One day not long after Brio passed, I was driving on the highway, alone in the car. I’d been thinking of Brio and a few moments later heard clearly the sound of the metal tags on his collar clinking from the backseat, where he always rode. There was nothing else there that would have made that noise. A split second after that, the highway divided and as I was merging from the left into another lane—with my signal on—a tractor trailer barreled into my path on the right, refusing to yield. Somehow I saw it in time and slammed on the brakes, avoiding it by millimeters. I had felt strongly that Brio was with me in the car; after this miraculous near miss it seemed that perhaps he was, and that he had somehow guided me to safety.
“Oh, now I’ve really gone down the rabbit hole,” I remarked to myself with a chuckle. But I was beginning to listen to what felt true to me. That was all that really mattered. It’s not that all doubt was erased. Rather, I could see the doubt and the fear about what others would think as just feelings and not necessarily truth. I had increasingly come to feel Brio’s presence in spirit myself—not only as he was channeled to me from the psychics—but as though he was walking right beside me. Or I’d feel his gaze or the touch of his muzzle in my hand.
Finding A Grounded, Centered Place
Brio’s physical presence had always grounded me. He brought me back to myself when stress and ego and all the distractions of the human world sent me spinning off into chaos. Now that he was not here in this world, I had to try to find that grounded, centered place myself. Abiding by the lessons he had taught me, I found it was not so hard. I meditated more in a very simple way. Still exploring different spiritual paths, I hadn’t settled on one in particular. Anything that smacked of organized religion or a cult sent me running.
But certain spiritual teachings reeled me in. The writings of mystics like the Trappist monk Father Thomas Keating interested me. Father Thomas founded a practice of meditation and contemplation called Centering Prayer. “God’s first language is Silence,” Father Thomas has said. “Everything else is translation.” [Intimacy with God, Father Thomas Keating] I am far from being a Catholic, but the mystics of any faith emphasize the importance of meditation, going inside and listening to “the still small voice.”
Listening Is A Form of Surrender
In my early days of meditation that worked for me. I didn’t have to sit like a contortionist or follow any rituals or say any mantras; I just tried to listen. It’s not easy. Listening is a form of surrender, of forgetting human concerns and desires and the effort to control everything. I couldn’t always do it. But if, in the silence, I didn’t actually hear that still small voice I did begin to sense a presence within me. Even if it was only for a millisecond, it seemed like a radio signal breaking through the static of mental noise. I had experienced stillness with Brio, smelling the scents in a flower shop, breathing in the salt air on the beach. And I had felt his presence. Now I began to feel it within myself.
I continued to sense Brio sometimes, and even see an image of his face in my mind’s eye. I could of course conjure that up in a conscious way, but the images that came in meditation were different. They came on their own—I wasn’t consciously asking for them. They only appeared when my mind had stopped its chatter and I was at least somewhat detached from conscious thought.
I’d also become interested in metaphysical philosophy, particularly in the more mystical teachers. Metaphysical means “above the physical,” focusing on an invisible force or spirit that governs life. Stephan Schwartz, the author and researcher who’s investigated the realm of metaphysics and the paranormal, says it’s not pure faith but rather data gathered from studies of telepathy, remote viewing, and prescience that should convince us that there’s more to “reality” than meets the eye.
“I think you come away from the research with a new paradigm,” Schwartz says. “You know the old paradigm says consciousness is entirely physiological. We can only know things through our normal physiological awareness, that we are constrained by space and time. That’s the materialist view. The new paradigm . . . is that our consciousness is partly physiological but partly not . . . that we are not limited by space or time.”
All of this exploration was fascinating, but sometimes overwhelming. After all, what I really wanted was to be with my dog! I wanted to find “home” again. My mind wasn’t going to find him for me. The animal psychics had helped me to believe that my connection endured no matter what. I just needed to be open to it and feel it for myself. The psychics planted the seeds of curiosity and belief within me; they did the groundwork. But from there, my spiritual awareness had to grow, as I personally sought Brio’s otherworldly presence in my own world.
Dogs Teach Us To Listen
Dogs teach one to listen. They keep us in the moment, in the heartbeat and the breath of the moment. Indeed the English word spirit comes from the Latin spiritus, which means “breath.” Animal communicators tell us that the key to really “hearing” one’s animal is to be open and trust one’s own intuition about what the animal is “saying.” I have come to believe that they are right in saying that we are all born with intuition that gives us a connection to other beings. But our culture leads us to distrust it, to rely on our minds, on reason, on empirical proof.
My exploration into the world of the invisible, a world of powers we may not understand, has put me in contact with many “dog people” who speak of how they too have touched this mysterious world through relationships with their dogs—during and after physical life. Some were people I would have least expected to be open to such experiences—least of all to admitting them for public consumption! Instead, I found great generosity and willingness to be open about considering the validity of their encounters with the paranormal.
The documentary filmmaker D. A. Pennebaker spoke about such incidents in the weeks after his beloved dog Bix passed. “Penny,” as Pennebaker is known, said, “I felt him with me sometimes. I woke up in the night and I thought I heard him barking. It’s such a clear sound. I know it couldn’t be Bix, but in a way I did think it was Bix. It happened two or three times.” Penny’s wife didn’t wake up. To Penny, those barks in the night clearly held a reality and a power that remains with him today.
Another friend told me she’d heard the “pat-pat” of the feet of her family’s Chihuahua on the sofa shortly after he’d passed. She’s convinced she wasn’t dreaming or in a trance or just imagining and wishing that their dog was there. She has that sense of knowing what she heard, just like others who recount similar experiences.
Border collie handler Donald McCaig, a down-to-earth sheep farmer and author, was not a person I would expect to tell of strange appearances by dogs who had passed from this Earth. Yet he did. He is also convinced that his living dogs sensed these visits as well. Recently, McCaig’s collie June, who’d been an especially close and reliable partner working the sheep, became ill with lymphoma and died. In life, McCaig’s communication with June had been deep.
When I asked him if he ever felt that June is around now, he answered immediately. “Oh yes, she came back two nights after she died, which is pretty common. It just happens. All the dogs are excited.” As in the past, when McCaig’s other dogs had died, the living animals began barking as if someone had just arrived in the house.
There are other remarkable stories of nonhuman animals who apparently sense the passing of another creature to whom they are close. When the famous conservationist Lawrence Anthony died in 2012, two herds of wild elephants traveled for twelve hours through the bush to reach his house. Anthony had rescued and rehabilitated the elephants who had been destined to be shot. When the elephants arrived at Anthony’s home, there they stayed, apparently holding a vigil for two days before going back to the bush. Rabbi Leila Gal Berner commented, “A man’s heart stops, and hundreds of elephants’ hearts are grieving. This man’s oh-so-abundantly loving heart offered healing to these elephants, and now, they came to pay loving homage to their friend.”
English animal communicator Margrit Coates believes that animals are very sensitive to “spirits.” “They see and sense beyond the boundaries of time and space,” she says.
Donald McCaig told me, “I can’t prove anything.” But there was no doubt in his voice. “I’m convinced,” he says of his other dogs’ reaction after June’s death, “that she came back to make sure we’re alright before she moved on, before the journey to the other side.”
Numerous people testify to similar experiences. Kathy and Rick Sommer, the musicians from New Jersey who are so connected to their soul dog, Shiner, have felt his presence since he passed. They have continued to “talk” with Shiner through animal communicator Donna Lozito. In one case, Donna “quoted” Shiner as saying something to Kathy that Rick had written to her years ago in a message left on their refrigerator in Shiner’s presence. No one but Kathy—and apparently Shiner—had seen that note. Nobody, including Donna, knew what was in it before she “heard” Shiner tell her.
Imagine that! It sends chills down my spine to hear stories like this—just as I felt when I heard Brio’s tags jingling in the backseat of my car.
Critics point out that there are more “rational” explanations for apparent appearances of loved animals who have died. Perhaps these instances are simply “waking dreams” or hallucinations that occur in the twilight zone between sleep and wakefulness.
There is, however, research showing that it is a fairly common experience for people who have lost a loved human being to feel they have felt or heard something from that person after death. A 2001 Gallup poll showed that 54 percent of people responding believed, or were at least open to the possibility, that people can communicate mentally with those who have died.
A survey by the late Reverend Andrew Greeley at the National Opinion Research Center showed that 42 percent of adults who were asked if they “felt really in touch with someone who had died” answered in the affirmative. Greeley noted that more American adults believed in life after death in the 1990s than in the 1970s. Roper surveys show that about one-fifth of Americans believe that people who have died can communicate with the living. Only about half of Americans totally rule out the possibility that some people can communicate with the dead.
After-Death Communication (ADC)
Psychologist Louis LaGrand is a professor emeritus at the State University of New York and an expert on grief. He cites a growing interest in researching what is called after-death communication, or ADC. LaGrand himself has heard numerous stories about such ADC experiences, which he says involved “the senses of sight, hearing, touch, and smell as well as the intuitive faculties, sometimes referred to as our ‘sixth sense.’ Each story engaged my curiosity and caused me to reevaluate my beliefs about the meanings of these encounters.”
LaGrand describes himself as, “at best, a hopeful skeptic,” one “who has not teethed on the extraordinary, the unusual or paranormal phenomena: I have no yen for the unfamiliar, or the unknown.” Yet the experience of hearing so many stories of after-death communication has changed him. He continues to have “a dutiful respect for science. It has brought us a long way—but not far enough because its method of exclusive reliance on the five senses for gathering data is constrictive to the rich evidence of subjective experience.” LaGrand himself, he emphasizes, has never had an experience of after-death communication.
How do we really explain the anecdotes told by people who’ve had ADCs with an animal? Wishful thinking by those in grief? But then how do we explain specific “quotes” from a dog who might have heard something when he was alive and seemingly repeats it to an animal communicator? How to explain Donald McCaig’s dogs barking and reacting as McCaig himself felt the presence of their departed pack member?
These are questions that surely will be answered subjectively—by scientists seeking empirical evidence in one way, by believers and those open to the spiritual and paranormal in another. Yet there are some signs of convergence between these two camps. Theories of quantum physics coincide with ideas about the oneness and interconnectedness of the universe that had been the province of spiritual thought. The principle of non-locality says that objects affect each other irrespective of distance and time. Once connected, always connected. And the principle of entanglement holds that such connections are permanent. So can we think that souls are entangled, connected forever?
The Power of Soul
Of one thing I am now sure: a soul is a curious thing. It cannot be seen or touched, yet it is felt more profoundly than any sensation of the five senses. When I truly feel Brio in that space within me, there is no doubt. That in itself is a gift and a lesson for which I am grateful beyond measure. I yearned to “hear” Brio, to listen to what he said. Perhaps not every dog person will be so driven in that yearning as I was. But the gifts of a real and deep human-animal connection are there for all of us if we are ready to receive them.
It does really come down to learning to listen. One cannot approach a dog or any other animal from the position of superiority—that of a superior being who’s doing all the talking. We humans have much to learn from our fellow animals; we need to recognize that. Our culture, again, does not always encourage that attitude. So we need to be gatekeepers, watching our attitude as we develop a relationship with a dog. Humility is a quality to develop. That’s part of the surrender in learning to listen.
What I have come to understand is that there is an actual, curious, sometimes incomprehensible interaction with the being I love in a nonphysical dimension. When one experiences the presence of an animal in spirit, there is a kind of knowing that drives out the need for empirical proof. I know now, without a shadow of a doubt, that Brio is and always will be my soul dog.
©2018 by Elena Mannes. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
Bear and Company, imprint of: www.InnerTraditions.com
Soul Dog: A Journey into the Spiritual Life of Animals
by Elena Mannes
Looking for companionship after a near-fatal car crash, Elena Mannes, an award-winning television journalist and producer, decided to get her first dog. But what she found with her dog Brio shook the foundations of her physical and spiritual worlds, sending her on a quest to discover the nature of his spiritual origins and to contemplate and seek out the possibility of interspecies communication--even after death. Spanning the entire life and afterlife of Brio, including his last days and his messages to the author after he passed on, this book also explores Mannes’ investigations into the spiritual life of animals, offering a new understanding of the unbreakable bond between humans and animals.
About the Author
Elena Mannes is an award-winning independent documentary director/writer/producer whose honors include six Emmy Awards, a George Foster Peabody Award, two Directors Guild of America Awards, and nine Cine Golden Eagles. She has written, directed, and produced series and documentaries for CBS, PBS, ABC, and the Discovery Channel, including The Amazing Animal Mind and the PBS primetime special The Music Instinct, which led to the writing of her book, The Power of Music. Visit her website at https://www.souldogbook.com/
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