Dogs that Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home
by Rupert Sheldrake
The rich collection of dog tales and animal
stories in this remarkable book makes it an appealing volume for dog lovers and anyone
interested in animal behavior. It can be read at a much deeper level as well, but the book
is very much worth reading for the animal episodes alone.
Theres the story of Jaytee, a
mixed-breed terrier living in Northern England who correctly anticipated the retun of his
owner Pam 85 percent of the time during a year-long experiment. Pam kept a log of her own
travels including the varying and random times when she set off for home. Her parents kept
a log of Jaytees activities including when he went to the French door to await his
mistress. The match-up was remarkable.
Theres the tale of a cat named Sami
living in Washington, D.C., who waits by the door about 10 minutes before either his owner
Jeanne or her boyfriend arrives home at Jeannes high-rise apartment at widely
varying and unexpected times. How did Sami or Jaytee or the other critters in the book
know their owners had set out for home and would soon arrive -- when the people at home
did not know?
Stories of horses, monkeys, birds and other
species are included in the book as well. Their "unexplained powers" range from
anticipating their owners arrival to coming to an owners rescue from a
considerable distance to expressing grief when a parent or offspring dies, again from a
far distant place. Also considered are such phenomena as homing abilities and the
coordinated behavior of groups of animals, birds and fish.
Book to Read at Different Levels
Clearly this is a book that can be read at
different levels. For many readers, it will challenge -- and perhaps actuallly change --
their thinking about such things as premonitions, telepathy, parapsychology and the
workings of the human and animal mind.
At the basic level, as already noted, readers
can simply enjoy the many dog and animal stories that illuminate the human-animal bond and
the wide diversity of animals special capabilities. For example, Chad, a Golden
Retriever therapy dog, readily knows the difference between the very ill people he visits,
with whom he is calm and gentle, and those less ill, with whom he clowns around.
At the second level, readers can explore
explanations put forward for the often remarkable animal behaviors described in the book.
Author Rupert Sheldrake, a scientist by training, carefully works through possible sources
of the animals apparent "super powers," including the senses of smell and
hearing. But he frequently finds that the identified behaviors appear to go beyond the
normally accepted senses.
Morphic Fields and Other Explanations
To explain many of these cases, Sheldrake
proposes a concept of "morphic fields" to explain the behavior that seems
unexplainable. Innate sense of direction, animal migrations and homing, and the seemingly
coordinated behaviors of herds of horses, flocks of birds and schools of fish are among
the phenomena explored in connection with this concept of the way individual creatures are
connected to others in their social grouping.
For readers who wish to delve still deeper
into the issues the book raises, Sheldrake offers both examples and theorires of
premonitions, precognition, parapsychology, telepathy, psychokinesis and other psychic
phenomena. He explores new ideas on learning and the working of the human mind.
Open Arms and Skepticism
I approached this book torn between two way
of viewing its content. My own family has a famous story of the dog Buddy who found his
way home over many unfamiliar miles to be united with his people. And as a high school
student, I wrote a research paper on the studies of J.B. Rhine on parapsychology and
extrasensory perception or ESP. I was open to learning more about this topic.
At the same time, I held a thorough
skepticism toward the ideas of psychic powers and extra senses, perhaps because these have
been exploited for centuries by charlatans. As I discovered Sheldrakes extensive
scientific training combined with his very detailed, research-oriented approach to the
subject, I realized the importance of this book both for animal lovers and those
fascinated with aspects of human behavior, thinking, learning and languages.
The book compiles substantial evidence of
real occurrences, real behaviors. Whether Sheldrakes theory of morphic fields and
morphic resonance prove to be the right explanations for these behaviors most surely
cannot be known at this time. His experiments need to be repeated by other researchers to
provide corroborating evidence, for example. That is how science works --test and
But without question, Rupert Sheldrake has
demonstrated sufficient evidence that researchers must begin to take seriously this entire
field of behavior, perceptions and senses -- and help us gain a new theory of the
human-animal bond based on the working a several scientists able to confirm each other's
work. Both humans and animals can only benefit from the new understandings that are
beginning to come out of this important field of study.
Review by Barbara B. Petura,
Member, Dog Writers Association of America