Durango veterinarian, author will speak at Farmington Public Library
Karlene Stange calls on personal experience in new book
FARMINGTON — When she was attending Colorado State University in the early 1980s in pursuit of her doctorate in veterinary medicine, Karlene Stange recalls consistently being advised not only to maintain a clear clinical distance from her patients, but to avoid falling into the trap of assigning human characteristics to the animals she was treating.
That philosophy was a byproduct of the long-held belief in many Western cultures that animals are soulless creatures lacking the ability to feel or display complex emotions. Stange absorbed the clinical lessons of her veterinary training well, graduating in 1985 and going on to a long career treating animals of all kinds in southwest Colorado. But she never really bought into the idea that she had to keep those animals at arm's length emotionally because they were incapable of returning or even sensing those feelings.
Stange became interested in the notion of animal spirituality, spending the better part of the last 20 years exploring that idea every way she could think of. She probed the belief systems of "Baptists to Buddhists," as she put it, and closely examined her own experiences dealing with animals on a daily basis.
Her conclusions — that animals do have a soul and that they do feel love — are included in her book "The Spiritual Nature of Animals: a Country Vet Explores the Wisdom, Compassion, and Souls of Animals" that was released in October. Stange will deliver a presentation on her book and answer questions about it in an appearance at 6 p.m. Friday at the Farmington Public Library, 2101 Farmington Ave.
"Science tells us that only 5 percent of the universe is visible material," Stange said today during a phone interview from her practice in Durango, Colo. "I find it hard to believe any animal at death would simply let that energy go."
Stange said her book is part scholarly examination of various human belief systems as they relate to animals and part memoir or her own experience "as an ambulatory horse doctor driving around San Juan County (Colo.), driving 100 miles a day to treat horses, llamas and small animals, and being absorbed the question of 'What is the spiritual life of animals?'"
Stange said she was particularly interested in creation stories from the cultures of ancient Europe, Egypt and China, and her research encompassed material from societies ranging in size from small tribes to fully developed civilizations. Her examination of Hinduism even left her chanting mantras as she drove from appointment to appointment in her truck, she said.
"I now see animals as eternal spiritual beings," she said, explaining that the concept of duality — the struggle between good and evil — showed up early and often in her examination of those creation stories. Her studies led her to the conclusion that equanimity — something she finds widespread in animal behavior but lacking in humans — is the best approach to a happy life, whether you have two legs or four.
"Your dog adores you, no matter your political party or how much money you make or how you look," she said. "They all are nonjudgmental."
Humans aren't nearly as forgiving, she said, noting her own tendency to be critical of other drivers or question someone's taste simply for the color of his or her house.
"That's that dualistic thinking that causes us so much pain," she said.
Stange believes her book may be the first serious examination of the issue of animal spirituality, but she believes there's significant interest in the subject.
"People love their animals so much, they've just not gotten the attention on this," she said, explaining that in her veterinary practice, she makes a point of focusing on the relationship between the animal and the human.
She said she's often heard stories from people who were belittled or worse for expressing a belief in animal spirituality or assigning "human" traits to them.
"One woman told me a nun sent her to the priest's office," Stange said. "But children just know these things are true — of course they do."
Stange draws on a wealth of personal experience with animals to round out her book. In addition to treating 600 patients ranging from cats, dogs and horses to birds and lizards, she has as a donkey, two mules and two cats.
Reaction to the book has been overwhelmingly positive, she said, adding that a recent presentation she delivered at the Durango Public Library drew more than 100 people. She acknowledged that not everyone may agree with her conclusions, and she said she's fine with that.
"I tried in my book to find the capital T truth, and I give and write a wide range of opinions," she said.
Call 505-599-1270 or visit infoway.org for more information about Stange's presentation.
Mike Easterling is the night editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.