Our dead pets CAN come back to visit us: A top biologist says he has proof


A creature of habit, Judge the pit bull terrier liked to go to bed at 9pm – not in his own basket, but in his humans’ bed.

‘Every night,’ his owner said, ‘he would stop in the dining room and look at us for a few seconds as if to say, “You sure you’re not coming?” Then he would walk on by and go to bed.’

When Judge died from kidney failure his owners were heartbroken. ‘We cried like babies. We loved him so much.’

But a couple of days later, in a remarkable – if a little spooky – progression of their grief, his owners say they saw him again. It was not as an ethereal apparition; it was, says his anonymous owner, ‘as clear as I see my own hands’. ‘I saw him ‘going to bed’… My husband says he sees him almost every night in the same place.’

Judge’s story is not unusual. In fact, it is commonplace. Up to 75 per cent of bereaved people report the sense that they have somehow been visited by a loved one after death.

As a biologist and author of some 100 technical papers in scientific journals, I’ve taken to examining this unexplained phenomenon – and my research strongly suggests it could be experienced as frequently with pets as with close relatives.

Pet owners can develop an extremely strong bond with their beloved animals after years of careful nurturing and co-existence

Pet owners can develop an extremely strong bond with their beloved animals after years of careful nurturing and co-existence

Up to 75 per cent of bereaved people report the sense that they have somehow been visited by a loved one after death - and Dr Rupert Sheldrake, pictured, claims his research strongly suggests it could be experienced as frequently with pets as with close relatives

Up to 75 per cent of bereaved people report the sense that they have somehow been visited by a loved one after death – and Dr Rupert Sheldrake, pictured, claims his research strongly suggests it could be experienced as frequently with pets as with close relatives

These are not ghost stories. The comfort of contact in the immediate aftermath of a death is quite different from a haunting. Ghosts, if you believe the folklore of centuries, exist in a specific place and can appear to anyone.

In contrast, after-death communications (ADCs) are not specific to places but to people who are grieving. They are often described as messages, sometimes offering or seeking reassurance, sometimes a farewell, sometimes even a cry for help.

They usually occur within a few days or weeks of a death, and tend to fade out within the first year. I first became aware of animal ADCs when I was investigating human cases. A number of respondents described visitations from favourite pets shortly after they had died or were put down.

Some people reported seeing their animals, others hearing them, feeling their touch or even smelling them.

That matched the stories of human ADCs: a recent widow might see her late husband sitting in his favourite armchair, for example, or she might also simply catch the aroma of his aftershave or hear his footsteps.

Sceptics argue that this is nothing more than a trick of the memory – a hallucinatory side effect of grief, which itself is a heightened emotional state.

But there’s an opposite argument: we are most sensitive to unexplained phenomena when we are most emotional. And it is during bereavement, when we are grieving intensely, that a much-loved relative or pet might have the greatest motive to make contact and offer comfort.

There’s no way of knowing scientifically one way or the other.

One of the first people to study this was a Welsh GP, Dr Dewi Rees, who published his findings in 1971. He noticed how often bereaved patients would mention they had been ‘visited’ by a dead, much-missed relative.

Intrigued, he took to raising the topic himself and discovered that many patients were relieved to be asked – most of them hadn’t liked to say anything, for fear of being thought either mentally ill or a liar.

Other studies into human ADCs show that people who sense these apparitions feel reassured and recover from grief more quickly.

This has probably been part of human experience for millennia. If it happens now, there’s no reason why it shouldn’t always have happened.

But there has long existed a strong taboo: even though the majority of people appear to have these experiences, they don’t feel comfortable discussing them.

That taboo is weakening, a social change which can only be healthy. By talking about the contact we have had with beloved pets after their deaths, we will encourage others to open up and break the taboo.

Here, you can read these true stories of departed cats and dogs, even horses and llamas, collected over the past 20 years and published earlier this year in a paper I co-authored for the Journal of Scientific Exploration. Then make up your own mind.

One cat owner revealed to Dr Sheldrake that, when struggling with an illness, they saw their pet years after its death, the animal standing still until it was aware it had been recognised

One cat owner revealed to Dr Sheldrake that, when struggling with an illness, they saw their pet years after its death, the animal standing still until it was aware it had been recognised 

Seeing a lost pet 

Trixie

I grew up with cocker spaniel Trixie from the time I was three years old, though she was very much my mum’s dog. After a very happy life, Trixie died when I was 16. A day or two after her death, something woke me in the night.

I got out of bed and switched on my light. Trixie, looking totally real, although much as she did when younger – her coat was glossy, as it was before her illness – was sitting up in the middle of my room.

She was looking up at me and appeared anxious. I said, ‘It’s alright Trixie, it’s alright,’ and she relaxed. Feeling she was reassured, I switched off the light and got back into bed. I really believe she was there.

Tatty

Tatty was my first cat – or rather he adopted me. We became great friends after he used to visit me in my garden when I was tiny.

He gave me as a toddler the sense of being infinitely, wonderfully old and clever. People in the village claimed he was over 20 years old when he died.

About two weeks after Tatty died, my mother and I saw his tail [as if he were behind a wall]. This happened several times on and off for a couple of years. I only once saw the whole of Tatty, many years later, in 2020, when I was ill.

He stood still until I recognised him and then disappeared. He was easy to recognise, as he had one very ginger back leg among his tabby fur.

Al

When his companion llama, Grandpa, died of old age, my seven-year-old llama Al was broken-hearted. Grieving for his friend, he would spend his days sitting on Grandpa’s grave.

Two weeks later, he collapsed from poisoning after eating cherry tree bark and died with me by his side.

Devastated by the loss of my two best friends, I dragged myself every morning before dawn to feed the other llamas, and I would find Al sitting in his favourite spot under the evergreens, watching me.

His visits were very comforting. I saw him every morning for nearly two weeks until I guess he figured I was OK.

Shannon

I rescued my beloved horse Shannon when he was 24, and kept him happy and healthy for another 12 years. We spent hours together each day as he was stabled in our garden.

A month or two after he died, I was in the kitchen and, glancing out of the window, saw him clear as day, standing under his favourite tree – looking over at me, ears pricked up and as beautiful as ever. I blinked, and when I looked again, he was gone.

I thought I might have conjured the image up, but when I mentioned it to my mum, she told me she’d also seen him – in the same place, looking at the kitchen window where I used to call to him on my way to feed him.

Thompson

Three days after our beloved cat Thompson died of a tumour, my husband – not a man to believe in the supernatural – was upset. He swore he saw Thompson run across part of the room behind the settee.

Two days later, I was ironing when suddenly I felt sure that Thompson was there. I put out my arm as if to push him down from trying to jump up on to the ironing board. I was shocked – there was nothing there.

Some people have reported seeing their animals, others hearing them, feeling their touch or even smelling them

Some people have reported seeing their animals, others hearing them, feeling their touch or even smelling them

Sensing a lost pet

Lacey

After my six-year-old mare Lacey died, she stayed connected to me. She was my best friend, a kindred spirit.

Last summer, 18 months after she died, while I was out in the pasture fixing a fence, I thought one of the other horses had come up behind me.

I turned around, but they were half a pasture away.

And then I felt Lacey’s presence. It was so strong that I could even smell her sweet horsey scent.

She put her head over my shoulder, and I wished we could have hugged, just as we used to do. I closed my eyes and just enjoyed that peaceful moment with her.

The touch of a lost pet

Bobby

When our long-haired dachshund Bobby had to be put to sleep suddenly, my 16-year-old daughter did not have a chance to say goodbye to him.

About five years later, she came to me tear-stained and perturbed, and told me that she had felt Bobby lying on her bed that morning. I asked whether she had been dreaming. Weeping, she said she was certain that she was awake because the dog had cuddled against her, and this was the second time it had occurred.

I told her if it happened again, she should use the opportunity to say goodbye to him, because this must be the reason for his appearance. He did return a third time – she said goodbye, and he never came back.

Jim

One evening, my cat Jim disappeared. I saw him walking down the lane for what turned out to be the last time. I searched everywhere. Several months later on a hot summer night, I was lying in bed and felt something walk up and pull at the sheet.

I was spooked, but my dog was lying asleep in the room, so I thought I’d imagined it and lay down. As soon as I was comfortable, something pulled at the sheet again and brushed my cheek as it did so. I froze and suddenly realised it was Jim, come to tell me he was dead and that I didn’t need to worry any more.

Teddy

Both my wife and I have felt the presence of our first cat. Waking up one morning, I could feel her sitting on my chest purring away as she used to. I could also smell her. My wife has also felt her on the bed. It gave us great comfort to know Teddy was still about.

Sightings of dead pets usually occur within a few days or weeks of a death, Dr Sheldrake claims, and tend to fade out within the first year

Sightings of dead pets usually occur within a few days or weeks of a death, Dr Sheldrake claims, and tend to fade out within the first year

Other lost pet phenomena

Kelly

We had a dog called Kelly who died. That Christmas Eve, I dreamt she came into my bedroom and stood by the bed, wagging her tail.

I stroked her and ruffled her behind the ears. I could feel her fur and smell her. The next morning, my dad told me he had exactly the same experience that night.

Ali

Our cocker spaniel Ali had been gone about two weeks when – as I was talking to my husband in the living room – I became aware of a presence. I stopped mid-sentence and turned around but could not see anything. Then I felt Ali’s energy flow through me.

The only way I can describe it is to say it was an overwhelming sense of being with her, and of love and peace. A warm, tingly, heavy feeling seemed to radiate upward from the floor and pass through my body. I have never experienced anything like it and was immediately brought to tears. This warm feeling lasted about 20 minutes and faded gradually.

If you have had a similar experience of contact after losing a beloved pet, please email me: sheldrake@rsheldrake.org.

You can read the full paper at sheldrake.org.



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