Do you wish you could com­mu­ni­cate with your beloved pets? Those in the know say it’s pos­si­ble

AN­I­MAL STRAP WHIS­PER­ERS Ask any­one: if you love your pets, chances are you’d like to know how to im­prove your com­mu­ni­ca­tion with them. An­i­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tors, or whis­per­ers, say it is pos­si­ble to talk to an­i­mals and un­der­stand what they want to tell us. Ale

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“Go to the ant, you slug­gard; con­sider its ways and be wise,” warns the Book of Proverbs. And in­deed, if you were to stretch your tele­pathic feel­ers and lis­ten care­fully to what ants and other an­i­mals have to say, you could get more than just a les­son in work ethics.

World­wide, a grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple are com­mu­ni­cat­ing tele­path­i­cally with an­i­mals and other liv­ing be­ings, and so-called pet psy­chics get great ex­po­sure on tele­vi­sion. In 2013, mil­lions of view­ers sat glued to their screens watch­ing the doc­u­men­tary The An­i­mal Com­mu­ni­ca­tor about con­tro­ver­sial Cape an­i­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tor Anna Breyten­bach and her in­ter­ac­tion with wild an­i­mals.

A tall tale? A ruse? No, say the peo­ple within this field: com­mu­ni­cat­ing with an­i­mals is a nat­u­ral, in­nate abil­ity that mod­ern hu­mans, in our ar­ti­fi­cial en­vi­ron­ment, have un­learnt.

From sens­ing to coun­selling

An­tjie Can­ning-Rogers, an an­i­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tor from Su­ur­braak (near Swellen­dam in the West­ern Cape), first dis­cov­ered that an­i­mals com­mu­ni­cate with her when she was in pri­mary school. “The first time was when my cat, Nugget, con­tacted me in a dream. He was stuck some­where and cry­ing be­cause he was in trou­ble. I was in the school hos­tel and called my mom that night from a pay phone to ask where Nugget was. She found him the next morn­ing, caught in a trap.”

An­tjie spe­cialises in search­ing for miss­ing an­i­mals, a chal­lenge not all com­mu­ni­ca­tors would take on. “It’s chal­leng­ing and emo­tion­ally ex­haust­ing. I’ve had to learn to dis­tance my­self from the owner’s emo­tions, as I need to be very quiet and in a good ‘space’ in or­der to com­mu­ni­cate with the an­i­mal.”

An­tjie also per­forms body scans to sense where an­i­mals ex­pe­ri­ence pain or dis­com­fort. Sci­en­tists and the man in the street re­main scep­ti­cal, but more and more peo­ple are start­ing to recog­nise the pos­si­bil­i­ties. An­tjie has had vets con­firm what she per­ceives in the an­i­mals. She cites the ex­am­ple of a horse whose owner thought it was “lazy”. “I did a read­ing and got a funny feel­ing in the area of my heart. The next day, the vet con­firmed that the horse had a heart mur­mur.”

Dr Anuska Viljoen is a holis­tic vet at the Man­dala Health Vet­eri­nary Hos­pi­tal in Sedge­field. She con­sid­ers her­self an em­path who has al­ways had the abil­ity to feel the emo­tions of other be­ings, and uses an­i­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tion as an ex­tra tool in her prac­tice.

“I also use very fo­cused ob­ser­va­tion and try to con­nect to the an­i­mal in si­lence. In that way I gain more de­tailed knowl­edge than I would have if I sim­ply lis­tened to the owner.”

She com­mu­ni­cates mainly with pets need­ing anaes­the­sia or who are con­fused and dis­tressed when they wake up af­ter it’s been ad­min­is­tered. “I re­as­sure them, telling them what I’m go­ing to do and how it will feel, how the process will work and what the re­sult will be. I sketch two sce­nar­ios: if you sit there qui­etly and co-op­er­ate, it will go faster and be less painful; if you fight against it, it’ll take longer and be aw­ful for ev­ery­one. That makes a big dif­fer­ence.” >

Dr Tanya Gran­tham qual­i­fied as a con­ven­tional vet­eri­nar­ian and later stud­ied al­ter­na­tive ap­proaches. She opened the An­i­mal Health So­lu­tions Cen­tre in Benoni, which fo­cuses on the phys­i­cal re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion of dogs and cats af­ter surgery and helps an­i­mals suf­fer­ing from chronic pain through a com­bi­na­tion of tech­niques, in­clud­ing acu­punc­ture, light ther­apy, mas­sage and hy­dro­ther­apy.

Tanya re­lies on an an­i­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tor who helps fa­cil­i­tate the tran­si­tion be­tween life and death. “She coun­sels the peo­ple and makes the tran­si­tion eas­ier for the an­i­mal. An­i­mals don’t nec­es­sar­ily have a med­i­cal idea of what’s hap­pen­ing, but they can def­i­nitely tell us whether they’re ready to go or not. The more we ac­knowl­edge them as be­ings with feel­ings, the eas­ier it is to re­spect their choice.”

In Tanya’s ex­pe­ri­ence, purely ­sci­en­tific peo­ple are still not open to com­ple­men­tary or al­ter­na­tive ther­a­pies. “Ev­ery­thing must be val­i­dated by a spe­cific method of ex­per­i­men­ta­tion. We are afraid of what we don’t yet clearly un­der­stand or what we can’t yet ex­plain.”

Could ev­ery­thing have aware­ness?

Scep­tics scorn the idea that it’s pos­si­ble to com­mu­ni­cate with an an­i­mal tele­path­i­cally and from a dis­tance. The main bone of con­tention is that com­mu­ni­ca­tors use a tech­nique called cold read­ing – that they’re sim­ply very skilled ob­servers who can de­duce enough from the cir­cum­stances and the own­ers or han­dlers to take gullible peo­ple for a ride with vague, gen­eral de­scrip­tions.

Un­for­tu­nately, the body of re­search in this field is still small and un­der­funded, and so-called psi phe­nom­ena (such as telepa­thy, tele­por­ta­tion or ex­tra­sen­sory per­cep­tion) are very dif­fi­cult to test in lab­o­ra­tory con­di­tions. How­ever, a re­cent re­view in the Para­psy­chol­ogy Journal of all the re­search to date shows a def­i­nite pres­ence of an­i­mal psi, although its ap­pear­ance is small, dif­fi­cult to re­peat and vari­able.

A pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion for telepa­thy lies in quan­tum physics and the phe­nom­e­non of en­tan­gle­ment, whereby quan­tum par­ti­cles can cor­re­late re­gard­less of the phys­i­cal dis­tance be­tween them. Al­bert Ein­stein called this phe­nom­e­non “spooky me­chan­ics at a dis­tance” – google it to find out more.

The de­bate is po­larised be­tween the be­liev­ers and the scep­tics, and is based on var­i­ous as­sump­tions about the ca­pa­bil­i­ties and lev­els of aware­ness among an­i­mals. As Dou­glas Adams wrote in The Hitch­hiker’s Guide to the Gal­axy, “Man had al­ways as­sumed that he was smarter than dol­phins be­cause he had achieved so much – the wheel, New York, wars and so on – whilst all the dol­phins had ever done was muck about in the wa­ter hav­ing a good time. But con­versely, the dol­phins had al­ways be­lieved that they were far more in­tel­li­gent than man – for pre­cisely the same rea­sons.”

Ever more re­search demon­strates the com­plex­ity of so­cial in­tel­li­gence, emo­tional aware­ness and even ab­stract thought in an­i­mals. Of course, it is con­tro­ver­sial, be­cause it af­fects all as­pects of our hu­man­ity, from how we see our­selves and our place in the uni­verse to how we in­ter­act with the en­vi­ron­ment and other life forms around us.

It’s per­haps thanks to Dis­ney and fairy tales that most peo­ple would ac­cept their pets or dol­phins, ele­phants and horses to pos­sess some form of con­scious­ness. But if you start be­liev­ing that all the pesky bug­gers like ants, flies, and even the mould on your bread or the dust mites in your mat­tress have their own spe­cific aware­ness and wis­dom, then you’re open­ing a hor­net’s nest of eth­i­cal and moral dilem­mas. And it doesn’t end there. Sev­eral philoso­phers and sci­en­tists are se­ri­ously re­con­sid­er­ing the con­cept of panpsy­chism, the idea that lit­er­ally ev­ery­thing in the uni­verse has aware­ness – from the thorn in your

shoe to your stub­born smart­phone or your car keys that are once again miss­ing. Each form of con­scious­ness would of course dif­fer from our own.

Kate Muller, an an­i­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tor and artist from Cape Town who also writes and il­lus­trates chil­dren’s books with con­ser­va­tion themes, agrees: “You can com­mu­ni­cate with any­thing – ev­ery­thing has aware­ness. Our in­ter­ac­tion is with en­ergy and life, and you can com­mu­ni­cate with all of life: the earth, plants, moun­tains, an­i­mals, even species or groups of an­i­mals. It’s about find­ing out how you re­ceive in­tu­itive in­for­ma­tion as an in­di­vid­ual.”

Peo­ple re­ceive this in­for­ma­tion in dif­fer­ent ways – through vis­ual im­ages, sounds, smells, tastes, through phys­i­cal ob­ser­va­tions in their own body, or even by hear­ing voices. A com­mu­ni­ca­tor then in­ter­prets this in­for­ma­tion, much like an in­ter­preter does, to make it un­der­stand­able to oth­ers.

“In her re­search she has en­coun­tered many farm­ers who com­mu­ni­cate tele­path­i­cally with the var­i­ous or­gan­isms on their farms and are push­ing the bound­aries by find­ing cre­ative so­lu­tions in har­mony with na­ture.”

Dr Saskia von Di­est is a post­doc­toral re­searcher who did her PhD in ­in­te­grated plant pathol­ogy and is now con­duct­ing re­search in in­tu­itive de­ci­sion-mak­ing in agri­cul­ture at the Univer­sity of Stel­len­bosch. She was very scep­ti­cal when she first came across the con­cept of tele­pathic com­mu­ni­ca­tion. “Ac­cord­ing to my world view at the time, it def­i­nitely wasn’t pos­si­ble – I was very proud of how ra­tio­nal and sci­en­tific I was.”

Her first work­shop with the in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned an­i­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tor Anna Breyten­bach was a turn­ing point. “I com­mu­ni­cated with a cat us­ing a pho­to­graph some­one brought to the work­shop.” She asked the cat about its favourite spot in the house and saw a very clear pic­ture of a broad win­dowsill with a pur­ple cush­ion on it next to a pot plant with bright flow­ers. There was a dusty rose­c­oloured up­right wing­back chair with a cro­cheted blan­ket on which a tall and slim el­derly per­son was seated, mov­ing his or her one hand – it seemed to her it could be a writer. “I ver­i­fied all this with the per­son who brought the photo and they con­firmed ev­ery­thing. I was blown away, es­pe­cially about how ac­cu­rate the de­tails were.” Ac­cord­ing to Saskia, the photo works a bit like a phone num­ber for the an­i­mal you want >

to talk to – it helps you to tune into their spe­cific fre­quency.

Saskia be­lieves the main ad­van­tage of tele­pathic com­mu­ni­ca­tion is that it puts us back in touch with our en­vi­ron­ment. “Af­ter that week­end I never felt alone again. Al­most ev­ery per­son, es­pe­cially those of us liv­ing in the West­ern world, suf­fers from sepa­ra­tion sick­ness. It’s this sepa­ra­tion be­tween our­selves and na­ture that lies at the root of most of our suf­fer­ing.”

She re­counts how a farmer’s per­spec­tive can change when he sees him­self as an or­gan­ism of the farm rather than above and sep­a­rate from it. In her re­search she has en­coun­tered many farm­ers who com­mu­ni­cate tele­path­i­cally with the var­i­ous or­gan­isms on their farms and are push­ing the bound­aries by find­ing cre­ative so­lu­tions in har­mony with na­ture.

An­other stick­ing point for crit­ics is that in­ter­species com­mu­ni­ca­tion is based on an­thro­po­mor­phism – the at­tri­bu­tion of hu­man traits and emo­tions to an­i­mals.

An­i­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tor and au­thor Jenny Shone says that’s not at all what it’s about. “An­i­mals have their own emo­tions and wis­dom. By think­ing they are like peo­ple, you do them a dis­ser­vice.” Ac­cord­ing to her you learn how to com­mu­ni­cate tele­path­i­cally with an­i­mals by first learn­ing to quiet your own mind. “From this quiet space we can learn to feel and recog­nise how an­i­mals feel and what they’re try­ing to say.”

Jenny al­ways gives her clients some back­ground on how the com­mu­ni­ca­tion works, as well as prac­ti­cal ad­vice and ex­er­cises. “It’s es­sen­tial to em­power peo­ple with prin­ci­ples and some tech­niques so they can work with their an­i­mals.”

Kate Muller says peo­ple usu­ally ask her for help with the be­hav­ioral is­sues and health of their pets. She also helps an­i­mals with tran­si­tions, pre­par­ing them to move or em­i­grate, for ex­am­ple, and to come to terms with ter­mi­nal ill­ness and death.

She stresses that an­i­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tion is not a quick fix but a part of a lov­ing re­la­tion­ship, the same as with peo­ple. “Per­haps you as owner also

“If, for ex­am­ple, your dog has run away and you’re an­gry and anx­ious while call­ing him back, you’re not ex­actly ra­di­at­ing a feel­ing any­one would want to re­turn to.”

need to work on a few bad habits. In a com­mu­ni­ca­tion ses­sion an an­i­mal can raise the is­sue so you can learn to un­der­stand each other bet­ter.”

Her ad­vice is to treat your an­i­mals with the premise that they can un­der­stand you. Also have con­fi­dence in what you feel com­ing from them. “Send a clear mes­sage and create the pic­ture in your head, to­gether with the words you say and the emo­tion you

want to con­vey. If you’re wor­ried, that will be the main idea you com­mu­ni­cate. If, for ex­am­ple, your dog has run away and you’re an­gry and anx­ious while call­ing him back, you’re not ex­actly ra­di­at­ing a feel­ing any­one would want to re­turn to.”

An an­i­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tor is def­i­nitely not a sub­sti­tute for a vet or for good food, ex­er­cise, enough at­ten­tion, dis­ci­pline and proper train­ing.

Trainer and dog be­hav­iour ex­pert Amanda de Wet of ZimZala K9 Es­tate out­side Stel­len­bosch be­lieves an­i­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tion is a re­al­ity, but it takes prac­tice, like any new skill or lan­guage. She tells of her ex­pe­ri­ence with her flat­coated re­triever Pastis, who was ill with can­cer (at the time not yet di­ag­nosed).

“She’d start trem­bling some­times and her teeth would chat­ter. It got in­creas­ingly worse. Then one day I be­came re­ally still and asked: ‘Paps, what’s wrong; why are you trem­bling like this?’ I re­ceived a clear an­swer, not ver­bally, but it con­veyed the con­cept of, ‘I’m afraid.’ I asked what about and again got the an­swer: ‘Of pass­ing on’.”

Amanda re­as­sured her there was noth­ing to be afraid of. “She be­came peace­ful, and that was the last time she got so stressed. She then en­tered a very happy, play­ful pe­riod and we en­joyed a won­der­ful last few months to­gether.”

How does it work and how much does it cost?

Some an­i­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tors come to your home in the an­i­mal’s nat­u­ral en­vi­ron­ment. Most work well over a dis­tance (via email, Skype or the phone) and usu­ally ask you to pro­vide a pho­to­graph, the an­i­mal’s name and the is­sues that need to be ad­dressed or the ques­tions you want to ask, for ex­am­ple: Are you happy in our house? Do you have any pain? What do you think of the new baby/dog/cat?

Lo­cally, con­sul­ta­tions cost be­tween R500 and R1 000 per ses­sion. This in­cludes a pre-ses­sion with the client; com­mu­ni­ca­tion with the an­i­mal, which could take any­thing from 20 min­utes up to 2 hours (or longer for miss­ing an­i­mals); and feed­back, which is also pro­vided by email, Skype or phone.

Ac­cord­ing to Jenny Shone, the most im­por­tant char­ac­ter­is­tic of a good com­mu­ni­ca­tor is a strong eth­i­cal code. “Ev­ery com­mu­ni­ca­tor has their own way of work­ing, and the client must feel com­fort­able with it.”

Tanya Gran­tham rec­om­mends prospec­tive clients do their home­work. Ask around, find out about the com­mu­ni­ca­tor and get ref­er­ences from other cus­tomers. There is talk of a guild or body for South African an­i­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tors, but one hasn’t been es­tab­lished yet.

“I wouldn’t want any­one to be gullible,” says Anuska Viljoen. “Un­for­tu­nately, there are con artists who pre­tend to be an­i­mal com­mu­ni­ca­tors – or an­i­mal home­opaths or heal­ers – who do it just for the money and not for the right rea­sons. Peo­ple should learn to trust their in­tu­ition. If some­thing feels right for you and you think it can help, then do it; if it doesn’t feel right, stay away.” She en­cour­ages peo­ple to check cre­den­tials. “A lot of letters af­ter some­one’s name doesn’t mean they nec­es­sar­ily have the qual­i­fi­ca­tions and ex­pe­ri­ence in the ser­vice for which they’re charg­ing you.”

Amanda de Wet of ZimZala K9 Es­tate lost two dogs, Pastis and Liquorice, to can­cer in a short time. Here she is with Liquorice shortly be­fore her death in March 2016.

Dr Saskia von Di­est, pho­tographed on the farm Re­meker in the Nether­lands af­ter an in­ter­view with an in­tu­itive farmer who com­mu­ni­cates with his cows. The farm, which re­cently switched to bio­dy­namic farm­ing, is the only one in the Nether­lands that, since...

Jenny Shone and Pa­tri­cia the al­paca, who was once in­vited as a guest speaker to one of Jenny’s work­shops.

Dr Tanya Gran­tham with her bull­mas­tiff Arnie.

Kate Muller

ABOVE Dr Anuska Viljoen adopted Jes­sica when her pre­vi­ous owner wanted to have her put down. TOP An­tjie Can­ning-Rogers and her horse Pe­ga­sus, which she adopted from Dassen­berg Res­cue.

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