Ann Marie Hoff is in the middle of telling me about how she’s had conversations with pets about their end-of-life wishes, then seen those same animals reincarnated in new bodies, when she interrupts herself.
“Just so you know, I have a master’s in animal science nutrition, so I come from a hard science-based background,” she says. “And that is, like, so far from something I would believe, otherwise. Like sometimes, I hear myself talk, and I’m like, ‘I can’t believe she’s saying this stuff.’”
Hoff describes herself as a pet communicator and intuitive medium, with the ability to talk telepathically to animals ranging from geckos to horses. She says she first learned she had the ability to communicate with animals because she learned she had the ability to communicate with dead people. She hadn’t realized she was clairvoyant until she took a class on being a medium as an adult after leaving a job in the pharmaceuticals industry. Though, it made sense when she thought about it. She thought about milking cows growing up on a farm, and how she’d always had a sense of how the cows were feeling as she milked them. Or how her childhood cat would wait for her every day after school at the same time, but only on weekdays, like she’d inadvertently communicated her schedule to him.
Charles Peden, another psychic medium and animal communicator based in Tucson, also didn’t realize he could communicate with animals and the dead, or that it would become his career. He was running a sea glass purveying business when he had his first supernatural encounter—with a ghost in his house—and started experimenting with telepathy and contacting the dead. (Like Hoff, though, he can see inklings of his abilities looking back on his childhood.) When the spirit of a German shepherd showed up during a reading of a deceased person, he realized he could communicate with animals too.
Bow-Wow How it Works
Hoff has worked as a pet communicator and medium for the past 20 years. It’s been 15 for Peden. Their paying clients, of course, are not the pets themselves, but the pet owners, seeking to connect with their animals on a new level. Hoff says there are four main reasons people get in touch: to communicate with pets who have passed away, to address behavioral issues, to locate lost pets, and to communicate with their pets about medical decisions—particularly end-of-life decisions.
“There’s a lot of guilt associated with making medical decisions for animals, because, unlike with people, they don’t really get a say in it,” she says.
She has a client, she says, who had spent $40,000 on cancer treatments for her cat and came to Hoff wanting to understand why the cat was always hiding in the basement. Hoff says the cat explained to her that he didn’t want to live, but didn’t want to disappoint his owners with that decision. On the flip side, there are animals given terminal diagnoses who tell Hoff they really don’t feel sick or ready to be put down quite yet.
How does all of this work, or allegedly work? Peden compares telepathy to using a smartphone, which can send data wirelessly in different formats, including text, images and sound.
“Telepathy works on those same principles,” he says. “It’s all about energy and little bursts of energy and creating these little encapsulated data packets just like a smartphone does, and entering a network, or the internet of the universe.”
Hoff has a similar explanation. Her website says that younger animals are more likely to communicate via images, then start to use words more as they get older (just like humans). They both say they also receive sensations during readings—for example, if an animal is communicating that its leg hurts, the communicator’s leg might hurt too. Because these exchanges are energy-based, and, Hoff explains, “in the intuitive world, there’s no space or distance,” both claim they have done readings for clients and their pets all over the world via phone.
Both agree that missing animal cases are some of the most emotional. Hoff says she found each of the thousands of animals she looked for in her first 10 years of the work, but had slowed down on accepting missing animal cases because they can be so draining. Peden tells the story of finding one dog, who went missing during the summer in Tucson.
“I reached out to the dog, he told me his paws were burned, he couldn’t run anymore, that he’d found water and shade and that he could smell Italian food,” he says. ‘‘He was right next to an Italian restaurant. And he gave me the street name he was on. He was on Eighth.”
Can all dogs read? I can’t help but interrupt to ask. “Oh yeah,” Peden says. He compares it to moving to a foreign country. After living in the country for long enough, he says, you’d start to learn the language. You’d certainly be able to repeat things like street names and your age.
What Does the Science Say?
It’s comforting to imagine consulting our pets about what makes them happy, seeing how they’d like to handle their end-of-life care, or even to ask them where they’ve run off to. So, it’s easy to understand why some people turn to animal communicators for help. But I have to say, it’s also easy to understand the perspective that this whole thing is impossible, ridiculous or a hoax. My main form of animal communication consists of telling my own dog what a beautiful princess she is, so I turned to some experts for some more nuanced insight.
Evan MacLean, PhD, director of the Arizona Canine Cognition Center at the University of Arizona, said in an email that he doesn’t know of any science supporting the idea of human-to-animal telepathy. He does acknowledge that the minds of humans and other animals are often quite similar, particularly when it comes to the core psychology behind things like basic emotions, learning and memory.
All species that live in social groups, he explains, use signals to communicate, which range from sounds to chemical emissions to visual cues—think barking or talking, pheromones, and facial expressions, respectively. And these signals are received using known senses, like hearing, vision and touch.
“If animals were capable of telepathic communication, it’s hard to understand why they would need these other energetically costly ways of communicating,” MacLean says. “In other words, telepathy proposes that there are communication systems that take place outside the known senses. We have no evidence that those exist, but lots of evidence that animals have evolved specialized communication systems using conventional known senses. We may not always be able to detect these signals (e.g. chemical or visual signals that are not accessible to human perception) but there is no reason to think that telepathy is involved.”
Jeremy Brown is the owner of the Tucson dog training company the Complete Canine, the winner of multiple national dog training awards, and a therapy dog trainer for the Pima County Police Department. He says he has mixed feelings on the subject.
“I’ve had some clients use [animal communicators] and the result is spot on. It makes perfect sense,” he wrote in an email. “However, others it seems like they fish for info and give opinions based on this.”
So the professionals are skeptical. Hoff says many people are skeptical until they experience it. Peden says he used to be a full-on skeptic himself.
Peanut Butter and Possible Arthritis
Despite all of this and my own skepticism, I am, of course, dying to ask these people to have a quick chat with my dog, Zelda, a Shepherd mix we got from Pima Animal Care Center back in November. But I don’t know what the standard courtesies are surrounding this sort of thing. Is that a big ask? I’m not sure if it’s more akin to asking a stranger to, like, hold your drink for a minute, or asking a stranger to help you move out of your 10th-story apartment.
Peden tells me he loves his job, but that readings are exhausting and emotionally draining. Instead of asking him to read my dog’s mind over the phone, I ask to speak to one of his existing clients. Paula Rose and her dog Riley have been going to sessions with Peden for several years. She went to him most recently when Riley, normally loveable and calm, started lunging at other dogs on walks.
When Peden asked Riley if he was lunging at other dogs because they were a threat, or because he was trying to protect Rose, Riley said no both times. When Peden asked if Riley was just showing off, Riley showed him an image of Rose taking something out of the refrigerator, and then mentioned peanut butter. That sounded familiar to Rose when Peden shared it: Every evening, she slices up some carrots for Riley as a healthy snack, then follows it up with some peanut butter. But what did that have to do with the lunging problem?
“He said Riley was changing the subject,” Rose laughs. “He didn’t like being criticized about lunging at dogs.”
Rose says Peden was able to explain the problems and potential dangers of lunging to Riley, and that Riley has stopped lunging at other dogs since the session.
I don’t ask Hoff to connect with Zelda either, but when I mention I have a dog, Hoff asks for her name and shared some information voluntarily.
She explains that Zelda loves to make me laugh (feasibly true), that she adores me (I hope so) and that she’s adorable (of course—cutest dog ever). She says Zelda showed her an image of me bouncing a ball so Zelda could jump up and catch it, as something she really enjoyed. I have done that, though not often. A lucky score or guess on Hoff’s part, or Zelda telling me, via a medium, that she’d like to see more ball bouncing?
Then Hoff mentioned an image of Zelda splashing around in water, at the type of water park with fountains shooting upward. We’d just tried to take Zelda swimming in a pool earlier the same day, and she wasn’t at all interested in coming in the water, so that didn’t sound quite right to me. But, hey, it’s possible Zelda was trying to let me know she preferred fountains to pools.
When I told her Zelda was 2 years old, Hoff said she was getting something more like 5. This, she explained, could be because Zelda is especially mature, or because she is starting to suffer from something like premature arthritis. “Ah yes,” said one of my friends, when I told him the story. “Surely it couldn’t be that she just got it wrong.”
Fact or Quack?
Of course, it very well could be that she just got it wrong. It could be that there’s no way for humans and animals to connect telepathically, and that this is an industry of people deceiving the public and/or deluding themselves. As MacLean explained, there’s no proof for the concept. And one of the things that makes this both interesting and tricky is that there’s no way to verify this by asking an animal, “Is that true, then? Is that what you were thinking?”
Hoff and Peden might respond by pointing to instances that animals have shared information with them they couldn’t have known otherwise. Peden says a dog once shared the password for his family’s home alarm system, for example. Or did it?
Much to think about, or perhaps look into or laugh about, depending on one’s opinion. The only thing I’ll say for certain about the world of animal communicators is that it’s nothing if not intriguing.