Up on the Woof

Can a pet psychic break through to this savage beast?

Colonel Steve is one of those guys. You know, always moping around, hair hanging in his face, unsure of what he wants from life and, in any case, entirely unwilling to work to find out. He is obnoxious, loud, generally filthy, self-centered and prone to bouts of violent petulance.

But Steve is no bipolar carny, and he's not that jerk-off kid who tagged your garage last week. He's seventeen pounds of stubborn, uncommunicative watchdog of Tibetan descent -- Lhasa apso, about a year and a half old. To save my house from this weapon of mass destruction, I had to break through his tough-dog facade, so I called in Denver's Finest. Finest pet psychics.

Pet psychics -- or "animal communicators," as they prefer to be called -- are not exactly a significant part of the metro area's labor force. There's no Yellow Pages section for them yet, and most are people psychics using their excursions into Fido's ego as a kind of vacation from our bipedal dramas. But this margin of the marginal profession is growing, thanks to a tweedy British woman with an Animal Planet TV show called, naturally, The Pet Psychic.

Mark Andresen

"Five years ago, if you told somebody you were talking to their dog, they'd give you that look like you were crazy," says longtime local pet psychic Val Parks. Now they just give you money -- a dollar a minute, on average.

Ready to glimpse my dog's inner mongrel, I take the Colonel to Crystalline Energy, a small, neat new-age store in a Littleton strip mall. "The first thing I'm going to do is get quiet and tune in on him," Parks tells me amid the low tones of musical star-screams in the room and ceiling-rattling thumps that emanate from the karate studio upstairs. First, though, she gets his basic information: name, age, whether I've had Steve his entire life. (I haven't.)

As the cur wanders around the dimly lit back room, Parks sits and closes her eyes. She breathes deeply and is silent for a moment.

"I'll start with kind of a general 'How do you feel?' kind of thing." Pause. "He just said, 'I'm so lucky. I'm such a lucky dog.'"

Lucky? I wonder if he felt that way after eating his first wallet. Or the fifth hat. Or the little plastic tub of finish nails.

"He's showing me being taken away from his brothers and sisters and his mom, and that was terrifying." She asks if I know he ended up at the shelter. I do not.

It felt like he was living with someone older, she says, and he was hard to house-train; he kept doing things wrong. This is starting to sound like the Steve I know. But the whole time he is discussing his traumatic puppyhood, Steve is encamped by the door, sniffing the store's dog through the crack and making the most godawful shriek, like the whole world slipping on a wet linoleum floor while wearing Chuck Taylors.

Parks pretends not to notice. He's bored, she says. He wants to go out more. Give him distilled water.

Good advice, and all true. But for an indoor dog, those are pretty easy guesses. He also wants me to cook him a delicate cut of Kobe beef every night and serve it in the skull of his enemy -- but I'm not about to antagonize the U.S. Postal Service.

Parks says Steve recommends a vet visit for one of his cats (a subsequent trip turned up nothing but obesity) and that he keeps mentioning a big shepherd mix. That must be Steve's buddy, Rufus, a rescued shepherd that lives out in the country with my in-laws. Rufus, Parks explains, is a damaged dog with a bad history of abuse (true); she likens Steve meeting him to the first time the Buddha left the palace and saw death and hunger. Steve evidently fails to mention his habitual face-humping of poor Rufus, though he does vigorously plumb Parks's nostril with his tongue.

Despite this unwarranted violation, Parks tells me Steve is something of a doggie intellectual, a rarity for a small breed. "Their brains are like scrambled eggs," she says. Not only that, but his tastes reach a level of refinement almost entirely unknown by his humans. He likes classical music; Vivaldi, Mozart and Haydn are his three favorites.

"He also would enjoy having you read poetry, if you don't," she says. "Most people usually don't, but he enjoys poetry."

Pretty soon he's going to demand a dog sweater with suede elbow patches.


Steve's next appointment is with Lue Paradis, a self-described "animal intuitive." We meet in a bright, sunlit metaphysical bookshop that Steve instantly loves, because Steve loves to eat books. We pull him from the lowest shelves and hustle him into a room no larger or more interesting than the average utility closet. Paradis, to her credit, gets right down on the floor with Steve for their talk.

Not that it seems to help; Steve is tired of talking.

Paradis pauses long and often between shrugs, saying, "He doesn't want to be here. He wants to leave. He wants to go for a walk."

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