Mel Latthitham sits a gray chicken named Brunhilde on her lap and begins performing intricate hand gestures above and on her. In January, Brunhilde survived a raccoon attack that killed two other chickens, and now copes with posttraumatic stress. Her owner, who like Latthitham lives in Southeast Portland, says the hen was so shaken she was unable to lay eggs. Brunhilde, who’s been through this ritual a few times, seems content, maybe even relaxed, as Latthitham caresses her and makes shapes, symbols, and circles above her.
This is Reiki, a Japanese technique aimed at lowering stress through touch and movement. Historically, Reiki is for humans. Latthitham has adapted the practice for Portland’s backyard animal population—for example, to help Brunhilde lay eggs again. The 42-year-old freelance graphic designer and mother of two says she simply channels the “energy within and surrounding us” through hand movements.
“You can’t see it. It’s like the wind,” Latthitham says. “You can’t feel it. When you touch whomever—human, animal, plant, or pet—it usually just works automatically. I don’t do the work, but the Reiki does.”
Latthitham became a Reiki believer after undergoing touch therapy to help her through her own rough patch, which included the death of her bunny and an end to a long-standing friendship. Latthitham said her heart was broken, but Reiki “put the pieces back together.” She then decided to undergo Reiki training with a local master. Her know-how stands currently at level two, and she needs about a few more months before she can reach level three: Reiki Master status. She offers Reiki to her human friends but also advertises her services for pets, for $25 a session.
Does it work? Well, according to Poom Lynn, Brunhilde’s owner, she started laying again the very next day after her first session with Latthitham.
“You don’t see a long-term change. It’s overnight,” Lynn says. “I think the chickens sense they are being cared for. They are being loved.”
“Reiki is love,” adds Latthitham. “When I’m healing them, I give them love.”