One of my freakiest up-close-and-personal encounters with an apparition was when I was working through the night in my attic office. It was about four in the morning and my beloved Riley, a Golden Retriever/Bernese Mountain Dog mix, looked up from the couch he was resting on, glanced over to the attic stairs and wagged his tail. I was busy putting the finishing touches on a paragraph and assumed that Riley was greeting a flesh-and-blood human. But, out of the corner of my eye, I suddenly saw a very tall stranger ascending the stairs. When I turned to get a better look, he disappeared. I told myself that I must have been imaging things, I’d been up all night writing ghost stories for heaven’s sakes. Then I remembered, Riley had seen him first.
I have heard from numerous sources and experienced it for myself that it is not unusual for our pets to be sensitive to the paranormal. Is it because they are just more instinctively in tune with their surroundings? Or is it because they are more accepting of the phenomena and don’t mentally block it out?
Years ago, we had two young cats – McDuff and McCloud. They came from a litter of kittens whose mom was a barn cat, but there must have been a throw-back to a Siamese somewhere because they both had Siamese coloring and the unique vocalizations of Siamese cats. Unfortunately, McCloud snuck out of the house and was hit by a car right in front of our driveway. We were devastated and solemnly buried McCloud in the meadow behind our house. About a week later, McDuff started staring into the corner of the dining room, where McCloud had loved to rest. McDuff would stare, wide-eyed, his hair on end, and he was walk – stiff-legged, away from the area. Occasionally, he would hiss at the corner of the room. This went on for several days and we decided that a trip to the vet was needed. The vet ran blood work, took his vitals and totally checked him over. Nothing was physically wrong with McDuff. Then we explained about the death of his brother and our vet nodded wisely and said, “Oh, well, he’s probably seeing his ghost.”
I’d like to share a story I found on Reddit entitled “People Lie about Ghosts. Dogs Don’t.”
“The following is a true story.
I grew up in Massachusetts alongside a golden retriever whom we named Seneca. She was young while I was, and yet she essentially raised my brother and I. Most goldens are gentle, kind and personable. She was no exception.
We picked her out in the first place because of her adorable habit that we had believed to be unique to her at the time: her smile. When meeting people with goodness in their hearts and intentions, she would peel back her lips, scrunch up her nose and reveal her teeth, which initially looked a bit scary. But then her tail would start to wag so hard that it seemed as though it’d fly off her body, and she’d start sneezing uncontrollably because of how wrinkled-up her nose was. In short: if you had good intentions, she’d give you not just a smile, but a whole adorable happy dance.
If she didn’t know you or couldn’t see you, however, she’s growl and bark like any other dog with a family to protect. This happened a lot when people knocked on our front door, simply because she couldn’t see who was on the other side. The moment she met the friendly delivery man on the other side, the smiling would begin.
She started getting sick back in 2016, so my family and I decided to bring her out to her favorite place on earth: Cape Cod, Massachusetts. My late grandfather owned a 250-year-old house in Barnstable which would serve either as our rest stop on our way out to the tip of the Cape or as our final destination itself, simply because of how beautiful it was.
Narrow hallways, creaking staircases, oil paintings of the house’s prior inhabitants lining the walls… your picture-perfect haunted house. My grandpa used to bring us into the living room and say ‘This is where the household used to display the dead; back before funeral homes’. This place was even a stop along the town’s ghost tour. My grandpa died a year before this story took place but left the house in the family because he knew how much we all loved it. His memory filled that entire house and consequently filled us with a bit of sadness whenever we visited it.
We arrived at the house and let Seneca out of the car, watching lovingly as she sprinted around the property with an energy we hadn’t seen in months. We stayed outside as long as we could, allowing us all to soak in that magical salty air.
Then night fell.
Something feels wrong about watching TV in a house that old or even using electricity at all for that matter. It felt more appropriate to light a roaring fire in the living room (‘the parlor, you mean’, my grandfather would say), and keep candles lit wherever else we needed to go. This was our choice, of course; not some horror movie where the power gets cut.
My brother, sister and I played cards by the fire with Seneca sleeping soundly beside us. My parents had gone up to sleep in the master bedroom. The house was quiet. Darkness reigned king everywhere except our orange-yellow orb of safety cast by the fire. We were lulled into a sleepy trance by Seneca’s deep, relaxed breathing.
Until she awakes.
With no warning, Seneca sits bolt-upright, her ears perked, tail stiffened, eyes fixed on the dark, empty doorway that led to the kitchen. My brother, sister and I all noticed immediately, of course. We followed her gaze, searching in the darkness of the doorway for my mom or dad; the only other people in the house.
Then, she starts to smile.
Her tail begins to beat against the floor with vigorous energy. Her nose crinkles up. She sneezes into the floor three or four times, reverting her eyes back to the empty doorway after each occasion.
My brother, sister and I watched with a combination of horror and fascination, though I can’t deny that once Seneca’s smiling began, the horror diminished. She had always known who meant us harm and who didn’t. Whoever she saw in that doorway was no enemy.
She continued this tail wagging and smiling for a few moments until it subsided; until whoever she saw had left.
To this day, though I’ll never know with certainty who was watching us from that doorway, I choose to think it was my grandpa, watching his grandchildren enjoy his house as he would’ve wanted, waving at Seneca as he did each time he saw her in life.”
I loved that story! The next one is not quite as warm and fuzzy.
“My dog is seeing SOMETHING!
Alright, Reddit, my dog is seeing something at the top of the stairs. We’ll rewind to about five or six weeks ago. Our apartment has been, for the most part, quiet in the eight or nine months we’ve lived here (We being me, my fiancé, and my mother), aside from a couple of experiences with temporary ‘creepy feelings’, weird nightmares, and one isolated incident of a knock me and my mother heard and couldn’t explain.
But, five or six weeks ago, I started getting mega creepy vibes. I don’t know if maybe it has something to do with negative energy from the violent drug dealer downstairs, or what, but I was terrified to be alone in the house. When I was, I was locked in my room with the lights on. The living room, particularly the stairs down to the door (the door opens onto a staircase that leads up into the apartment’s living room area. There is a half-wall there), and the area at the top of them, was frightening to me. I didn’t know why, but I didn’t question it.
A week or two after these feelings started, I came home from class one night to find a dog I didn’t know practically waiting for me at the end of our sidewalk. A wrangled her, and it turns out her owners didn’t want her anymore for whatever reason. Nothing wrong with the dog, she even had shot records, walked on a leash, and was house trained. Never look a gift horse in the mouth. We loved her, and we kept her, and we still love her.
Now, we’ve established that she’s %50 border collie, %25 pit bull, %25 lab. I already have an over-sized lab, who is docile as a lamb, but her… Nova is smart as a whip.
She’s alert almost all the time, even when she’s playing, and she has a true pit bull’s bark. Loud and scary. She’s got all the best qualities of her three breeds… And maybe something else.
Anyway, I’m rambling, but one night my mother, a friend, and I were sitting at our dining room table, which is open and branches off the living room. No wall blocking the view to that room, or the stairs. Sebastian, our lab, was on the opposite side of my mother begging for food, and Nova was laying under my chair. Suddenly, she slithers out from under my chair and stands up, fur up down her back like a mohawk and growling that beast growl of hers.
I expected her to be looking at the window, which was open and that’s what Sebastian usually does when someone was outside. She wasn’t, though, she was looking at the top of the stairs. STARING at them, have you ever seen a border collie STARE at things? It’s intense. I got up to check to see if anyone was about in the parking lot, and Nova let out an explosion of aggressive barking. I had heard her bark at neighbors, and at things that frightened her. And she had never barked like this. This was not ‘hey this is my home!’, this was ‘you get the F*** out.’
I turned, just as she raced across the room, and around the edge of the stairs. She stopped there as if whatever she had chased around the bend had disappeared. She was restless after that and did it twice more.
This was about three weeks ago, and she has done it frequently since. At least once or twice a week. Sometimes, she’ll just sit up and STARE, and growl. Sebastian doesn’t seem to notice it, and the cats are never around. All I know is every time that it happens, I get an overwhelming sense of discomfort. Like being in the room with someone angry, or with ill intentions.
It’s always happened while I was already upstairs, but tonight, my mother came to greet me on the stairs after I returned from a walk with both dogs. Nova stared past us and growled up at the corner. I felt trapped there, between the locked door and the top of the staircase. I let her off her leash and she stalked up the stairs, still growling, and went around the corner. Scared, me because I didn’t know what she could be seeing, or why my hair was on end, my mom because she worried someone might be in the house (she had just gotten home and hadn’t even made it up the stairs yet). Once Nova came back, acting as if the coast was clear, we finally went up.
I know this story isn’t all that interesting, but I can’t explain the uncomfortable feeling I get every time this happens. And sometimes just before. Why is it only her, and why does it seem to make her so angry?”
I’d pay attention to Nova if it were me.
But these stories are just that, stories. Are there any “experts” to weigh in on the idea that pets can sense the paranormal?
A Psychology Today article called, “Can Dogs Detect Ghosts, Spirits, or Hallucinations?” gives us a little professional information. “One of the oldest and most persistent paranormal beliefs is that dogs have the ability to see spirits, ghosts of the dead, or even the Angel of Death. All of this is attributed to some kind of “sixth sense” that dogs are supposed to have.
The belief that dogs are in tune with the spirit world or have some sort of precognition which allows them to anticipate ominous events, is not just something from the distant past. It persists today. When the Associated Press had the GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications group conduct what they called a Petside Poll, which involved telephone interviews with 1,000 pet owners in the U.S., it found, among other things, that 47 percent of dog owners report that at some time or another their dog has alerted them to some impending bad news. The dog’s alerting involves behaviors like trying to hide in a safe place, whining or whimpering, hyperactive or erratic behavior, or barking persistently just prior to something dire happening.
On YouTube, you can find dozens of video clips which supposedly demonstrate dogs alerting to the presence of some sort of spirit or ghost. These videos usually show a dog that seems to act frightened or skittish, or barks or whimpers, while staring into empty space where there is nothing to be seen.
Then there are the many anecdotes that describe dogs who appear to be sensitive to ghosts or even places associated with death. One of these was related to me some time ago by a colleague in the mathematics department at my university. Before the real estate market in our area heated up, he had been lucky enough to be able to afford a small house which overlooked the water, not far from campus. At that time, he had a Labrador Retriever named Lambda. When the weather permitted, he would walk the dog along one of the many nearby paths, which wended their way down the steep embankment to the sandy shore below. Lambda loved such walks, scouting out in front of him and happily exploring the terrain on either side of the trail. That was the case for all of the paths to the beach except one. Whenever my colleague chose to walk the dog along that particular pathway to the shore, something strange would happen: About midway down the trail, Lambda would freeze. He would stare into the bush and produce a strange growl, which seemed to be mixed with warbling whimpers. The only way my colleague could get Lambda to move past this point was to grab hold of his collar and physically tug him several yards along the path, until he was well away from that spot.
The reason my colleague felt that describing Lambda’s behavior might be interesting to me was because he later learned that it was at exactly that spot, on that same trail, where a student had been found dead a few years before. The student’s death was ambiguous; it had never been determined whether it was by accident or foul play. My colleague became convinced that somehow or another Lambda was sensing the ghost or spirit of that unfortunate young man, and it was this extrasensory awareness of the spirit that provoked his dog’s odd and worried behavior.”
The author of the article, Stanley Coren, PhD., DSc, FRSC, goes on to explain that as a skeptic, he does not believe that Lambda was sensing the young man’s spirit – yet, he gives no viable answer for why the dog would then act in the manner at this particular spot. “Being the scientific skeptic that I am, I am more inclined to interpret such behaviors in a way that does not involve the paranormal. Dogs have keener senses than we do, especially when it comes to smell and hearing. Many dogs are also reactive to unexpected visual events, such as moving or ambiguous shadows. I am of the belief that many of the instances in which dogs are apparently alerting to ghosts or spirits are simply situations in which the dog senses something through normal sensory channels that the average human is not aware of. Whatever the dog is perceiving in such cases is vague and uncertain to him. In the absence of a clear idea of what he is sensing, the dog tends to become wary and acts in a cautious or suspicious manner. It is this insecure response when nothing is visible to the human eye that observers interpret as a reaction to spirit-related events.”
Or, he could be seeing a ghost.
What should you do if your pet does experience a paranormal encounter? I love this post on Pet Central and their advice.
“If you think your dog sees a ghost, don’t panic! Anderson says it’s likely a friend or loved one stopping by for a visit.
“It takes a lot of energy for the spirits to show up,” Karen Anderson, a professional animal communicator, psychic and medium based in Elk, Washington says. “When they do show up, they’re not trying to scare you or your dog. It’s usually a loved one, human or a pet.”
First of all, she says, if your dog senses a spirit and it’s scaring him, remember that you are in control—of the dog and the ghost.
“Tell the spirit to knock it off and stop scaring your dog or cat,” Anderson says.
Speak to your dog calmly if he’s frightened, she says.
“Say, ‘Good boy, good girl for telling me there’s someone here,’” Anderson says. “Don’t get on them for alerting you, because they’re doing what they’re supposed to do—they’re protecting you and letting you know that there’s something there.”
You can perform a cleansing ritual of some kind, too, she says.
“Say some prayers, burn sage, use holy water, or try green fire to help eliminate negative energies and entities,” Anderson says. “There are all kinds of rituals you can do at home.”
In addition, you should rule out any medical anomaly that could be causing your dog’s odd behavior, says Belle Marie Nibblett, DVM, a board-certified small animal internal medicine specialist with Oregon Veterinary Referral Associates in Eugene.
“Dogs and cats can have partial motor seizures that cause fly-snapping behavior, staring off at nothing or watching something that’s not there,” she says. “They can cause abnormal brain activity.”
Dogs can also develop Cushing’s disease, which is an endocrine disorder, high blood pressure and other conditions that could cause abnormal sleep patterns and anxiety-related disorders, she adds.
“If you see that behavior one time, that’s not a big deal; if you see it over and over again, or if it’s increasing in frequency, visit your veterinarian,” Dr. Nibblett says.
Also, take a look at things like flickering fluorescent lights and television screens, she says.
“Different lights might have vibrations that bother them,” she says. “So, be aware of those sorts of things that might be causing some distraction.”
Using a product that contains a dog-appeasing pheromone can help, Dr. Nibblett says. Sentry’s calming collar for dogs, for example, uses a pheromone that mimics the calming pheromone released by a mother dog to quiet her puppies. It could help an anxious—or spooked—dog relax and feel at ease.”
I like this advice – just as we did with McDuff, rule out any other reasons why your pet might be acting strange. And, once those are ruled out, you can both be spooked together. Um, do those calming collars come in human size?