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After a brief centering prayer and meditation, she began to concentrate on communicating with Dickens telepathically. I kept imagining the voice of Morris the cat (minus the ennui and pithy inner
dialogue) with the vocabulary of the feeble-minded Lennie from "Of Mice and Men." Jean began to scribble furiously on her yellow notepad, transcribing her conversation. Just as I began to squirm
impatiently, she read aloud from her notes. "I asked him how he was feeling and he said: 'I'm feeling good. I'm a good kitty. In fact, I feel great. I love to play. I'm a hunter. I chase things.
I'm a hunter and I can growl.'"
I watched Dickens wheezing after the toy mice and tripping over himself. I replied skeptically, "He's an indoor only cat. The only thing I've ever see him hunt for is a napping spot." Jean shrugged
and said, "Well that's what he keeps repeating over and over. It's funny, but that seems to be his individual thing, his identity." I was about to protest when Dickens came strutting over with his
fuzzy mouse and deposited it proudly at our feet like a great white hunter.
Jean raised an eyebrow and nodded at me as if to say, "See!" I tried hard not to roll my eyes. So now I'm supposed to believe that cats have rich, inner fantasy lives? However, I couldn't help
being impressed that apparently Dickens could speak in complete sentences, albeit short and simple. I had expected something more Tarzanesque like "Me kitty. You human. Me hunter."
Suddenly, my other cat Dora jumped up on the coffee
table and stared intently at Jean. They locked eyes as if they were having a staring contest. Jean started scribbling furiously on the notepad again as Dora continued to stare at her. Jean turned
to me and said, "Dora interrupted my conversation with Dickens to tell me something important. She says that she throws up a lot and doesn't like it."
My scalp prickled because she had hit a bull's eye. Dora has inflammatory bowel disease and we've spent a frustrating two years trying to identify a trigger for her constant vomiting episodes. In
fact, minutes before Jean arrived, I had been scrubbing Dora vomit out of the carpet in my office. But there was no way that she could've known that. I tried to rationalize that cats are notorious
for throwing up hairballs, so this could be construed as a safe statement, a lucky guess.
Jean asked Dora how she felt and if there was something we could do to help her get better. "Dora says she doesn't feel sick. But it's as if the food gets stuck partway down after she's eaten and
comes back up. I asked her if there was anything we could do for her, but Dora just assured me that she just eats way too fast and knows that she needs to slow down. She says not to worry because
she knows what she has to do."
I was taken aback at the accuracy and specificity of this last statement. Unknown to Jean, Dora is a street cat we adopted seven years ago and she still inhales her food as if she doesn't know when
her next meal is coming. Her vomit contains whole pieces of kitty kibble intact. She asked me if I had a message to give to Dora. I shrugged and thought what the hell? "Tell her, I'm glad she's
part of our family now" I said lamely. Jean relayed the message and told me that she also reassured Dora that she would have a home with us as long as she lived and didn't have to worry about her
Dora jumped down from the coffee table as if she were satisfied with the conversation and despite myself, I was oddly moved. We focused back on Dickens and asked him why he howls. Jean closed her
eyes and said, "He says that he learned it from the dogs outside where he used to live." I tried to figure out which howling dogs he could be referring to and then it occurred to me. We have a
major coyote problem in the hills. Packs of them come down every night and howl right outside my window like it's Transylvania or something.
Jean shook her head and emphasized, "He said it was where he used to live." I explained that we used to live in the Hollywood Hills and had a coyote problem there too. She seemed satisfied
because the image of the "dog" she kept seeing looked kind of like a coyote. "Dickens says that he sings at night because it's his job. It's keeping the coyotes from coming inside."
Jean asked me when he howled at night, and I told her usually around 10 pm and then again around 5 am. She said this correlates with the nocturnal hours that coyotes keep. They howl when they come
down from the hills and howl when they go back up in the pre-dawn hours. "Maybe Dickens thinks his howling is working because they go away every morning."
"Oh how sweet," I said insincerely through gritted teeth, "but please tell him it's not necessary." We debated back and forth for a few minutes with Jean as the interpreter until I suddenly became
disheartened. Not because we couldn't come to a resolution, but mainly because I had the depressing epiphany that I was arguing quite vociferously with a kitty cat.
Dora interrupted our conversation again to make a couple of last requests, "Could you leave music playing for us when you leave the house, please? And can I have chicken?" When I asked what kind of
music, Jean shrugged and replied, "She wasn't specific; she just wants gentle music, nice music." I was disappointed that my cats were into easy listening, elevator music. I was hoping their music
tastes would be a little hipper because I really didn't want to inflict Kenny G on any living creature.
Although I began the session feeling smugly self-congratulatory at my cagey, objective approach, by the end, I was somewhat disarmed and charmed by the whole experience. It was "Charlotte's Web"
come to life. Well, maybe without the polysyllabic SAT words that Charlotte could bandy about. (And, come to think of it, minus the spider and the pig and all the other farm animals.) But Jean was
the personification of Fern Arabel, 50 years later, still talking to the animals with child-like delight and collecting social security.
Jean did resort to some of the cold reading techniques identified by Nickell. She did ask some questions, make some safe statements and vague generalizations and even offered to return
messages to the cats. She was also wrong a couple of times. For instance, she said that Dickens was missing a friend and asked me if we ever had another cat that went away. When I couldn't
corroborate that theory, she quickly switched gears.
But she was also right and very specific much of the time. Most importantly, it's been two weeks and things have improved drastically since their conversation. Dickens has come out from his exile
in the garage and for whatever reason, doesn't howl while we're asleep anymore. It's been downgraded to the occasional sulky whimper.
Dora's vomiting mysteriously seems to be in remission, which no amount of drugs or dietary changes have improved in the past. She even nibbles at her food with lady like delicacy instead of
hoovering it down in her usual fashion. But then again, the poor thing is now on this organic cat food so full of twigs and berries, who could really blame her for picking at it?
I'm not sure if I'm a true believer in animal telepathy. But there's no denying the results. Sure, there could be alternative explanations and it could all be coincidental. But just in case, I
begrudgingly leave a little music playing when I leave the house. Show tunes seem to be Dora's favorite.