Pet telepathy: Therapeutic, or ridiculous?

Debora Poynter, an "animal communicator" based in Green Bay, WI, isn't comfortable comparing herself with Dr. Doolittle. In a Green Bay Press-Gazette piece written by Charles Davis last weekend, Poynter notes that the fictional version is "exaggerated," adding that, "Obviously, the dog isn't going to speak English."

But Poynter's claim that she can talk with dogs, cats, and many other species telepathically isn't any easier to believe on the basis that they're not using correct grammar. Even if you believe in extra-sensory abilities like telepathy, there's something faintly absurd about Poynter's assertion that she's communed mentally with squirrels. Furthermore, Davis's description of Poynter's customary process makes it sound like a 976-TAROT type of scam; Poynter usually speaks to owners via phone while looking at photos of their animals, because having the pets there in person "can be distracting."

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Some owners believe in Poynter's work; Davis quotes Jean See as saying that Poynter "was saying things" about See's late cat that "nobody else would know." Convinced, See later consulted with Poynter about a horse and a fish. And while we have serious doubts about whether Poynter's gifts extend beyond savvy branding in the pet community, we can't see how her work is hurting anyone, human or animal. She doesn't pose as a vet, and if non-skeptical owners get some good out of Poynter's mind-reading – help with behavioral issues she's frequently called in on, like chewing or problem urination; peace of mind about a deceased pet's afterlife whereabouts – then she's worth the money. (It doesn't seem like she's raking it in anyway; Poynter charges a dollar a minute, with extra fees for travel, but still has a day job as an insurance-company admin.)

We've seen a shift towards holistic treatment of companion animals in the last few years – acupuncture, massage, herbal therapies, and so on. This sort of staring into a pet's third eye may just be a continuation of the search for alternative training and treatment for our animal friends.

But boy oh boy does it sound flaky. Poynter says that "she has never had a pet use a curse word" during a session. On her website, she also advises owners of pets with separation anxiety that "it is important to discuss your plans with your animals so they understand that you will be coming home," and there's a lot of whiffy terminology like "source energy" and "opening up to love."

Poynter also mentioned a "strict code of ethics" to Davis that constrains her from "talking to" a pet without the consent of the owner…because the pets tend to gossip about their owners' "personal lives." The rule reminded us of a fantastic short story we read in school, Saki's "Tobermory," about a cat who does learn to speak English, and causes no end of trouble for his human associates as a result; the rule also means Poynter couldn't pick the brain of the First Dog, Bo Obama: "Do you know how much trouble I could get into if I did that?"

So, it all sounds pretty silly to us – but again, we don't see the harm, and it's obvious that Poynter is sincere about helping animals, something she's been committed to since childhood. And hey, we've never tried it; maybe it does work. (But we're not going to give Poynter consent, lest Mabel announce to the world that we sometimes eat hummus with a spoon straight from the container.)

What do you think – is animal telepathy a total scam? Harmless fun, like checking your horoscope? Or a truly helpful tool? Have you ever tried it, on your own or using an animal communicator's services? Share your experiences in the comments!

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