Your Secret's Safe With Me

by Polly Klein (originally published in the Puget Sound Pet Journal)

I remember the first time I ever heard the phrase animal communicator. This was years before I started working in the field. A friend of mine shared a story about a dog she had borrowed to bring to her Sunday School class. After attending class, the dog's owner consulted with an animal communicator and learned that the dog was concerned about a particular young girl he had sat with at Sunday School. He wasn't sure exactly what the problem was but knew something was wrong. The girl, it later turned out, was being abused. While I was touched by this story, another thought popped into my mind. I never wanted to go to an animal communicator because the only things my dogs would say are my house is a mess and I tell them to shut up all the time.

Over the years I've been doing this work, this is a concern I often hear from people when I tell them what I do. Essentially, they think I must hear from the animals all the dirty little secrets that happen in people's homes. I can understand why we might be worried about this. Who sees us at our worst more than our animals? They hear us gossiping and they see us eating those four brownies at midnight. They know when we are stressed out and sad or angry. They know when we put on a public face to mask our true feelings. My animals have enough goods on me to blackmail me for an eternity. Why would any of us want to have their secrets revealed to an animal communicator? Because, simply, that's not how it works.

First, many of the things we think are bad or unsightly about ourselves are subjective; it only feels that way to us from our own perspective. I might feel guilty downing the sugar-laden brownies in the middle of the night, but my animals don't see this as an offense. From their point of view, there would be no reason to share such trivial information. My own dogs, who are relentless food hounds, would probably see this as quite a good trick to be able to eat at all hours of the day and night. Then again, I have never spoken with an animal that was as focused on its weight as a lot of us humans.

Second, animals are very forgiving. If we are stressed out and snap at them because they do something that bothers us, once they see things have calmed down and are back to normal they (unlike many of their human counterparts) can let things go. I have yet to talk with an animal that has been obsessing for weeks over something obnoxious someone said to them in the heat of stress. Instead, they focus on what they like, what feels safe, and how connected they feel to their people. If there is a healthy relationship in place then a minor incident here and there just doesn't faze them, especially if it is explained to them. I had a dog client who told me her person was sad all the time and this made the dog worried because it didn't know how to help. I turned to the dog's person and asked about this. The woman explained that her father had been very sick and had recently died and since then she had been crying at some point every day. The dog did not tell me that her person cried all the time, the dog told me about being concerned that her person was sad and not being able to help. This story shows that even when things don’t feel normal in their household, animals don't say things like, "Wow, what a head case I live with. She walks around crying all the time."

Our animals are very loyal to us and they clearly have an understanding of what's private and what's public. I have certainly spoken with animals who wouldn't talk about a topic, saying it was something meant just for them and their people. This doesn't mean that just because something is private, it's bad. I remember talking with a woman and her dog a few years ago. She told me her husband traveled once a month and she wondered what her dog thought about that. I asked the dog, who showed it was gleefully happy when the husband was gone. I asked the dog if he liked the man, expecting there was something negative going on between the two and it was a nice break to have the man gone. The dog told me he loved this man and showed me an image of playing outside with a ball and going for runs. I asked why was he so happy when the man left. The dog immediately changed tone with me and said, "That's our secret, not for you." I turned back to the woman and explained what the dog had said. A big smile came across her face and she said, "That's right, we do have a little secret." Apparently when her husband was around the dog was never allowed up on the bed, but the moment her husband left the woman let the dog up on the bed each night where they snuggled up together. Then, just before her husband came home she would wash the sheets to get rid of signs of dog hair and turn to her dog and say, "Now don't let on you were up here." This had been going on for over two years. I turned back to the dog and told him what the woman had shared with me and asked if that was the secret. He said yes, but I better not tell her husband. I agreed.

Sadly, there are times when upsetting or difficult things are happening to animals in their homes. Even at times like these, animals very rarely talk about these situations the way an outside observer might expect them to. I once worked with a cat who was spraying all around the house. A woman had shown up for her appointment with her 10-year-old daughter's cat. The cat talked about being confused by the rules in the house and feeling overwhelmed with anxiety. The cat would not give any examples about the inconsistent rules. I asked if it ever felt safe in the house and it said no. Upon hearing this the mother said, "I'm surprised the cat didn't talk about all the mean tricks my daughter plays on her. I try to stop her, but I wonder if that's what the cat is so anxious about." The cat didn't talk about what the girl was doing to her because the cat thought it must have been confused about the rules. It's world had become less predictable and it was anxious not knowing what was safe and what wasn't. The cat was not blaming the little girl – it was just scared and confused.

So, don't worry about your pet making your foibles look like something off of reality TV. Animals really don't think that way. They are usually very forgiving of some of our little faults and unconcerned about others. Just ask them!

© Polly Klein 2004