple beauty of maggots and other parts of nature we often abhor.

My goal, then, is to explore the world's religious, spiritual, philosophical, and scientific teachings about the nonphysical makeup of animals for the highest good of animal care, the human-animal bond, and the well-being of all concerned.

Each chapter explores a different religious belief system and offers three main approaches to the material. First, each chapter begins with a description of that belief system. In order for the reader to fully comprehend the tenets of Hinduism, Judaism, shamanism, and so on, the vocabulary must first be defined. Therefore, each chapter includes some history and definitions followed by an investigation into the religion's beliefs regarding animals. Then, throughout, I provide stories from my veterinary practice, offering further illustration of the concepts for contemplation. The third element explores the unfolding of my own spiritual growth — a concept I learned in the process — and how it changed me.

The struggle inside me first started in the 1990s and early 2000s when I practiced large- and small-animal ambulatory medicine out of a pickup truck in a rural mountain community in southwestern Colorado. Horses, llamas, alpacas, dogs, and cats were my primary patients, along with other wild and domestic flying, swimming, and crawling creatures. I drove day and night to attend to animals in beautiful places around Durango, Colorado, where the Animas River carves the landscape.

The majority of my time spent researching spiritual teachings took place on the job in a pickup truck where the only way to learn was from audiotapes. Time off included further seeking by reading, praying, attending church services, meditating, chanting, going on a vision quest, attending retreats with a Tibetan lama and Buddhist nuns, questioning psychics and shamans, pursuing an animal communication apprenticeship, and conducting interviews with experts in numerous fields of spirituality.

During this period, I drove an average of a hundred miles or more a day. Fortunately, the scenery made that part of the job a pleasure, although the dirt routes on winding, mountainous terrain were often treacherous. The views of snow-covered peaks and enchanted valleys, tall ponderosa forests, and aspen groves soothed my stressed mind. Guardian angels held the wheel as I watched a bald eagle circling above or stared at an osprey sitting on a snag next to the Animas River. The occasional coyote made me giggle as he scooted across a field, looking over his shoulder as though trouble were on his tail. A bobcat, a bachelor band of elk, or a family of deer crossing the road at times caused me to hit the brakes. Drives to ranches were adventures into fantasylands of hidden canyons and mysterious ravines where cell phone service was lost. A tourist once told me, "You live in a postcard." To which I replied, "And I drive each day in the mud, dust, and snow that keep everyone else from living here."


Excerpted from "The Spiritual Nature of Animals"
by .
Copyright © 2017 Karlene Stange.
Excerpted by permission of New World Library.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Part One: Ambulatory Horse Doctor

Chapter 1: Ambulatory Horse Doctor


The Buddhist and the Baptist

Judgment and Pain

How to Heal

Fear and Fortitude

Part Two: Stories from the Garden Paradise and the Hunter-Gatherer Societies

Chapter 2: The Beginning: Creation and the Garden Paradise

The Hopi

The Australian Aboriginal

The Ancient Hebrew

African Myths: Barotse, Bantu and Yao

Animal Symbols

Iris in Paradise

Chapter 3: The Paradisal Skills of Shamans

Animals, Spirits, and Shamans

The Oglala Sioux

Central and North Asian Shamanism

Interview with a Shaman

Vision Quest

Ring of Fire

Part Three: Ancient Religious Beliefs about Animals

Chapter 4: Mother Nature: The Great Transformer

Animal Sacrifice

The Fare of the Fair

The Bear Sacrifice

The Sacrificial Fire

Healing Happens

Gaia: The Goddess of Ancient Europe

Ancient Egypt

Ancient China

Fantastic Animals

The Pagan Parade

Neopaganism—New Age Religion

The Cow Goddess

Chapter 5: Hinduism: Escape from Samsara

Karma and Reincarnation



Animal Vehicles and Sacred Animals

The Sacred Rat

Halloween Hare Krishna

Evil versus Equanimity

Chapter 6: Buddhism: Finding Peace of Mind

Animals and Reincarnation

Buddhist Cosmology and Karma

How to End Suffering

The First Precept

Chocolate Nirvana versus Tonglen

Types of Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhism


Dragons and Demons

The Buddha-nature of a Mare

Salty Bones

Zen Buddhism

Chapter 7: God: The Omnipotent Creator (Islam, Judaism and Christianity)

My Father Which Art in Wisconsin

The Bible

Biblical Interpretation

Animals in the Old Testament

The Great Flood and Noah’s Ark

The Prophets and Balaam’s Ass

Do Animals Have Souls?

Angels and the Devil

Faith Eliminates Prairie Dogs

Animals in the New Testament: the dove, the fish and the lamb

How Do Wounds Heal?

Part Four: Modern Scientific and Spiritual Beliefs about Animals

Chapter 8: Science: Seeking Evidence

The Beginning of Time and the Origin of Life

Spiritual Insights from Science

The Kingdom Animalia

Are Animals Conscious?

Translating Animal Behavior

Chapter 9: Spirituality: Animal Communicators, Mystics, Clairvoyants, and Channels

Psychic Abilities

Acceptance and Animal Communicators

The Pet Store Owner and the Clairsentient

Brain Bliss

Hawkins: Levels of Consciousness




Chapter 10: Conclusion

About the Author


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