Dan Wakefield is a novelist, journalist, and screenwriter whose best-selling novels Going All The Way and Starting Over were produced as feature films. A documentary film has been produced of his memoir, New York in The Fifties. His nonfiction books on spirituality include Returning: A Spiritual Journey and How Do We Know When It’s God?: A Spiritual Memoir. The following article appeared on Beliefnet, where Wakefield has a regular column called “Spiritually Incorrect.”
April 11, 2001
Any pet-lover knows how attuned to emotions animals can be
Now some are saying that our furry friends also have souls.
In one of the darkest periods of my life, when my “resting pulse” was racing at twice the speed of normal, and my personal and professional lives were crumbling around me, my greatest source of comfort came from a cat.
I had not yet rediscovered my faith, and my relationship with the woman I lived with was in a near-the-end stage of paralysis. I was also near the end of my “Hollywood Period,” brightly begun with creating the television series “James at 15,” and concluding with scripts being turned down and pitch meetings that terminated with the deadly phrase, “We’ll get back to you.”
When I went home to slouch on the couch in the most discouraging times, Puss, my girlfriend’s fat old cat, whom I “adopted” emotionally, would appear, stare at me a moment, and jump on my lap, kneading my stomach and purring with that sound of feline tranquility.
She knows, I thought, and she cares. The idea that good old Puss was trying to cheer me up was deeply reassuring, a sustaining message that bridged the time before I hit bottom and found the solace of the psalms again.
I experienced what countless people know from their own pets, that these domesticated animals possess a wordless wisdom; they convey a special kind of empathy that enriches the lives of those around them.
She heard there were people called
“animal communicators” who…believe
that “animals, like humans, have a
spiritual essence that survives death.”
The latest testimonial to this phenomenon comes from an old friend of mine, Helen Weaver, who has written and privately published a moving book about her communication with her own longtime pet, The Daisy Sutra: Conversations With My Dog. Helen’s professional credentials are quite solid. A literary translator, her translation from the French of The Selected Writings of Antonin Artaud was nominated for Dan Wakefield and Helen Weaver, 1998 a National Book Award, and she is co-author and general editor of The Larousse Encyclopedia of Astrology.
When she moved in to her parents house to care for her aging mother, she was told by a wise friend that the house was too big for its few occupants; she needed a dog. At the local Animal Welfare Society, Helen picked out a “medium sized black dog with white socks and belly,” a shepherd with beagle and collie mixed in. She was your average, workaday pet, but, to Helen, the dog was special: “Once she turned her head toward me and I looked into her beautiful, expressive brown eyes, it was all over.”
Wanting to train Daisy not to wander off the 10-acre property, Helen walked her along the boundaries several times, “telling her solemnly with voice, eyes, and gestures, ‘This is our land,’ and ‘this is not.’” Daisy learned the lesson so well, she refused to go with Helen on walks to the mailbox, sitting down “at the exact spot where our property legally ended.”
Though not trained to perform, whenever her leash was picked up to go for a walk, Daisy “would get up on her hind legs and dance and sing. The word beagle comes from the old French bee gueule, open throat, and beagles are the singers.” Little wonder that Daisy soon became part of the family and Helen’s great friend for 16 years.
The usual story of a pet and its “person” would have ended when Helen saw that Daisy was too feeble to go on–a victim of the aging disease a friend of hers aptly dubbed “Dogheimer’s”–and decided to put her to sleep. But Helen had doubts about ending the life of her old companion. She heard there were people called “animal communicators,” who can pick up the feelings of pets and who believe that “animals, like humans, have a spiritual essence that survives death.”
A friend told Helen she had communicated with her cat through such a person both before and after the life of the pet, and Helen began her own “conversations with my dog” through several such professional communicators, first to be assured that Daisy was ready to die, and then that she was well and happy in her next life; messages not unlike the ones that humans receive from psychics about loved ones living and dead. (”My body is weak. My spirit is strong and can be set free… To know what it feels like to be without a body, think of joy.”)
Helen wonders if the animal communicators were “really channeling Daisy, or their own inner wisdom I don’t know, and I don’t think it matters. What matters to me is that the words carried a precise personality and a boundless love that I recognized as real.”
As indicated by the “sutra” in the title of her book, Helen is a Buddhist, but she quickly dismisses the well-known Zen koan (recently the subject of debate in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review) that asks: “Does a dog have Buddha nature?” Helen says, “To me it’s just a stupid question that any Zen teacher should be ashamed to ask…everything that exists has Buddha nature.”
That’s what Helen felt from her dog, Daisy, and what I felt from Puss, the cat back in Hollywood–a love that wasn’t “dumb” but that came from an instinct, an understanding of distress and a wish to alleviate it.
I experienced what countless people know
from their own pets, that these domesticated
animals possess a wordless wisdom.
It turns out there are dozens of books, tapes, and articles affirming that connection, including works by well-known authors such as Jane Goodall (author of Gorillas in the Mist), nature writer Farley Mowat, and psychiatrist Jeffrey Masson. Helen lists these resources at the back of her book, noting that new books on animals come out nearly every week, most agreeing that “animals are more intelligent and emotionally complex than we believed–in other words, more like us.”
Whether one believes that “talking to the animals” is possible, in life or in the hereafter, it’s clear that more and more, people are recognizing that animals are creatures of spirit as well as flesh and bones.
This article first appeared on Beliefnet, the premier site for religion, spirituality, and morality on the web. A multi-faith ecommunity, Beliefnet is designed to help people meet their religious and spiritual needs by providing information, inspiration, community, stimulation, and products. Check them out at www.beliefnet.com.
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