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.
"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."
That seems pretty obvious, what with his nose under the door.
"Does he ever eat ice cream?" she asks. Not to the best of my knowledge. But my wife and I do have a grip of old Martha Stewart Living issues lying around, so maybe he taught himself how while we were at work. "Well, he's saying he wants some ice cream," she informs me, then helpfully suggests the Baskin-Robbins right around the corner.
With the mention of ice cream, Steve starts performing, apparently telling Paradis about his cats. This time, however, he claims not to be the untrainable dog of a senior citizen but, instead, the put-upon, forgotten dog of a harried suburban family with kids. He tells Paradis about being disciplined with a newspaper and that he and a big brown dog -- I guess Rufus, though she made no mention of a breed -- like to shoot the shit. Again he mentions just how damn smart he is.
"He wants to go. He wants ice cream and hot dogs."
And I wanted to understand the nine million names of Dog, but all I've found is an effete, spoiled mutt with a bad diet.
Steve's last reading is with Pattie Koop of Intuitive Insights, whose skill as a pet psychic won her a Best of Denver award from Westword in 2002. I bring the Colonel to her tiny office in the basement of a Key Bank in Lakewood. In the back room (this business is all about the back room), with the light down low and candles lit, Koop closes her eyes and begins.
Unlike his previous session, Steve is feeling especially chatty. "He's saying, 'I'm all about love.' He's like a little missionary of love," Koop says, stopping and smiling. "He's so full of himself."
Hmmm. Maybe there's something to this after all, because if there's one phrase to write on Steve's headstone, that would be it. She mentions that an injured toenail was bothering him, which it had been -- although that's not exactly a huge stretch for a dog who, without frequent grooming, will actually disappear into his own hair.
"Does he have a sister?" Koop asks.
I'm stumped, but Steve goes on talking even as he leaves the room to pee on one of Koop's bags. "He loves being with people. He gets his nourishment from giving love and being loved," she explains.
Funny, I thought it was hot dogs -- and ice cream. Where did this hippie-love stuff come from?
While busy contradicting the other two psychics, Steve digs a paper Starbucks cup from the trash and chews it to shreds. Nonplussed by Koop's lack of attention to the badness, he stands on his hind legs and sneeze-barks for about ten minutes.
Steve lived with an old lady, Koop says, who couldn't handle him. Shades of Parks's reading.
Any kids? Nope. "It's a good thing, because he could have jealousy issues."
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Seeing as he can't let our cats sit on anyone's lap without elbowing his way in, kids would, most likely, end up at the bottom of Chatfield Reservoir in concrete booties.
"He says he doesn't have any issues. He says his needs are met."
That ain't what he said before, but that's okay. At least he didn't reprise his demand for poetry readings.
Then, right as our session is ending, comes a bombshell: Steve reveals to Koop that his sister is Rufus, who, as it happens, is gay.