NEWSWEEK visited an animal medium to find out what celebrity animals are thinking and feeling, including Bo Obama and Paul, the octopus now famous for predicting World Cup matches. Download the video as a podcast for your portable device: http://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/newsweek-video/id88000805
As Spaniards respectfully pass on the calamari in honor of Paul the Octopus, who predicted the country’s World Cup win, people all over the world are becoming more curious and determined to figure out exactly what it is animals are thinking.
“Horses are the most gossipy,” says Lisa Greene, a pet psychic from Houston. “They’ll always tell me everything that’s going on in the barn. Snakes usually have a pretty bizarre sense of humor. And rodents like to spell for me.” Recently on the schedule: a reading for a whale.
With pet ownership at an all-time high, and spending on animals increasing steadily despite a recession, the progression from providing our family pets a comfortable goose-down feather bed to wanting to know what is going on in their little heads seems natural.
Although the American Pet Products Association keeps no data about animal psychics specifically, it attributes spending on pets’ well-being during a recession to an increasing humanization of animals. “I think it’s that more people are owning pets, and more people are treating their pets like a part of the family,” says Alison Anderson, an APPA spokesperson. “Products keep getting stranger.”
Americans spent a total of $45.5 billion in 2009 on their animals. That was up 5.4 percent from 2008. Such booming services as massage therapy, antidepressant treatment, and grief counseling account for the increase. An annual study by the APPA noted that “pet services continues to be a growing category as they become more closely modeled after those offered to people.” So it stands to reason, perhaps, that pet communicators who can help us know what our little friends are thinking are a relatively easy find these days.
Greene, who has worked as a pet psychic for just over 10 years, may, in a busy week, receive anywhere from 15 to 40 calls. “Not all the animals want to talk to me,” she says. “I have some animals flip me the paw.” She considers her services a luxury item, with rates of $120 for an hourlong telephone consultation during which she speaks with the owner, who asks her questions to communicate psychically to the animal, and $240 for in-home/in-barn treatment.
And while clients have more typically been women, Greene has noticed a change. Recently cowboys have begun to call her to ask about their horses. “These are good ol’ boys from Texas,” she says. “You wouldn’t think they would call a pet psychic. It changes the way they compete and train.
“The majority of people call because they have a problem,” she says. “They’re not getting along, or [their animals] have a health issue. A lot of times people call because their animals are dying.”
“A lot of it’s curiosity,” says Susan Hoffman Peacock, a dressage instructor and ranch owner in Corona, Calif. “It’s justification for what you’re doing with the animals on a daily basis, and to see if there’s any way you can get more information.” For nearly two decades she has had animal communicator Lydia Hilby visit her barn to tell her what the horses are thinking. “I think most people go with the idea [that] if anything comes out of it, [it] may be useful.”
She remembers Hilby interacting with one horse that had a pinched nerve in its neck, a condition about which, she says, the psychic had no way of knowing. “She said, ‘He said he doesn’t need surgery, and he can, most of the time, feel his right front foot, and he’s fine.’ ” Peacock tells favorite stories about one horse admitting he preferred a purple saddle blanket with gold trim, and another confessing that he had stolen a lollipop from a child.
“I don’t think most people expect a psychic to change everything you do with your horse,” she says. “You’re hoping to get some little piece of information that might help out.”
Rebecca Johnson, director of the Research Center for Human-Animal Interaction at the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine, works to facilitate healthy relationships between humans and animals. She understands communication across species in somewhat different terms. She speaks of “reading signals effectively,” and remaining alert to subtle cues: tension in an animal’s body, a lowering of its head, its ears going back.
“Animals are communicating through pheromones,” Johnson says. “Veterinarians can use their sense of smell—we use our eyes and ears, our sense of touch. Animals are communicating a lot of the time, but we simply can’t speak their language.” She agrees that we have much to learn about our pets, but through attentiveness to behavior rather than efforts to translate their thoughts. And she finds the humanization of pets extremely common and increasingly problematic.
“Part of the reason pets are attractive to us is people think of them like babies,” she says. “They have round, big eyes, and they have a limited capacity for intellect—they’re more like children. But I think that we do a disservice to animals when we try to make them more like us.”
Shira Plotzker, a pet psychic in Nyack, N.Y., does not need to see, hear, smell, or feel an animal to do her work—she can use a photograph, or even a phone call. She says she hears animals as clearly as people, often in excitable, little voices. One young horse allegedly said to Plotzker: “Tell mommy I want to learn do a curtsey! I see all the other horses doing it because they do dressage!” Said a dog: “I want to go to Grandma’s! Grandma feeds me eggs!”
Owners marvel at such specifics. “It gives people a bond,” says Plotzker, “or a deeper love.”
Often clients approach her after their pet has died. One grieving woman said recently that she “didn’t want to talk about the dog,” she wanted to talk “with the dog.”
Sometimes even scientists believe. About a year ago, Dr. Aleda Chen, a veterinarian in Randolph, N.J., became a client of Plotzker’s after meeting the psychic at a pet expo. “Wait!” Plotzker told her, “I’m going into psychic mode.”
“It was about my horse,” says Chen. “She said that my horse was coming through, my horse who had passed away. And that he thanked me for being who I was and how I treated him, and that there was nothing that I could have done, and it was the tumor he had in his head. And I thought, huh. She couldn’t have known that.”
Did it make her cry? “Yes. It was so sad,” Chen says. “It was very sad. But it was a nice kind of closure. It’s reassurance for the owner that they’re doing the right thing.”