The Dog Whisperer

Stranger Things

The Dog Whisperer

Illustration: Akshita Monga

As I enter the animal-telepathy workshop, I am greeted by a cheerful-looking mongrel at the gate. He wags his tail confidently, as if he has not the slightest doubt about the idea of conversing with man telepathically. Of course, says his tail, as it wags furiously from side to side, thought transference is legit.

I feel markedly better about this whole endeavour, as I sit down in a roomful of people who are here to “talk” to their dogs. They are led by the lively and amiable Manjiri Latey, a Pune-based animal communicator, who often conducts workshops in Mumbai. To my right is Varsha, who has been working in animal rescue for 35 years. She has shown up with the hope to learn new techniques to help damaged cats and dogs she takes under her wing. Next to her is Trisha, a wide-eyed and bubbly girl, who wants to grow closer to her dog, and understand the need of her pet better. There is even a veterinarian, who has come along with her father, Sandeep, a man with greying whiskers and several doubts like me. Together they’re all part of Manjiri’s two-day workshop on how to communicate with animals.

As Sandeep speaks about his pet dog, Bindi, Manjiri senses his reservations. “You need to stop doubting yourself,” she says, constantly encouraging her new batch of students to have faith in their abilities, and to challenge their existing beliefs. She then divides the participants into pairs to practice their new-found abilities on each other’s animals back home. A quiet settles in, as everybody takes their places. Sandeep’s pen hovers over his notepad, as he continues to struggle with uncertainty. Everyone else writes sporadically, as they “receive” information from the animals they are “speaking” to.

As I watch them, it strikes me as unbelievable that each of these adults in front of me is attempting to have a telepathic conversation with a creature of a different species, residing several miles away. Science would have you believe that all of this is outside the realm of possibility. And yet, here they are – otherwise intelligent humans, including a man of science, brimming with enthusiasm, ready to leap into the world of the paranormal.

Their faith has been sealed by stories like that of Juhi. A young student from Pune, she was in Bombay after her beloved Labrador, Tuffy, had gone missing a day earlier. Any attempts to trace him had been futile. Her father’s reassurances about finding him failed to assuage her fears, and she began to scour the internet for solutions. A Facebook post on the Indian Animal Forum prompted her to opt for help of those who specialised in locating lost pets, using fairly unconventional methods like telepathic communication. At the time so desperate was Juhi, that she felt she needed to hear from Tuffy, and even telepathy didn’t seem like such an absurd idea.

According to animal communicators like Manjiri, one can relay thoughts to animals in any language, and in cases of lost pets, they claim to get responses in the form of images based on what they’re seeing.

She reached out to a Mumbai-based animal communicator called Komal and briefly explained her predicament. Over the phone, the communicator asked questions about her family, and the kind of people her dog would encounter on a regular basis. She reverted to Juhi with crucial information: Someone Tuffy had found trustworthy had taken him. He’d been lead away as though they were out for a routine walk. By the time he’d realised they were wandering into unfamiliar territory, it was too late. Tuffy was being kept in a “small chawl-type place” with “blue walls”, some place close to a construction site.

“Do you have a watchman,” asked Komal. “He definitely knows something,” she asserted. Juhi convinced her father to dispatch a few of his trusted men to scour the chawl. Hours later, they returned with the news that some of the residents claimed to have seen a dog of Tuffy’s description in the neighbourhood, but no one was sure.

The next time around Juhi insisted on accompanying her father to the chawl. As they navigated their car through congested, narrow lanes, a Labrador dashed in front of it, dragging along two frantic, skinny boys. Turns out, the watchman had, in fact, handed Tuffy over to these boys, who’d been keeping him until a breeder was willing to purchase him.

As I ruminate over the details of this case, the skeptic in me wonders if there were any other means by which the Komal could have learnt the facts she did. But no explanation came up which seemed likely.

Animal communication attracts people from all walks of life. Even Alan Turing believed in telepathy, and the famed photojournalist, Loren McIntyre, claimed to have encountered a telepathic Amazonian tribe. However, skeptics continue to indicate that people are inclined to believe in the supernatural when they feel like they’re lacking control. And perhaps, besides a strong affection for animals (the people in Manjiri’s class have that in common), most communicators resort to telepathy after facing a trauma of their own and find solace in the practice. Manjiri herself began walking this path after the death of a beloved dog.

According to animal communicators like Manjiri, one can relay thoughts to animals in any language, and in cases of lost pets, they claim to get responses in the form of images based on what they’re seeing. That’s how Juhi’s communicator learnt about the “blue walls” of the room that Tuffy was being kept in.

I’m shaken out of my thoughts when Manjiri rings the singing bowl. A sweet, song-like noise floats through the room. The chatter picks up almost immediately. Partners share the information they’ve managed to gather, and validate each other’s questions: “Does your dog play with a red football?” “Why yes, yes he does,” pat comes a reply.

Sandeep treads carefully. With each correct statement, his smile widens. He inches closer and closer towards belief. Manjiri goes on to talk about the idea of “morphic resonance” by a researcher named Rupert Sheldrake, to ratify the practice of animal communication. A former biochemist and cell biologist at Cambridge University, Sheldrake’s proposal about memories being inherent in nature, has met with a fair amount of scepticism. The experiments conducted by his peers, found little to no evidence supporting his claims.

The people in the workshop don’t care about evidence. They are here because they believe in the strength of their emotions as they wipe away tears, feeling closer to their furry companions more than ever before. As we come to the close of the workshop, the skeptic in me is silenced. I don’t have any evidence except anecdotes about human-animal telepathy indeed being real. But it is undeniable that what Manjiri and people like her do, brings great solace to those who take the leap of faith toward something improbable and intangible, and through it find a way to heal. In some form or the other, isn’t that what most of humanity thrives on?