Pets are wonderful, but the most confusing thing about living with them is trying to gauge what they're thinking. What exactly makes pets nervous or irritable? If they're sick or in pain, what's wrong? And do they really pay attention to you at all?
Since a witty talking dog like Brian, the martini-swilling pooch from Family Guy, doesn't exist, we have to rely instead on guesswork, visits to the vet and observation to learn and interpret pet behavior. It's equal parts fascinating, worrying and frustrating trying to determine why hides under the table or your dog won't stop whining, but maybe there's another answer. Could telepathy tell us what's going on in those furry heads?
Jai Jamison, an animal communicator in Eugene, Oregon, says it can. In 2009 after a career as an elementary school counselor and teacher, she started Wagtime Wisdom to help pet owners better understand your best friend. By using telepathy Jamison's goal is to serve as a translator, telling humans what their animal is thinking and feeling about situations or conditions. She charges $70 for a 30-minute session and $100 for an hour to talk about whatever topics you'd like.
"I personally don't call what I do a psychic reading. I call it animal communication because it's really a back-and-forth conversation, a conversation that goes through me," she says. "I'm using telepathy, which has a deep intuition."
Many of the issues Jamison says she can explore are likely to trigger stressful animal behavior that can perplex us -- things like moving to a new house, health problems, end-of-life decisions or new members of your family, both human and not. But ultimately she wants to deepen the bond between you and your pet and, if needed, help you work together to solve training problems. (As part of her work, Jamison, who has a master's in counseling, has partnered with animal trainers.)
"It's really about a relationship and about communicating and cooperating … and honoring [your pets] and finding out what they need, just as much as you would with a partner, a friend, family or your colleagues," she says. "It's about talking things through, finding out, 'How can I support you?'"
Talking with Shelly
My husband and I adopted Shelly, an adult beagle shepherd, six months ago after she was found wandering the streets of San Jose, California, without tags or a microchip. Like most rescue dogs, we knew nothing about her past outside of it being obvious that she had puppies. Since then I've wondered whether she'd been abused or neglected. Did she run away from her previous home, or was she abandoned after she outlived her usefulness as a puppy machine?
Shelly's former life was at the top of a list of questions I sent Jamison prior to our session (questions beforehand aren't required, though Jamison does request a photo of your pet). Did something in her past cause her to be snappy at times toward our house guests and, for the first couple of months at least, make her fearful to even leave the house on a walk? (weren't a problem, though.)
I also asked how much an ear infection Shelly caught as a stray bothers her, whether she thinks about her puppies and if she knows this is her permanent home and not just a stop on the way to somewhere else. Jamison said she'd get Shelly to talk about those queries and more, while cautioning that any intuitive activity is never 100% accurate. (I can hear the skeptics snort at that answer.)
"I see my job, or my role, as helping you to better understand Shelley's thoughts, feelings and her viewpoints, the way she's seeing things from her perspective," she said as we began our hour-long call over Zoom while her dog Henry sat next to her against a cat-patterned throw pillow. "Telepathy and telepathic communication is something that every human being is capable of doing … it's a natural part of who we are."
Jamison started our conversation by asking for a quiet moment to communicate with Shelly. She said Shelly's answers may come primarily through mental pictures or images, physical sensations or emotions Jamison would feel or through language -- it all depends on the animal. Jamison doesn't need to be in visual contact with your pet (she works mostly over the phone), but when Shelly wasn't barking at the postman during our conversation, she wandered behind my webcam for a few moments.
Jamison smiled broadly as she began. It meant a lot to Shelly, she said, that we were conducting this session at all. She's a sensitive, observant dog who knows she's home for good.
"With you, she tells me that she really is happy, and she shows me with her energy that she's very content. I can tell that she has relaxed enormously since you got her. She's really beginning to feel a sense of security."
As for Shelly's past, Jamison said her previous home was with owners who'd mistreated (with kicking and yelling) and neglected her. Not surprisingly, those past experiences make her reactive to certain stimuli today. New situations and people can still be overwhelming, especially if the people approach her too quickly, and lead her to protect herself and us. Though she'd had several litters, she didn't miss the puppies now.
"She tells me she was a good mother when she had puppies," Jamison said. "She was caring, and when it was time for them to leave, she was ready to have them leave."
For the rest of the discussion we talked about why Shelly always barks at people wearing helmets, why she sometimes refuses to walk down a certain street (Jamison said sometimes she senses danger or just gets bored) and how she became a stray. On that last point, Jamison relayed an unhappy, but common story for rescue pets.
"She was in a breeding situation for a number of years," she said. "But once they were done with her, [her previous owners] just turned out in a field or somewhere in a very uncaring way".
Pets aren't furniture
Sad stories aside, I enjoyed our conversation. Jamison's warm, effusive personality even made me, for a moment at least, forget a president who refuses to concede an election and a deadly, careening that was sending my county back into lockdown a few days later. Her love for animals is obvious from the start -- I struggled to imagine her squashing a spider crawling across her bathroom floor. And even if you're skeptical that telepathy is possible, you can't argue with Jamison's sound advice for interacting with your pets.
"Animals are intelligent, sentient beings who have a life of their own," she says. "They're smart, they're funny, they have feelings, they have opinions. They have needs, they have likes and dislikes. They're not just these pieces of furniture in our house."
As for how I should act when Shelly is anxious and how I should calm her when she meets new people, Jamison offered guidance many conventional trainers are likely to to echo: Pets feed off the energy and emotions of the humans around them. If you're nervous when guests come by (guilty), they can be nervous, too. Instead, remain calm, assure her all is well and make the introductions slowly with the pet taking the initiative. (Jamison said Shelly finds music and CBD for pets, which we have given her, to be soothing.)
"Animals really relate to our energy," Jamison said. "It doesn't matter what words are coming out of our mouth, they're feeling the energy that's under that. Especially if your words are not matching your energy, it can be even more upsetting and unsettling for them."
I asked a few of Jamison's other clients about their experiences. Kelly Sayers said over email that one conversation with Jamison solved aggressive behavior in her dog Grover after she adopted another dog called Scooter. "I hung up the phone and never had another problem with Grover and Scooter again ... they quickly became best friends," she said over email.
Lynn Roulo first spoke with Jamison eight years ago as she was packing for a long-distance international move. She says the conversation immediately calmed her fears about her pets spending two flights and 15 hours in crates.
"I quickly understood how basic their needs would be," Roulo said. "Sometimes we're thinking there are more complex things happening in a situation, and it was clear that was not the case here. Really, they just wanted enough water. I could do that … I wanted to communicate stability."
Roulo also found helpful Jamison's advice for handling the logistics of the move, like asking the airline to put the crates close together in the hold and leaving a piece of clothing with her scent in each crate.
"There was just practical advice about looking at [the move] from all angles," Roulo said. "She definitely offered that in terms of how's this gonna work and what else can I do?"
Another client, Don Sherman, said he's spoken with Jamison several times about his rescue dog, a doberman pinscher that had a life-threatening neck injury from being choked at her previous home. When he had to choose between surgery or euthanasia for the dog, Sherman said Jamison helped him make an informed decision (he chose surgery).
"My dog is very withdrawn, and Jai was able to connect with her and help her understand the situation," Sherman said over email. "[The dog] expressed that if surgery would give her a good quality of life then proceed. If not, that she was fine going into spirit."
Even a snake
Though dogs and cats are her most common connection, Jamison says she's also communicated with horses, birds, hedgehogs, guinea pigs, tortoises and even snakes. There's really no limit, she just needs a sentient being.
She says horses are a lot like dogs -- open, intelligent and playful -- while cats can be more reticent. Parrots are responsive, and tortoises love to interact with people. She recalled a story of an 80-pound tortoise that a woman brought to one of her classes (in non-pandemic times Jamison teaches animal communication classes in Eugene) who greeted every person there.
But one of her most interesting talks was with a snake.
"They definitely have feelings, they definitely think," she said. "But there's sort of what I would call a flatness. Everything is very matter of fact, and there's not a lot of this up and down emotion."
At the end of the call, I asked Jamison to tell Shelly that one day, in the magical future, my husband and I will travel again and return to work and won't be home all day to give her attention. Again, Jamison's advice was logical, and it followed guidance I'd read in other places: Get ahead of separation anxiety now by leaving her alone for short periods that gradually get longer.
Ultimately, she assured me Shelly would handle her alone time well. Until then, though, keeping an open relationship between us is key.
"If there's anything I really want to do it's to shift the consciousness about animals and make people understand that they do get us and for us to have more compassion and respect for who they are," she says. "That's important."