Pet owners say they feel presence of their deceased furry friends

If people can become ghosts, why can’t animals? That is the pretext for Animal Planet’s new show, The Haunted, which is arguably one of the better paranormal shows on TV right now. It’s casting light on what many consider to be a very real phenomenon: animal ghosts. Is believing your deceased pet still with you a way of a coping, or an actual occurrence? This article from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette attempts to delve into this issue by consulting psychiatrists, physics, and religious officials.

Matters of the mind

Dr. Mark D. Miller, an associate professor of psychiatry at UPMC’s Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, said his profession generally views reports of pet spirit encounters as nonpathological, grief-related hallucinations.

It’s very common for people to have friendly hallucinations of deceased relatives, he said. About 50 percent to 80 percent have them at least once in the first year after a death.

“It’s on an unconscious level. We really think it’s a phenomenon where the critical thinking part of your brain is suspended, because you want to believe so much that, yes, maybe they are coming back, maybe they aren’t really dead,” he said.

Matters of spirit

Renee Takacs, of Mars, who calls herself an animal communicator, said a pet spirit can feel its owner’s grief after its death, and can come back to ease their owner’s pain. It doesn’t return because it misses its owner, she said.

“In my experience, when an animal crosses over into spirit, there’s usually such a sense of relief and freedom that only love exists then,” she said. “They will come back from the spirit realm to visit their person because of the loving connection, not because of a lower vibrational emotion like sadness.”

Matters of faith

It’s a complicated subject that’s not at the forefront of religious discussions, said the Rev. Kimberly A. Rapczak, one of several local clergy who host pet remembrance services at Animal Friends, the no-kill shelter in Ohio Township.

There are people who would believe in the existence of animal souls and their survival beyond death, but not all of those people would believe that an animal’s spirit could come back to visit, she said.

For example, Joe Hirsch, chairman of the Hearts and Paws Ministry at Christ United Methodist Church in Bethel Park, said he believes animals have souls, but he doesn’t believe in the paranormal. In his view, a belief in pet spirits comes from grief and a memory connection.

He said he thinks about his recently deceased cat, Miracle, all the time. It’s a fresh wound, and sometimes at night, he reaches out next to his pillow to pet her. “That’s not a paranormal experience. It’s just my looking for what is missing, similar to people who lose a limb and still feel it’s there, that kind of thing.”

Undoubtedly losing a pet can be a very traumatic experience for any loving pet owner. In this type of case, I think whatever the individual person wants to believe is going to be what’s true for them. There are few things in life that can get in the way of a person and their pet.

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