Inspired living

Can you talk to animals?

animals: dog puppy happy love human

Credit: Berkay Gumustekin

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to communicate with animals?

For most of us it’s the stuff of myth, legend and folklore, conjuring up images from our childhood of Lassie, Flipper, Mr Ed, Black Beauty and any number of Disney movies and picture books.

But consider Doctor Dolittle, the fictional medico who shuns human patients in favour of animals and says animal communication is something available to all of us should we choose to learn.

It certainly features within the writings, customs and fables of most cultures. Just think of the unlimited human-nature connections in fairytales such as Little Red Riding Hood or Beauty and the Beast or, more recently, Lord of the Rings, all of which project both the human yearning for, and the fear of, intimacy with the “wild other”.

"On one trail, I got a mental flash of a bird with a broken left wing and a feeling of anxiety. Twenty minutes later, there was the bird on the trail."

In these fantasy realms, communication across species boundaries is not extraordinary but part of the everyday conversation of life that extends also to trees, rivers, clouds and mystical creatures. They allow us to imagine that animal communication is not only possible but a natural extension of our human potential.

Imagination is in short supply in the modern world, where the accepted form of animal communication is most often of the Pavlovian kind: the simple reward training of pets to sit, fetch a stick, lie down and the like. But that’s not to say the desire to communicate isn’t there.

A universal language

Accessing deeper levels of communication between animals and humans has long been a goal of science. Perhaps the most famous example in recent decades was Koko, a gorilla supposedly able to communicate with humans using a system based on sign language and a “vocabulary” of over 1000 words.

This echoes the late 18th through to the mid-19th centuries, when “learned pigs” and various other animals were displayed in public performances, boasting the ability to communicate with their owners (often in more than one language), write and solve maths problems.

The whole idea that it’s possible to tap into the universal language of all species through telepathic communication has experienced a resurgence in recent years, in part due to a 2013 YouTube clip that went viral, screening to over 4.5 million viewers.

The clip was an excerpt from The Animal Communicator, a documentary about South African animal whisperer Anna Breytenbach. In it, Breytenbach is called in to the Jukani Wildlife Sanctuary & Predator Park to talk to a black leopard named Diablo after the animal had mauled the owner of the South African sanctuary and had been hiding within its night shelter for months.

Communicating with Diablo, Breytenbach established that the former zoo inmate was deeply distressed by his past as well as negative associations around his name (Diablo is Spanish for devil).

To the astonishment of the sanctuary owner Jurg Olsen, Anna described her dialogue with Diablo and told him things about the black leopard’s former tenure with a European zoo that only the animal could have shared. The details were subsequently confirmed.

Olsen was seen fighting back tears when the animal emerged from its shelter and greeted him with a series of low growls. Feeling somewhat foolish and self-conscious, he told the animal it was beautiful and would in future be known as Spirit — the spirit of the sanctuary.

How to listen

The Animal Communicator also introduced American master tracker and bird language specialist Jon Young, who was Breytenbach’s mentor.

While attending a Bird Language workshop during Young’s first tour of Australia in October 2015, I was excited to meet Breytenbach, coincidentally also on her first Australian tour, booking out large auditoriums across the country to inspire others on the path of animal communication.

“We’ve all had the experience of knowing things beyond the rational, some extra piece of information on behalf of a non-human, perhaps from a pet or a feeling that a plant is thirsty,” Breytenbach says.

“Whether it’s the five senses operating at a very aware level or a separate sixth sense, there’s no point in debating it because it’s just about the experience. It’s not a great big mystery, not something you need to go to mystery school for, it’s just another layer to what’s already going on in our communication.”

Rather than a “special” skill, Breytenbach is clear that the skill of understanding animals is a human birthright.

“Native peoples around the world experienced telepathic communication as a totally normal thing,” she says. “In Botswana, I tried to ask the Bushmen how they did it. After about 10 minutes, they finally understood through the translator what I was asking and then fell about laughing.

“Asking them how to do telepathic communication is like asking us how we breathe. They think it’s hilarious that we have forgotten.”

Breytenbach has always been drawn to working with animals, becoming a cheetah handler in her 20s and volunteering for conservation education projects on weekends. “Observing and being in close contact with these essentially wild animals early on opened me in empathic ways,” she says.

The so-called “psychic” experiences began when Breytenbach was learning tracking with Jon Young at the Wilderness Awareness School near Seattle in the US.

"The silly thing is all humans practise telepathy. We'll know when our children or spouse need us; we'll know who's on the phone when it rings. But we haven't been trained to accept that all things speak."

“As I was raised in Africa, I knew little to nothing about North American species and therefore couldn’t analyse or interpret the footprints I was looking at based on visual cues,” she says. “My mind just simply didn’t have the ‘database’ of search images loaded.”

When Breytenbach’s mentors told her to close her eyes and “feel” the energy from the track, she started to receive mental images and sensations from the animals she was tracking.

“At first I thought I was losing my mind but again and again these sudden knowings would prove to be true. On one trail, I got a mental flash of a bird with a broken left wing and a feeling of anxiety. Twenty minutes later, there was the bird on the trail.”

While in Australia, Anna was asked if she could shed any light on the recent spate of shark attacks. Rather than the animals being vengeful or menacing as the media would have us believe, the sharks told Anna they just need “a bit more space”.

“There’s a lack of medium-sized fish so they’re coming in closer and being more competitive. They don’t like shark nets or repellents; we just need to give them more space and not panic and behave like prey when we see one.”

Breytenbach attributes her animal communication skill to the state of a “quiet mind” that enables her to pick up the subtle “broadcasts” from the forest creatures. It’s this open awareness that she is now teaching others.

“Settle deep inside yourself and make your mind quiet, just noticing what else is there,” Breytenbach says. “Be fully here in five senses rather than in any specific meditation.

“Don’t expect information to come in a certain way. You might get a flash of a mental image, the smell of fur, a sound that doesn’t sound like anything in particular, physical sensations or emotions.”

Setting an intention to receive information is another powerful doorway to expanded awareness, the animal whisperer adds.

“Send a greeting and ask that you can be there in a good way. It honestly makes a big difference. As my mentor Jon says, ‘We don’t learn nature; we absorb it.’”

Coming from a place of respect and reverence for all life, says Breytenbach, we can learn to understand our wilder relatives, honour their truths and live in greater harmony.

Heralding a new era

Australian animal whisperer, writer and filmmaker Billie Dean has made it her mission to “herald a new era for animals”, communicating with and helping thousands of animal clients over the past 30 years.

“Animal communication or telepathy is spoken fluently by everyone except humans (in this time, anyway) and it is the language of the heart and soul,” Dean says.

“The silly thing is all humans practise telepathy. We’ll know when our children or spouse need us; we’ll know who’s on the phone when it rings. But we haven’t been trained to accept that all things speak — that the rivers, the stones, the trees, the animals and even the flowers have a voice.”

Dean, who also runs a home for rescued animals on her property on the NSW South Coast, experienced a childhood rich in nonhuman communication.

“I felt all the pain from the trees, shrubs and animals, which others couldn’t feel,” she says. “I once got into a fistfight with a group of girls who were ripping leaves from a tree. When I spoke up about this pain, I was told I was too sensitive.

“I would get strong with images and feelings from animals. My horse would send me images of what we could do with the day.

“It’s been a path of being sensitive to the world because I can hear it and that led me to championing the rights of animals.”

"Interspecies communication emphasises that we are animals too, that we are all made of the same elements and are intrinsically connected to everything else."

Other people began to seek her out to help them communicate with and heal their pets. “I remember one woman ringing me in a panic, saying the vet was coming in half an hour to put her dog down as a tumour was preventing him from going to the toilet. She had a feeling he didn’t want to be put down and when I tuned in I also got a no.”

After a healing from Dean, the dog promptly “toileted” on the steps of the vet clinic.

Despite an obvious natural talent, animal communication is something anyone can learn, says this Aussie intuit.

“The thing is to meditate and still the monkey mind. Secondly, keep an animal communication journal. And practise — you’ve really got to practise.

“As natural as it came to me, I’d still practise communicating with my dogs at home, using a system of flashlights on the answering machine to confirm the answers. I’m constantly challenging myself to be the best I can be.”

A profound connection

Victoria’s Ruth Yeatman long felt a natural affinity for animal communication but never had a context for her experiences until seeing The Animal Communicator a few years ago.

“Anna’s story and language validated for me how I had been feeling but I hadn’t found comrades to explore it more explicitly. More particularly, it just made concrete the experiences I’ve had over my lifetime where I’d felt a connection but didn’t know what to make of it other than to know that it was profound and improved my capacity to be human.”

One such experience was with an injured male kangaroo on a farm outside Melbourne some years ago. When the wildlife rescuers recommended that the only solution was to shoot him, Yeatman felt otherwise.

“A retired vet said that if I was willing to observe him frequently and report back we could better assess his needs,” she says.

Yeatman tracked him three times a day and began to feel a strong pull to wherever he was, as if being led. “It was clear from his response that he knew me and that I was there to care for him.”

Around that time, she also developed strong relationships with birds that would come to splash in the birdbath she topped up every morning outside her bedroom.

“They gradually got closer to me as they flew up to preen in the tree after their bath, until they began brushing my shoulder. I couldn’t speak to anyone about this but I knew there was a profound connection and that they were grateful to me for providing the water.”

In recent years, Yeatman has thrown herself into the study of animal communication, learning tracking and bird language and travelling to Africa to work with orphaned elephants.

“Interspecies communication emphasises that we are animals, too, that we are all made of the same elements and are intrinsically connected to everything else,” she says.

“Increasingly I’m allowing it. I’m learning to just get out of the way and be fully available without any agenda, including the agenda of even wanting this communication to happen. It’s very humbling to just be available and allow what happens to happen.”

“We have much to learn from other species that will make our lives as humans so much richer. They teach me how to [simplify] existence and be more available to this glorious life.”


Claire Dunn

Claire Dunn is the author of My Year Without Matches: Escaping the City in Search of the Wild, available in bookshops and online.