Most scientists are skeptical of a dog having ‘psychic’ powers. Those who have experienced the phenomenon of a dog’s ability to ’sense’ the unseen are regarded as sentimental or anthropomorphizing their companion’s behavior. In spite of skepticism, there have been consistent accounts of dogs appearing to be psychic, from locating kidnapped or lost owners to predicting natural disasters. Are our pets psychic or is there a rational, scientific explanation for the phenomenon of the canine ability to sense the unknown?
Natural Disasters and Illness Screening
It has been recorded that dogs can sense when an earthquake or tsunami is coming. Heightened sensitivity to changes in barometric pressure, tremors and other animals may allow them to ‘predict’ a future event, offering a scientific explanation for this particular type of event.
But what about those dogs that save lives? Service dogs are utilized for their ability to predict epileptic seizures or low blood sugar in diabetics, alerting their companion in advance to avert an potentially life threatening episode. It’s not just service dogs who preform these phenomenal acts; accounts of dogs with no training alerting their companions before life threatening attacks are common. How is this possible?
There have been accounts of dogs predicting heart attacks and perhaps most interestingly, cancers. Perhaps the explanation for this behavior lies in our canine companion’s acute sensitivity to changes in odors or changes in behavior that are missed by humans. Rather then being ‘psychic,’ perhaps in addition to science, our dogs are so in tune with that from which we are blocked, they truly can assist us in connecting to that which we are removed from, due to the convoluted structures of modern life.
New studies do conclude that dogs can ’sniff’ out cancer. A major study on this topic was conducted by the Pine Street Foundation, a research organization in San Anselmo, California and more studies utilizing canines to detect cancer are underway.
As dogs can have the ability to smell chemical traces in the range of parts per trillion, dogs are able to discern the breath of lung and breast cancer patients from that of healthy people. Cancer cells emit different metabolic waste from normal cells and these particles can be detected by dogs, even in very early stages of the disease. Previous studies have confirmed the ability of trained dogs to detect skin-cancer melanomas by sniffing skin lesions. It is hoped that dogs will also be able to detect prostate and other cancers by sniffing urine samples. Early detection is vital to a good prognosis for cancer patients and it may be the super-sniffers of dogs that are able to detect disease before any human-made screening methods.
Accounts of untrained house pets repeatedly sniffing or pawing at an area on a family members body are common, only for the human to later find out they have a cancer in the very region that the dog was so focused on. Clearly, the science behind the dog’s ‘psychic’ abilities are tapping into the natural capabilities of the dog.
Beyond Science: The Empathosphere and Place, Time and Connection Between Man and Dog
According to Dr. Michael W. Fox’s 2007 book, Dog Body, Dog Mind, dogs and other animals posses a sensitivity to electromagnetic and geomagnetic fields. This allows for an internal compass and clock that allow animals to use the sun, moon and stars to have a sense of time in relation to the position of objects in space. In addition, dogs posses iron salt deposits in their brains (as do humans!) that can act as a magnetic compass. This accounts for a dog’s ability to preform ‘psychic’ acts in relation to finding a lost companion or finding ones way home over many miles, even in unknown environments.
But, what about the many accounts of dogs who predict emotional or health related events across time and space?
Accounts are commonplace in which dogs howl or having strong physical and vocal reactions to seemingly nothing, only for human companions to later find out that at the very moment their pet dog was howling at ‘nothing’, that a beloved family member in a distant place had passed on or sustained a serious injury.
Dr. Fox explains this psychic phenomenon by invoking Albert Einstein’s theory of a unified field, in which all things are interconnected and interdependant. Einstein failed to express this theory mathematically, however, Fox argues that the existence of this field is demonstrated by modern sciences such as ecology and quantum mechanics (Fox, 91).
Fox continues to assert that this interconnectedness, as often described in spiritual doctrines, connects every living being to one another as we are all psychophysically connected to the bodies in space and everything that ‘is’ via our senses and emotions. Given that we are emotional beings, it would be natural to assume that a companion animal forms a connection to his pack members (human and animal) and that connection can form a point in the space-time continuum, allowing him to re-orient himself toward the emotional field of his family (Fox, 91).
Fox refers to this phenomenon as the ‘empathosphere,’ to which the animal kingdom is still connected but we humans have been removed in the plight of Western, industrialized, contemporary life. The empathosphere is based on the notion that when animals feel an emotional connection, they can use the unified field of interconnectivity to “‘feel-see’ across time and space and sometimes sense another’s activities and emotional state,” (Fox, 92).
Dogs, Death and Afterlife
Beyond the compelling evidence as experienced by pet owners of a dog’s ability to empathize and tune into things that we humans are unable to detect, there is evidence of dogs mourning, needing closure and being able to sense impending death.
A famous example, exemplifying the loyalty and goodness that dogs embody is a story that made the news out of Tokyo, Japan a few years back about an Akita named Hachiko. “Outside of a subway station…I was shown a statue commemorating the vigil of a dog local people knew well, because the dog would wait at this station every evening for his master to come home from work. For several years after the master died, this dog kept up his patient vigil, waiting for his beloved human to accompany him home,” (Fox, 79).
This is far from the only case of the ‘loyal dog’ waiting for his deceased owner’s return. Dr. Fox describes mountains of letters he has received from pet owners whose companions exhibited strong reactions to death and loss. As Dr. Fox says, “There is nothing sloppily sentimental, nor is there evidence of anthropomorphized projections of people’s grief onto their animals,” (Fox, 80).
Accounts of dogs letting out wrenching screams in the wake of loss are common, as are accounts of pets that will pass away soon after or even right before the death of a being with which they share a close relationship. These deaths are often attributed to sudden cardiac arrest caused by the part of the nervous system that controls the heart, slowing the heart rate and stopping it, similar to the physical processes of humans when we faint from panic or shock.
Frequently, when a family member is sick and nearing death, a dog might all of a sudden start staying with the patient constantly and even though there may be no outward change in the patient’s condition, the patient usually declines and dies soon after this behavior starts, another example of the much deeper level on which animals are tuned into our physical and emotional states.
A personal account; I recently took my two dogs with me on a trip to spend time with my grandfather who is approaching death. Afflicted with multiple myelomas, renal failure, a blockage to the main artery in his heart, my grandfather is, unfortunately in the process of leaving this plane of existence. While in his house, my dogs spent a significant amount of time sitting and looking up at the ceiling, as though they could see ’something’ present that was of a great deal of interest to them, although nothing was there visible to my eye. This was extremely out of character for two happy-go-lucky pups who tend toward leaping and playing.
I slept in the room where my grandfather used to spend much time watching T.V. and both Louis and Ella Bean were captivated by the belongings of my grandfather, but unlike their normal behaviors of grabbing and running off with objects of interest, they would synonymously stare and sniff the objects, alternating between the objects and the ceiling. What could they sense? I can’t say, suffice to say my dogs were reacting to something that I could not see or feel.
I am not alone in this experience and accounts of animals sensitivity towards death and dying are countless. Our current scientific capabilities may be able to explain much of what we think of as ‘psychic’ behavior in dogs, however, many documented behaviors of dogs raise preternatural, religious and philosophical questions that cannot be explained away by science experiments and concrete explanations.
The underlying theme, beyond the question of a dog’s psychic abilities, is that dogs posses a great deal of empathy when it comes to humans and other animals. As dogs share these traits with other animals, it is worth a moment’s pause to consider that such empathy is worthy of a newfound respect toward animals by humans. We must begin to reconsider our ethical boundaries toward animals who clearly demonstrate compassion and loyalty to one another.
Science already has proven that those who own dogs have lower blood pressure and are in overall better health then our pet-less counterparts. A sign humans need to re-cconnect to nature? I think so.
Our positions on animal welfare must begin to take into consideration more then rudimentary, self serving sympathy for the world’s creatures. Perhaps an attempt to model our empathy on that of the devoted empathy of the dog will help to shift our cultural disconnect from animals and nature. We might begin to make changes that respect the totality of an animal’s whole being, beyond just its existence in a food chain and we will take cultural strides to preserve the welfare of all animals.
“Roving dogs do not indicate the civilization or compassion of the society; they betray on the contrary the ignorance and lethargy of its members,” Mohandas Ghandi