If you have pets, you may have wondered whether they know what you're thinking. Perhaps your cat hides when you start planning a trip to the vet. Or maybe your dog runs in circles when you think about going out to play. Both of these events can have logical explanations. Your cat might have heard you pull the carrier off the shelf; your dog must have seen you glance at a favorite ball.
But pet psychics, also known as animal intuitives or animal communicators, would explain these events a little differently. According to most pet psychics, you communicate with your pets telepathically all the time, without even knowing it. Your cat hides and your dog gets ready to play because of signals you send with your mind, not because of your actions.
Pet psychics claim that they can take this one step further. They intentionally use their minds to talk to animals. Some psychics claim to talk to wild animals, but many focus primarily on pets. They talk to pet owners, whom they often refer to as human companions, by phone or in person. For a fee, they then relay telepathic messages to and from pets. The pets don't even have to be present -- often, psychics use photographs or descriptions to make contact.
Sometimes, people just want to check in with their pets. But many people seek the advice of pet psychics for a specific reason, such as:
- The pet is lost, and its owner wants to figure out where it is or encourage it to return home. (Not all pet psychics take missing pet cases.)
- The pet is behaving inappropriately, and its owner wants to find out why and get it to stop.
- The pet is very sick or badly injured, and its owner is trying to decide whether to have it euthanized.
- The pet has died, and the owner wants to contact the pet's spirit. (Only some pet psychics will act as mediums for deceased pets.)
This kind of animal communication is a paranormal phenomenon. It's a combination of telepathy and clairvoyance, which are forms of extrasensory perception (ESP). Most pet psychics explain it in terms of energy.
According to pet psychics, electromagnetic energy surrounds and penetrates everything in the universe, much like the force in "Star Wars." This energy is part of the radio spectrum, but scientists haven't figured out how to detect it. Pet psychics can use energy to contact animals, no matter how far away the animals are or whether they are still living.
In the next section we'll look at the different methods pet psychics use.
Pet Psychic Methods
Many pet psychics describe animal communication as a gift they discovered at an early age. For example, Sonya Fitzpatrick, host of Animal Planet's "The Pet Psychic," describes developing friendships with animals due to a childhood hearing loss [ref]. Other psychics began exploring it as adults -- sometimes after watching Fitzpatrick's TV show. While some psychics describe an intuitive understanding of how to talk to animals, others say they learned from books or workshops.
Regardless of differences in when and how pet psychics developed their skills, most describe the same basic steps for talking to animals. Many cite J. Allen Boone's "Kinship with All Life," originally published in 1954, as the source for their methods. Here's what typically happens:
- The psychic relaxes and calms her mind.
- She uses her mind to make contact with the animal's energy.
- She visualizes the animal and telepathically says its name to get its attention.
- She asks the animal a question, often by transmitting a picture. The psychic may use pictures in addition to or instead of words.
- The psychic imagines the animal responding and waits for a response. Many describe the responses as pictures or combinations of pictures and words. A few, like New York pet psychic Shira Plotzker, say that animals respond using childlike voices [ref].
- She accepts whatever response she gets and acknowledges that she has received it.
- The psychic passes the animal's answers to its owner and asks more questions if needed. The psychic may also transmit messages to the pet from its owner. If the owner hopes to correct a pet's inappropriate behavior, the psychic will visualize the solution rather than the problem.
- Some pet psychics will also scan the pet's body to diagnose health problems. If the psychic detects illnesses or injury, she will transmit healing energy to the pet [ref].
To some animal lovers, this process seems to make sense. But the idea of using energy to communicate with animals can be controversial. Scientists have not found conclusive evidence of:
- The existence of this particular sort of electromagnetic energy
- Sensory organs that people or animals could use to detect the energy or transmit messages using it
In addition, the energy that pet psychics describe can travel instantaneously over any distance and in any direction. Scientists have not discovered electromagnetic energy that behaves this way.
Pet psychics also make several assumptions about animals' self-awareness and intelligence. We'll look at those in more detail next.
Animal Emotions and Intelligence
In "What the Animals Tell Me," Sonya Fitzpatrick describes numerous psychic experiences with animals. In her anecdotes, she describes animals as surprisingly intelligent and emotionally complex. They're a lot like people in animals' bodies. During her sessions, animals remember events from long past. They experience and vocalize emotions and reflect on their feelings. Other psychics tell similar stories. According to pet psychics, animals are conscious, self-aware and able to think and experience emotions the way humans do.
Many people have seen their pets behave in a way that suggests that they experience emotions. For example, some dogs whimper when their owners leave the house, and some cats seem jealous of other animals. But scientists haven't come to a consensus about whether these are indicators of true emotion. Emotions can be very difficult to define -- philosophers, psychiatrists and medical doctors don't always agree on exactly what they are or how they work in humans. Animals cannot describe what they feel the way people can, so it's even more difficult to study their emotions.
In addition, hormone and neurotransmitter levels can make it appear as though an animal is experiencing emotions. But these chemicals do not necessarily create emotions. For example, in most mammals, hormones like oxytocin typically promote attachment between mothers and their children. Because of this, an attentive mother dog might appear to love her puppies. But, she might not be able to interpret her need to feed, bathe and care for her offspring as love. For this reason, many scientists are reluctant to use animal behavior as proof of emotional capacity.
However, recent research suggests that animals do experience emotions like joy, anger and grief. They also feel pain and experience stress. Neuroscientist Jaak Panskipp has conducted experiments that suggest that animals can feel other emotions as well. According to Panskipp, the periaqueductal gray (PAG), a primitive area of the brain, produces basic emotional effects in all mammals, including humans. These include:
- Separation distress
- The drive to play
Panskipp also believes the PAG creates other emotions, like the desire to be nurtured and to care for others [ref].
In the next section we'll look at how animals deal with emotions.
Some of Panskipp's work is controversial, but the idea that animals experience emotions seems to be moving into the mainstream. However, there is a difference between feeling an emotion and being able to think about or analyze that emotion. A puppy might be afraid of its overly rambunctious littermates, but it probably does not have the level of reasoning necessary to blame its adult skittishness on that experience. Even scientists like Panskipp, who promote the idea that animals have feelings, doubt that they have the intellectual capacity to think about their feelings.
Pet psychics and scientists also differ in their thoughts on animal consciousness, or potential for higher reasoning and self-awareness. Pet psychics also describe animals as having identities that are distinct from the animals around them. In other words, they are self-aware. As with human consciousness, animal consciousness is not entirely understood. Scientists do not entirely agree on whether animals are conscious or to what level they are self-aware. Some animals show signs of consciousness, such as recognizing themselves in the mirror or reacting to the death of other animals. But, scientists have not yet found proof that animals are as completely self-aware as pet psychics describe them to be.
Pet psychics' portrayals of animals and their methods for communicating with them are scientifically questionable. For this reason, many people view pet psychics with skepticism. Some claim that apparently successful pet psychics aren't psychic at all -- they're just practicing cold reading.
Cold reading -- sometimes used to explain ESP, tarot reading and fortune telling -- is a method for extracting personal information. Skeptics claim that all psychics are cold readers and do not have paranormal abilities. Cold readers encourage the person receiving the reading to provide all the details. The resulting reading can be very convincing.
A cold reader claiming to be a pet psychic would probably have a good knowledge of human psychology and animal behavior. Keeping that knowledge in mind, she would:
- State the obvious. She might watch a dog chew on his paws and say, "He says his paws bother him. They itch all the time."
- Use vague language. A statement like, "He says something's different in the house" can lead the pet's owner to figure out what the change could be. If the owner replies, "I bought new throw pillows for the living room," the cold reader will base her response on that information. She might reply, "Yes, he says the pillows smell funny. You told me he keeps scratching at the door. He says he's trying to get away from the smell."
- Make statements that are likely to be true. Most indoor cats like to sit in windows and look outside. If a cold reader says, "She's very curious. She says she loves to sit in the window and see what's going on in the world," she's unlikely to be wrong.
- Ask questions. Successful cold readers ask lots of questions as they fish for details. When the person receiving a reading answers a question, the cold reader often repeats or rephrases the answer. The reader also uses the answers to the questions to decide what to ask next [ref].
By successfully applying the principles of cold reading, a person can appear to be genuinely psychic. But cold reading does not explain pet psychics' apparent success stories. Many pet psychics claim that they have found missing pets, curbed behavior problems or helped heal sick or injured animals. Skeptics often claim that these successes are really coincidence. Skeptics also claim that psychics supplement their cold reading skills by telling pet owners what they want to hear -- that misbehaving pets will shape up, lost pets will come home and deceased pets are in a better place.
Regardless of whether they use paranormal abilities or cold-reading techniques, pet psychics have grown in popularity over the last few years. This may be part of an overall trend of increased spending on pets. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, pet owners spent $17 billion on their pets in 1996. In 2005, that amount more than doubled to $36.3 billion. Industry analysts believe this increase in spending is due in part to a rise in populations who have a high disposable income. These populations include baby boomers and married couples who have chosen not to have children [ref].
Check out the links on the next page for more information about animals, paranormal activity, cold reading and related topics.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
More Great Links
- Agnes J. Thomas, Ph.D: Pets Tell the Truth.com http://www.petstellthetruth.com/
- Appleborne, Peter. "Talking to Animals in their Frequency, and Sniffling." The New York Times, January 18, 2006.
- Barbara Morrison: Animalstalk.com http://www.animalstalk.com/
- Bekoff, Marc. "Do Animals Have Feelings?" The Life of Mammals, BBC Wildlife, July 2002. http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/animals/features/246index.shtml
- Caroll, Robert Todd. "The Skeptic's Dictionary." Mass Media Bunk, November 15, 2003. http://skepdic.com/refuge/bunk21.html
- "Pet Spending at All Time High." American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, March 23, 2006. http://www.appma.org/press_releasedetail.asp?id=84
- Copeland, Libby. "TV Pet Psychic Tunes in with Woofers and Tweeters." Washington Post, November 15, 2003.
- Craig Hamilton-Parker: Twilight Bone. http://www.psychics.co.uk/psychicpets/
- Debbie McGillivray: Animal Communicator http://www.animaltelepathy.com/
- Etter, Sarah. "Does My Dog Really Love Me?" Physorg.com. http://www.physorg.com/news5011.html
- Fitzpatrick, Sonya. "What the Animals Tell Me." Berkley Books, 2003.
- Griffin, Donald R. "Scientific Approaches to Animal Consciousness." American Zoologist. December 2000. http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3746/is_200012/ai_n8917601
- Griffin, Julia. "Hearing Our Pets." The Spirit of Ma'at. September 2002. http://netmar.com/~maat/archive/sep3/gurney.htm
- Hilary Renaissance, Animal Communicator http://www.calmpet.com/index.html
- Hyman, Ray. "Guide to Cold Reading." Australian Skeptics, September 22, 2006. http://www.skeptics.com.au/articles/coldread.htm
- "Inside the Animal Mind." Nature. PBS. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/animalmind/emotion.html
- Kamentz, Anya. "Listening to Fido: A Different Kind of AI." The Village Voice. May 7-13, 2003. http://www.villagevoice.com/news/0319,kamenetz,43885,1.html
- King, Susan. "Your Pet Peeved? She'll Listen." Los Angeles Times. September 14, 2002.
- Lemonick, Michael D. "Honor Among Beasts." Time, June 14, 2006. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1079521,00.html
- Lisa Greene: Pet Perceptions http://www.petperceptions.com/
- Loohauis, Jackie. "Fetch the Crystal Ball, Rover!" JSOnline, September 31, 2002. http://www.jsonline.com/story/index.aspx?id=31189
- Lydia Hiby, Animal Communicator http://www.lydiahiby.com/
- Marquit, Miranda. "Going to the Dogs." Associated Content, October 9, 2005. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/10907/going_to_the_dogs.html
- Moore, Dennis. "'Pet Psychic' Unmasks Traumas, True Feelings." USA Today, June 3, 2002.
- Neilson-Stowell, Amelia. "Psychic Speaks To - And For - Animals." Deseret Morning News, June 20, 2005. http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,600142821,00.html
- Nickell, Joe. "Psychic Pets and Pet Psychics." Skeptical Inquirer, November/December 2002. http://www.csicop.org/si/2002-11/pet-psychic.html
- Nicole Roberts: Pet-psychic.net http://www.pet-psychic.net/
- Orey, Cal. "Hope or Hype?" Cats Magazine, June 1999.
- Pet Psychic Network http://www.petpsychicnetwork.com/
- Physorg.com. "Animals and Human Experience the Same Emotions." Physorg.com. http://www.physorg.com/news6250.html
- Randi, James. "The Art of 'Cold Reading.'" James Randi Educational Foundation. http://www.randi.org/library/coldreading/index.html
- Rowland, Ian. "What is Cold Reading?" http://www.ianrowland.com/ItemsToBuy/ColdReading/ColdReadingWhatIs.html
- Seantuit.com http://www.seaintuit.com/pet.htm
- Sonya Fitzpatrick.com http://www.sonyafitzpatrick.com/
- Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. "Animal Consciousness." October 18, 2005. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/consciousness-animal/
- Starr, Douglas. "Animal Passions - Fido Loves You." Psychology Today. May 9, 2006. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/pto-20060301-000001.html
- Stuttaford, Andrew. "Stupid Pet Tricks." National Review Online. November 30, 2003. http://www.nationalreview.com/stuttaford/stuttaford200309300829.asp
- Tighe, Theresa. "Manchester Woman Talks with Animals - Alive and Dead." STLtoday, August 16, 2006. http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/stlouiscitycounty/story/60DBF44F3B773989862571CB008292AC?OpenDocument
- Viegas, Jennifer. "Dogs Feel Jealous when there's a Crowd." News in Science. ABC, August 24, 2006. http://www.abc.net.au/science/news/stories/s1723133.htm
- Webster, Richard. "Is Your Pet Psychic? Developing Psychic Communication with Your Pet." Lewellyn Publications, 2003.
- Yoffe, Emily. "How I Became a Pet Psychic." From "What the Dog Did." Slate, June 1, 2005. http://www.slate.com/id/2119669/entry/2119672/