OUR ANIMAL COMPANIONS AND THE LIFE OF THE SPIRIT
By Dr. Michael W. Fox
I have been fortunate to learn much about the ways of animals over the past fifty years as a veterinarian, syndicated newspaper columnist and animal behavior researcher. Books and articles have been written about how our pets communicate, ‘read our minds’ because they have learned our body language that expresses our emotions and intentions; and how they can help heal us emotionally, alleviate depression, lower blood pressure, even diagnose some forms of cancer and monitor diabetics’ and epileptics’ need for medication.
Remarkable as these abilities may seem, they pale before what I have learned from some cat and dog owners who have shared with me some of the amazing feats of their animal companions. They take us into a metaphysical dimension, which some may regard as a spiritual realm, that affirms there is more to life than we realize in the every-day reality which we share with them.
In times past animals were believed to possess supernatural powers, and were used as spiritual guides and protectors. But with the Age of Reason and advances in the material sciences, such beliefs, and the evidence on which they were based, were dismissed as superstitious nonsense. Religionists contended, (and many still do), that animals do not possess souls, and that to have any spiritual regard or communion with them was synonymous with pagan worship and Satanic occultism.
Regardless, most people today experience awe and wonder in the presence of some wild species, like a whale or wolf in their natural domain, and regard their companion animals as kindred spirits and family members. So, I feel more comfortable sharing some of what I
have learned about people’s pets and the life of the spirit which a generation ago would have evoked considerable ridicule. Today there is more interest in such issues as life after life, animal consciousness, and what I call the empathosphere. I discuss this in detail in my book The Boundless Circle: Caring for Creatures and Creation. It is the emotional equivalent of the theoretical physicists’ quantum field, where an event affecting one is immediately experienced by a receptive other regardless of the distance between the two.
Take, for example, Edna L. Thorstensen’s letter from Hollywood, Florida, about her father’s cat, whom she was allowed to take to the Hospice unit of the hospital to visit her father. “The last night we were there I knew my dad would not be with us too much longer. That night when Kitty and I came home, she started running through the house howling. I had no idea what was wrong with her. A few minutes later the hospital called and said that my dad had just passed away. She knew it. It took her a long time to get over my father’s death.”
Bay was a mutt dog who was adopted by the uncle of Cindy Weldon of St. Paul, Minnesota, when he was serving in the Peace Corps in Antigua, West Indies. Bay’s family included Cindy’s grandfather who, at 101 years of age, was flown to Baltimore for heart surgery, accompanied by her uncle. Her aunt stayed at home with Bay, who, according to Ms. Weldon, “kept a vigil by grandfather’s chair by day and by his bed at night. He would not eat. My aunt had to carry him outside to go to the bathroom. This went on for five days. My aunt was worried Bay might die. My grandfather died about one in the morning shortly after surgery. That morning Bay gave up his vigil. He ate and went outside on his own. Somehow he knew that Grandpa had been released from this world. Bay has been his usual self ever since.”
Judy Howarth, of Seymour CT describes how her Cocker Spaniel Buddy, bonded to her grandmother who lived with Judy, would go to the back door every evening while her grandmother was in hospital for several weeks and whine before going to lie beside the grandmother’s bed. Grandmother never returned home, and on the evening of the day she was buried, Buddy went to the back door at bed time as usual, but instead he gave ‘one final, long, chilling howl’. Then he came and slept by Judy’s bed from then on.
Louise Vajda of St Louis MO wrote to me about a remarkable dog named Shosty. She writes: “My husband’s parents lived in East Chicago, Indiana. My mother-in-law’s brother, John, lived with them. He was a diabetic. They had a dog named Shosty (short
for Shostakovich, the Russian composer).The brother John became ill and died. Immediately after the funeral, Shosty disappeared. Several days later a friend of the family found the dog, hungry and haggard, lying on John’s grave! The remarkable and unbelievable part of this story is that the cemetery was many miles outside the city, and Shosty had never been there before. They had no idea how he had been able to find it. I believe dogs have some special abilities of which we humans are unaware.”
Cats have long been thought to possess empathic, psychic powers, although some of their abilities, such as their homing ability and early response to coming earthquakes and tsunamis, can be partially explained on the basis of physical sensations and physiological and behavioral responses. But there can be no immediate physical sensations associated with the reactions of cats and dogs to the passing of a loved one; and with our present limited scientific knowledge we cannot ascribe any known physiological process to explain how animals can react to an event occurring at the same time as they react to it, but in a totally different place. After-life Manifestations Companion animals may us a glimpse of life after life, sometimes manifesting after death for the loved ones to see, or sometimes simply to smell or hear.
Elinor Lovegrove, from Shelton, Connecticut, wrote to me about an experience she shared with her husband. She wrote: “My husband had a grey cat named Rosemary. We had her for seventeen years and she was a dearly beloved pet. When she died my husband was broken-hearted. We were sculptors together and he spent a lot of time in our studio where Rosemary sunned herself daily on a drawing table. A week after her death he called me to the next room. He asked if I had changed my cologne. As I went to the doorway, I was struck by a lovely fragrance. I said, ‘What on earth is that?’ He said ‘I don’t know.’ It was suddenly gone. It was February, the windows were shut. We both puzzled over it but had no answers. That night we were watching TV in the living room. John shouted ‘Ellie look!’ The fragrance filled the room and his darling Rosemary was leaving the room with her tail up in the air! This was normally her sign of great satisfaction. Suddenly she was gone and so was the lovely fragrance. We both saw her, in living color. John was in tears. This episode comforted us.”
Judith A. Sellins, who lives in Westerly, Rhode Island, often sees her deceased black cat Whiskers. “But I haven’t been the only one to see him,” she writes. “My daughter as well as others have also seen him, asking me when I got another black cat. But I don’t have a black cat. He has been seen walking into my bedroom and through my dining room.”
I have received accounts of surviving animals seeming to respond to the spirit-presence of a recently deceased animal companion. Such an experience was shared by Ann Simanton from Houston, Texas, with her young cat. The evening after she had to euthanize her old cat she went to bed. The old cat had always slept with her on her bed. That evening she felt his presence in his usual place, on a bundle of covers that “started moving up and down and vibrating as though it was breathing and purring.” She checked to see if the younger cat was under the bundle, but she was asleep on the couch. Going back to bed, she put her hand on the bundle. She writes “It was moving and purring, and my hand and the bundle was covered with small ‘sparks’. Then I heard a scream from the other room and the younger cat, who had not yet set foot in the bedroom since the older one’s departure, came screaming into the room, jumped on the bed, ran to the sparking, purring bundle of covers and started kneading it like mad and ‘talking’ to it, in the little ‘chirpy’ language they used between themselves.” This was the only visitation she had from her deceased feline companion. Interestingly, the next day when Ms. Simanton described this experience to her veterinarian, the vet confided that she had seen each of her two dogs after they had passed on, but had never shared this experience with anyone before.
A veterinarian told me that his dog could always sense when he closed the hospital for the night and took a fifteen-minute walk home. The animal doctor’s wife never knew the exact time of her husband’s arrival, but the dog would always wag his tail and go to the door in anticipation of his arrival. When the vet and his wife started taking note of the time, it coincided precisely with his closing up of the hospital door, fifteen minute’s before he was at the front door of their home.
The 2009 account of the cat Oscar, the feline resident of a nursing home in Rhode Island who had predicted the passing on of 25 inpatients, jumping on to their beds and staying close during the in-patients’ release from terminal dementia. On the basis of Oscar’s behavior, the doctors and nurses know when one of their patients is dying.
In her book Natural Dog, veterinarian Dr Deva Khalsa describes an extraordinary, supernatural event in her clinic. A patient’s dog, an old English setter named Morgan, close to dying, was in her clinic under observation while the owners were at work. She writes that she saw “an elderly man with white hair and a closely cropped beard holding Morgan’s head gently in his lap and stroking him. When I got to his cage, however, the stranger was gone. Then Morgan let out a small sigh and peacefully passed away.” After she described this event to the grieving owner she was subsequently shown a photograph and asked if this was the man that she had seen. It was the owner’s father who had died three months earlier and who was best of friends with Morgan.
Science has not yet demystified psychic trailing, animals’ uncanny ability to locate their owners in a place to which they had never been before, sometimes traveling hundreds of miles. A psychiatrist friend of mine told me of a German shepherd he was given as a boy by neighbors who had moved to live on the other side of New York City. The dog ran away after they left; within a few days, they found him in their new neighborhood, a part of the city he had never been to before.
After recently giving a talk in Minnesota about holistic care for companion animals, a woman came up from the audience after m yseminar to share the amazing saga of her cat she had when she was a student many years ago. She left the beloved feline with her
parents and moved seven miles across the city of Los Angeles into an apartment. Soon after, her parents told her the cat was gone, and to her surprise some days later she found the cat waiting for her outside her apartment where the cat had never ever been before.
How the cat survived a journey across that city is a miracle of instinctual prowess in itself.
An overarching aspect of all the accounts that I have received on the subject of animals’ spirits and remote sensing via what I term the empathosphere, is this unifying, space-time transcending emotional element that we call love. I think that these accounts, which together make a kind of testimony of truth, attest to the veracity and wisdom of all deep faith traditions that are founded on the ethics and spirituality of compassion in recognition of the universal and universalizing quality we call love or devotion. How
different the world would be if we all embraced every living being with the same respect and devotion that we see between so many people and their animal companions.
Since animals clearly possess powers of empathy and of remote sensing that we are just beginning to recognize and accept, we should all ponder on what the impacts may be on other animals when whales are being harpooned, elephants chained and tortured for the circus, and other creatures made to suffer under the cruel hands of human ignorance and domination.
When we treat other living beings,— as many people do their animal companions,—with respect and love, they will show us devotion in return, and flourish and benefit us in countless ways. This spiritual aspect of affection has profound implications when it comes to our physical health and emotional well-being. This is why animals can be our healers and teachers, as well as our best friends. The bond between people and their dogs and cats is as much a spiritual connection as it is an emotional one. The more we attend to the spirit, and accept that this realm is more real than imagined, then indeed we may bring Heaven down to where Earth abides.