Book Review: Kindred Spirits….

Kindred Spirits: How the Remarkable Bond Between Humans & Animals Can Change the Way We Live

by Dr. Allen M Schoen.

Broadway Books, $23.95.

As the title implies, this intoxicating blend of tension and passion is all about bonding – not male, female or the at-the-office type. But man and animal.

It opens on a fast track, if that's possible, on a frigid New England winter night, detailing how Schoen and his "attending assistant, nurse and helpmate," Megan, save the life of an embattled Jesse, a pregnant Jersey cow in labor, and quickly moves across the emotional terrain of many other cases.

The bond between Schoen and Megan was one of those rags-to-riches stories. He saved the 4-year-old diseased and abandoned dog's life and she repaid him many times over.

In fact, Megan evolved into Schoen's unofficial soul mate. "She seemed to feel it was her job to offer tenderness to any wounded or needy animal," he says. "I let her accompany me on my nightly rounds and on emergency calls, where she'd always wait calmly outside the exam-room door, wagging her tail and wanting to come in and see the patient as soon as possible.

"Invariably sensitive to the situation, she mastered the art of a cautious approach, so as not to frighten the animal. Once she was perceived as non-threatening, Megan would shower her charge with soft, warm licks. Her maternal, loving nature permeated every room. "….Over the 10 years we spent together, Megan administered to a veritable Noah's ark of animals: dogs, cats, ferrets, horses, cows, lambs and so on. She was truly an ecumenical aide. On one occasion she even saved the life of another golden retriever by giving her own blood. When she did so, she patiently extended her paw up to meet the needle, just as she had when I first saved her life."

While Schoen received a well-rounded education at the Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine, he emphasizes the spirited dog was "my guide on a journey to a deeper, clearer perception of all that is truly considered healing. Step by step, through example, metaphor and insight, she reopened the doors to my heart and soul; she reawakened my sense of kindred connections to animals I had felt as a child."

But Kindred Spirits is more than a swirling mix of Schoen's most memorable cases, it waxes philosophical about the fusion of priorities in veterinary medicine between Eastern and Western medicine and prioritizing treatment modes to alleviate pain and suffering for the patient. He says, "Acting from love, I believe, provides the best trajectory to a healthy and fruitful life. And few outside influences motivate us to act from love more than a caring relationship with an animal."

There is a tendency in books about animals to romanticize, to fantasize, to make claims that verge on senseless, says Schoen. I am not saying that the human-animal bond is the most important one on Earth or the most powerful. But I do feel when this bond is strong, it can help create a solid foundation for a healthy, evolved life." Abundant and uncontradicted evidence is helping to build a case for the acceptance of alternative or Eastern modalities in veterinary medicine.

Schoen, who labels himself an integrative holistic veterinarian, is a subscriber to both those and conventional Western modes as one case after another reflects in this absorbing portrayal.

Hence, much of the volume centers on the role of acupuncture, in particular, along with Chinese and Western herbs, nutrition, chiropractic and touch therapy in patients' wellness.

As the title implies, Kindred Spirits is not a one-way adventure. Animals have the potential to give back to us just as much as we offer them, which the author calls "co-species healing".

"Science can't explain it. But I know it exists. My proof consists of all the anecdotal evidence I have amassed over my two decades as a veterinarian, and it has been corroborated by other like-minded women and men in the field."

The colorful mosaic of anecdotes is not tear jerking, rather a blend of refreshing realism and celebratory energy.

If I had one bone to pick, it's the author's failure to credit Dr. Leo Bustad, one of the patriarchs of the human-companion-animal bond movement or list his book, Compassion: Our Last Great Hope, Selected Speeches of Leo K. Bustad, in the resources. In 1974, Bustad established the People-Pet Partnership Program at Washington State University and was co-founder and first president of Delta Society in 1977.