with guest Dr. Allen Schoen
About this Episode
Dr. Allen Schoen, D.V.M., M.S., Ph.D.(hon.) enlightens listeners with his words of wisdom on how we can all use our love of animals to broaden human consciousness and help change the reality for dogs used in research through the Conscious Animal Lovers Movement.
Guest: Dr. Allen Schoen
Ellie Hansen, host:
I would love to take a step back in time for a moment and talk about your early experiences in veterinary school, where you first encountered a world of science that didn’t necessarily consider the feelings of animals. In your book, Kindred Spirits, which is one of my favorites by the way, you tell the story of a cat experiment you participated in as part of a National Science Foundation grant and the emotional toll this took on you. I was hoping you could share that story with us today and maybe a bit about how this experience helped guide you in your future life as a veterinarian.
Dr. Allen Schoen:
Yeah. Thank you. That question brought back those feelings I had back then, and it was at the Museum of Natural History in New York city and it was the second National Science Foundation grant that I received. And I thought, because it would be in animal behavior, which was my fascination and my passion in addition to veterinary medicine, I thought this would be great. But when I got there, I realized, oh, all these cats are in individual cages, and the behaviors that they’re doing, and they have to operate on them. And the researcher was very compassionate, but the bottom line is from my feelings, they were suffering. They were doing everything they could to prevent it, but still they were in cages and being operated on and they were being operated on in humane ways and everything, but still I felt what could I do there?
And so what I started doing was coming in at a good half hour earlier and just pet each cat and they were purring and they were waiting for me and letting me know how much they enjoyed that. So that was my experience because I was decreasing their pain and their suffering just by going in there and petting them. And that was the best I could do at that time. How it affected me later is I did my master’s degree in animal behavior and consciousness in addition to my veterinary degree. I made a criteria when I got accepted into this unique program in animal behavior that was combining the department of animal science and department of animal behavior at the University of Illinois. And the requirement that I made for my research for my master’s was I didn’t want to do any research that hurt animals.
And I only wanted to do things that helped them. Well, my professors realized that and I ended up doing my two different things in one year. It was very rare, but I published two different articles for my masters. One was on petting pigs and the impact that it had on their growth and their stamina, their life span, et cetera. And the pig producers were switching over from pigs out in the country to pig pens in confined structures, and they wanted to know if that made a difference. So I said, okay, well that I’m willing to do so I ended up in that. Half a litter I would just pet as soon as they were born from day one to 14 days and the other half, they would just grow up without being pet. And I figured, well that would show something and it did. It didn’t show difference in lifespan necessarily, but what it showed was the ones that were pet were more dominant in the litter. So it gave them more self-confidence.
And then the other part of my thesis was on studying the development of play behavior in a herd of wild ponies. So I thought that was great. Here I was just watching animal behavior and recording it in the wild. And that really ended up showing some new behaviors that hadn’t been recorded before in wild horses. And so I felt like I was doing good. And so that’s how that experience at the National Science Foundation grant impacted on me in that sense.
But in addition, once I went to vet school, in my senior year I was petting a dog after it was coming from surgery and I could see how it was relieving the dog’s pain. It just showed me with its eyes and its facial expressions, everything that an animal behaviorist would think is important. And the intern at the time said, “What are you doing petting the dog after its surgery?” I go, “Well, it’s in pain and suffering. It was howling. And while I’m petting it, it’s showing that it isn’t.” And he says, “Is there any double blind study showing that?” I said, “This goes way beyond double blind studies.”
One of my old professors at Cornell used to say to me, “Do you believe the animal? Or do you believe the lab tests?” And you know, we’re not trained to look in their eyes. We’re not trained to feel their hearts. We’re not trained to feel, to be empathic and feel what an animal’s feeling. And it’s interesting. I was just watching something from the Department of Mindfulness at the Mind Life Institute, Dr. Richie Davidson at the University of Wisconsin, and they were doing something on the neuroscience of compassion. And he said, there’s a term called compassion fatigue, which I’ve used at times. And he says, actually, I don’t think that exists. I consider it empathy fatigue. And that’s directly related to this—that our empathy for the animals, the lab animals or anything, we can get fatigued from it. I mean, I’m so grateful to you for the books you’ve written and for what you’re doing for the lab animals. Because I realized on my journey, there are boundless ways to be a benefit for the animals and that one of my journeys was to develop new alternative approaches to relieve pain and suffering. And that was the way I did it.
But when I read and talk to you about what you’re doing, again, my heart goes out…the compassion for all those animals that are in labs that are still suffering. There’s tremendous pain and suffering in so many animals. And you asked me like, how do I deal with it? You know, certainly if I allow myself to be totally into all the pain and suffering, it’s endless. And that’s what I realized when I retired from veterinary practice. I said, I was so busy. I was booked six months in advance and I hired other vets to help me and everything. And then I felt and heard there’s boundless suffering on the planet. And as long as you’re out there, they’ll always be people bringing their animals to you and suffering and you just have so much time in life.
And so I said, how could I be of the most benefit? And that’s why I felt like I could just stay super busy treating each animal or I can, you know, write and lecture and teach other veterinarians and help more that way. And that was part of my journey of teaching veterinarians all over the world about acupuncture. I used acupuncture because at that point everyone was putting down alternative medicine because it wasn’t scientific. And I felt acupuncture had the most scientific basis behind it at that time. So I would use that as the gateway, as the opening—the door for veterinarians—that there’s something beyond medicine and surgery. And once that door was opened and they could see that there was a scientific basis for that. Then what happened was what I was hoping would happen is then they’d see other scientific basis to herbal medicine. There’s a scientific basis to this and that. And all of a sudden, you know, I became a professor at two universities, wrote all the books on all of this and was teaching all over the world. And I figured that way I could help relieve pain and suffering so much because each veterinarian that followed me and read my books and did that and came to the courses I gave, they would just send that out to others.
And that’s why right now at this point on my journey, I’m introducing what I call CALM, which is an acronym for the Conscious Animal Lovers Movement. Because I figured again, teaching and writing is great, but how can we involve each animal lover? You know, as well as the veterinarians and their staff. And it came to me in a dream and that’s a whole other story, but I just heard one morning teach CALM to all animal lovers.
My goal is just to do what I can while I’m still in physical form to relieve pain and suffering in the animals. And to me CALM, the Conscious Animal Lovers Movement is a way. So it takes someone like you, Ellie and your podcast and everything that you’re sharing. And it goes out in waves of consciousness to everyone that’s listening. And it empowers each animal lover to be able to help change the world and make the world a better, healthier, more harmonious, happier place for us and for the animals.
So the CALM movement could be a small act of compassion. Whatever we are able to do.
Exactly. That’s my goal in getting it out there is I say you can do it so many different ways from just in your house with your animal friends, your animal family, and you’re sitting and you’re watching TV or you’re relaxing at the end of the day in some way, and you’re just holding your dog, cat, your bird or your reptile whatever, and you’re petting them. And that touch is compassion. There’s so much evidence about the impact of touch. And when you asked such great questions and I started thinking about, well, what can people do for the animals that are suffering in the labs? I mean, if anyone knows a veterinarian or a veterinary technician or anyone who’s working in those labs to go and either see what guides them from not working there anymore, or to going in early and petting the animals and connecting with them at a touch level in a different way, and then telling the companies that are still doing this, this isn’t right. You’re creating pain and suffering. And I’m sure the companies and the CEOs, they don’t think about that. They just look at it from a business view. So if everyone who is involved with lab animals and with labs can touch the CEOs… can touch the people in charge… and say, do you really want to cause this much pain and suffering in animals? I don’t think you do. I don’t think in your heart, you really, really do. And if you can touch them at that level, you can have that impact. But what you’re saying too is even at home, sitting with your animal, you can be doing it at that level, relieving the pain and suffering, connecting with your animal family that way and sharing love. Because that’s what I think this world needs more than anything right now, as we’re going through all these changes that don’t really resonate with our hearts.
I talk about the seven pillars of CALM and one of them is heart math. And I refer people to the heartmath.org and heartmath.com and connect through them. Because that is one of the keys right now is connecting with our animal friends in our house, animal family outside, all the animals in the laboratories that are still suffering, and feel the compassion, feel our hearts, feel our connection. I’m reading a new book right now called the Physics of Consciousness. It’s a scientific basis from ancient traditions and the most modern science, on how the vibration of our heart connects to all other hearts and that we can use this to help heal our connection with the animals that are suffering in the labs just as I did decades ago when I went to the Museum of Natural History and came in early and just pet all those cats. All the behavioral signs of communication showed how grateful they were to receive love.
I think a perfect example of the Conscious Animal Lovers Movement we’re discussing is me talking to you because there was an energy in my work to help dogs in laboratories, and somehow I found you. We’re connected with this consciousness. This love for animals reaches over miles. It doesn’t matter where you are.
Exactly. Exactly. And I mean, that is one of the benefits of the internet and modern based stuff like that is it allows you and I to connect and allows you to share that word in your podcast with all the people following you. And all of that is absolutely beautiful and powerful. Whenever, like in the retreats I used to give, I would say, you know, we can fill our life with distraction until we die unless we wake up. And every moment is an opportunity to either wake up or stay distracted. And you’re using this podcast to wake people up and the people listening to you are waking up because of you doing that. And to me, while I’m still in physical form here on planet earth, that’s what I feel is my journey is to try to share that and that CALM, the Conscious Animal Lovers Movement, can have an impact and change the consciousness of every animal lover.
And I think, you know, like I teach veterinarians about CALM. I say we have a subset of clients that are very conscious and very deeply connected to their animals, not the ones that come in and say, give me the latest vaccine or latest shot or the latest this or that. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but there’s a subset of animal lovers that they just want to do more. And that’s what your podcast is about. That’s what your book is about. That’s what this is about: is giving a way for every conscious animal lover to deepen their consciousness and their conscious connection to their animal family and to all animals and to animals in the laboratory and everything.
And you know, from what I’m seeing in the scientific research behind consciousness is consciousness happens in waves, and the waves are coming through this podcast. The waves are connecting between you and I. And scientifically what they’re finding is the waves of consciousness, you know—and people can call it Reiki; people can call it telepathic communication—we have all these different labels. When Einstein said the fastest thing is the speed of light, well, they’re finding now other things are evident and that thoughts, intentions, compassion actually travels faster than the speed of light. And that’s how it can connect you and I, and all the people listening to you is consciousness is a wave and it comes through us. Individual consciousness becomes a particle, but the wave goes much faster than the speed of light.
So I had a question for you since we’re talking about consciousness. It seems to me that consciousness, however valuable to the human experience, hosts its own set of challenges, and that once you become conscious of animal suffering, you then have to choose to look at it and do something about it, or it emotionally impacts you so strongly that you look away because to protect yourself, you have to look away. I’ll just tell you a short story.
There was a recent undercover investigation by the Humane Society of the United States of an animal testing laboratory in Indiana. And the videos showed dogs being force fed or injected with human drugs. And they were testing the dogs through toxicity studies, and I knew it was going on, but then you see it in a video and it makes it really real and it makes it really shocking.
And every time I closed my eyes, I could see this one beagle suffering, moaning in pain by himself. And there was nobody there to ease that suffering like you’re talking about petting the dog. There was nobody there. And because that was the purpose of the research was to see how much of a toxic drug could cause this dog’s death. And most people they’re like, “I don’t want to be conscious about that. I can’t be conscious about that because it’s too painful for me to be conscious about that.” So one of my questions to you since you’ve been working with animals for over 40 years, how do you cope with that and not let the suffering of the animals overwhelm you? What thoughts do we use to kind of overcome the negative?
Ellie, those are great and deep questions. It really depends on the people who are listening— on their level of what they consider consciousness and on their level of consciousness. Because if you just search ‘what is consciousness,’ there are so many books out debating what is consciousness? And, you know, it goes way back to the concept of vitalism versus materialism. Vitalism is the consciousness that is alive. That goes between all of us. And what you’re saying is true. So when you see a video like that it’s important, I think, to feel the pain. Don’t, you know, hide it. Don’t run away from it because it sits in you, in your fascia.
It does sit in my fascia. I have to agree with you.
Yeah. And the way I taught acupuncture for 20 years was based on Dr. Ho, who’s passed away. She considered it the liquid crystalline collagen continuum of acupuncture and consciousness. As that, our fascia, our connective tissue is literally connecting everything in our body. It’s a bio communication, it’s an electrical electromagnetic bio communication system, connecting all the cells in our body. And when we put that out, we’re going feel. It’s important that you feel that suffering, I think. But then transform it. You know, don’t let it sit there and don’t hide from it, feel it, and feel it in your heart. And that’s one of the things in the CALM movement. And just in general, when I’m sharing right now is with all the stuff happening on the planet and all the changes for people who really, really, really want to go to another level it’s to feel all that pain and suffering in our heart, but transmute it. Transform it. Don’t shy away from it. Transform it into compassion. Feel it and say, “With that, I send that love out in all the waves of love to the dogs sitting there and suffering.”
And to the persons in that lab that are doing it, and to the CEO, to all the people in that company, send that compassion out and reach out to them, somehow asking them, “I imagine that you’re just choosing to block and not feel it. I invite you to actually feel the suffering of those animals. And it’s challenging when your income is based on that, and you’re supporting a family. But there are many other ways to support yourself.”
And if one doesn’t realize that you’re creating and causing this pain and suffering, and that perhaps as a veterinarian, as a veterinary staff member, as anyone working in those labs, you can feel all that pain and suffering that that dog is feeling, then that stimulates you to change your career. To change what you’re doing. That in the time you have left in your physical form in this body, you are using it to be part of the positive, constructive changes on the planet—not to be part of the destructive emotions.
If that makes sense at all…
It does make sense. What advice do you have for young people today entering the world of science? You know, when they’re faced with the decision to use animals for research or instead advocate for using more humane human focused technologies instead, even though this may be the path less traveled. You have taken the path less traveled, I feel, through your life. So what words of wisdom can you share to help guide them?
Ellie, what I’m so impressed with you and your podcast is you ask really deep, profound questions. And I really want to thank you for that because just by you doing that, you’re making a difference to all your listeners.
So my suggestion to people coming out in their profession is, like I say to so many of my friends that age is, “If you have X number of minutes to live on this planet, do you want to be part of the solution and doing constructive, positive things and trusting that that will work or not?”
And I did take the road less traveled. I was scared to death. I was doing regular veterinary medicine at a regular animal hospital, but I also was relieving pain and suffering naturally with other healthier techniques. And I didn’t know if I could make a living doing that. I was scared to death.
All these other veterinarians were saying, well, you just work your animal hospital for decades and sell it. Well, that didn’t feel right to me. I was scared to death. I did feel the fear and I did it anyway. And it ended up by me doing it, it created a whole new field for veterinarians. Veterinarians—now, many of them may not even realize because it’s a couple of generations back—that by me doing it for the first time at the largest animal hospital in the United States, by me doing all of that then I was creating a whole new field—a field of alternative medicine. I was doing all of that and teaching it and by doing it, I was coming from firsthand experience and then teaching it all over the world. It was spreading like flowers do.
So what I would say to people coming out now is from my own experience, acknowledge, yes, it is scary to go on the road less traveled. The path to enlightenment is not a highway and there are detours all on the way and it isn’t the easiest path. But part of the journey is confronting those issues, those challenges. If the best job you have for the best money is working in a laboratory, creating suffering, ask yourself in the long term, by not doing that, what impact are you having on the suffering? Because by turning it down for a good reason like that, and then choosing a different way to help in the world, you’re creating a path for boundless number of other humans to follow that.
And then you don’t know how that will unfold in your own life, but it will in a positive way. What my experience has been throughout my life is when I really listened to my heart, when I’ve really followed what felt right, it worked. And not only did it work for me, it worked for boundless, countless other people, which had no idea that would happen. And we don’t. When we make those decisions, we don’t know all the ways that it will be a benefit for other people and the people that those people impact on and the animals that they impact on.
To be, as Gandhi said, be the change we wish to be. And so everyone listening can be that change.