Animal communicators aren't necessarily psychic: They don't see the future, and can't tell you whether Spot will ever find true love. They don't read minds; they "talk" and "listen" to images provided by the mind, they say, fine-tuning to the telepathic frequency of a particular animal in the thick soup of such energy swirling around the world.
There are dozens of animal communicators to be found by searching the Internet, and even more by referral -- just ask your animal-loving neighbor -- and you may be surprised. Appointments are usually scheduled through e-mail or by phone, with payment taken by credit card or in advance by check or money order. Fees run about $100 an hour, give or take, but a communication with one pet usually won't take any more than half an hour.
Most communicators ask for just basic information, such as the pet's name, location and age; others ask that the human come up with a set of questions to guide the reading. It's a mysterious undertaking, to say the least, and it's growing by leaps and bounds.
As host of Animal Planet's The Pet Psychic, Sonya Fitzpatrick has made talking to animals almost respectable. Like nearly every person who believes they have the ability to communicate with animals, she didn't have to try. It's just always been there, since she was a young girl growing up in a small English village. She purposely and defiantly shut down her communication abilities after three pet geese were killed and cooked for dinner.
Fitzpatrick followed a traditional career path in modeling and fashion, traveling throughout Europe. She moved to Houston in 1991 to open an etiquette consultation business; in 1994, her animal communication abilities were reawakened by what she calls a "spiritual experience." Since then, she's made it her life's mission to help the animals of the world. A couple of years ago, she was selected by the Animal Planet network to star in a new series, The Pet Psychic, now in its second season (8 p.m. Mondays).
"They looked for three years for the right animal communicator," she said while touring with her book Sonya Fitzpatrick the Pet Psychic: What the Animals Tell Me (Berkley Publishing, 2003). "I have an edge, I think, because I was born with a great psychic ability, as well as being able to talk to animals. The two things together have given me more of an understanding of the animal kingdom."
She calls everyone Darling, and believes firmly in her work, not worrying a whit about naysayers and frauds who may be preying on gullible pet-owners.
"I don't even think about it," she said. "I'm too busy doing the show to worry about any of that."
She'll take on any non-human, from dogs to cats to bears and alligators: A favorite episode found her handing over her decorative scarf to a belligerent llama, who felt he wasn't being included or admired quite enough.
"They couldn't get it off him!" Fitzpatrick said, laughing. "The scarf became very tatty, but he wouldn't let anyone take it from him. Finally they got him a hat -- he wears his hat now. He's so thrilled -- he thinks he's a showman, and wanted to take part in all the activities."
So how does she do it?
"I use a different part of my brain," she said. "Animals do communicate on a higher level of consciousness and spirituality. The thing about animals is they're very spiritual, they just come in to teach us. We can learn so much from them.
"I believe it's my life purpose, and that before we come into life, we've chosen what we're going to do."
Many animal communicators hold workshops, where people can learn techniques to help them tune into their animals.
"You can learn it, but you can only get it to a certain degree, you can only go so far," she said. "Everything I know I learned from the animals."
She and her husband, Denis, have four cats and seven dogs. She's a vegetarian -- "Of course I am, Darling, I don't want to add to the animals' suffering."
They don't fear death, she said, adding that animals never really die, they just leave the physical body.
"If they're going to be slaughtered in a horrendous way, in some meat market, then of course they're terrified," she said. "Animals are highly intelligent. They know everything. And if you want to help animals, look at what you're eating."