Sam is an odd roommate, and it all may have something to do with his left ear, or what used to be his left ear but is now a ragged mess concealed by an unkempt patch of ginger-blond hair. That may be the reason why when Sam first meets anyone, he leaps, wiggles, and screeches in a way that sounds like he's in pain when really he's just excited. Or why he can barely sleep through the night and doesn't mind waking you up at four in the morning. And why sometimes, and you never can predict when, he can be very mean.
Yup, he's a weird one all right. And it's time this golden retriever got some professional help. And so, on a toasty February afternoon, I turned to Animal Psych's Nefesh Chaya, who specializes in animal behavior.
According to Chaya, the name of her business is meant to be somewhat ambiguous. "Whether it's psychology or psychic, I can really tell by who calls me," she says. "A lot of people are leery of psychics, with Miss Theo and all the things that have been out there, but in essence, psychology and psychic are still dealing with your psyche."
Faeries, sprites, and Kabbalistic traditions were all a part of Chaya's family folkore, and when she reached the age when many of us shut out our imaginary friends, she continued to listen. For her, it wasn't so much that she noticed that she could communicate with animals — she realized that other people couldn't. "The way I describe it is it's like holding a small egg right here," she brings her hand up to the center of her forehead. "It's easily broken, so it has to be really gentle."
Chaya grew up and got a master's degree in psychology with an emphasis in chaplaincy and studied with notable animal communicators as well. Now, she gets calls from owners at their wit's ends, who've seen four or five different vets and spent thousands of dollars without solving their animal's problems. That's why the services of Animal Psych are something of a steal. While other pet psychics we Googled charge an average of $30 for a 15-minute phone call, Chaya will come to your home and spend an hour with your pet, whether it be dog, cat, fish, or what have you, for a cool $50.
Like a therapist would session with a human, Chaya sits with her patients, as she does in my backyard, and she silently asks them to talk to her. She says that a lot of people who use her services are worried that their pets will spill all their deepest, darkest secrets, but animals don't work that way; they don't want to go back over it like we do, and that's why we love them so much. Sam recognizes that Daniel Curran, his owner, is his dad, and I'm Sam's girl, and our third roommate is really more of a follower, more akin to a rabbit or a chinchilla. Sorry Bennett.
Sam tells Chaya a little bit about his ear, which was torn when he was a puppy. The vet went ahead and finished it off to be kind, so it wouldn't hang haphazardly. It still hurts sometimes, in the wind, but that's not the source of Sam's problems. His energy is so high that she can't get much past all of the "zinging" and "wows" he's shouting at her. With his three human companions at work all day, it's rare for Sam to get this kind of midday, midweek attention, and he prances around the yard in expectation. It's too much excessive excitability, and when Sam whaps a soccer ball — which his teeth have already stripped of its casing — from cheek to cheek, there's cause for concern. "It's destruction," Chaya explains. "When he shakes it like that, that's actually killing it, which is not really a positive thing for a domesticated dog to have." Mostly, she assures us, Sam is a happy dog that needs a little more attention.
"Dog's have an internal spring," she says, "and the less they get walked and the less they have that one-on-one walk — the walk is the energetic bond, if you will, between the human and the animal — so to get the walk down where he's with you, it's so essential." When a dog gets past that spring point, that's when they get into a danger zone, and they'll act out, as Sam did recently with other dogs during an afternoon game of catch.
Chaya's seen the same kind of behavior in hunting dogs. "I went out to a rescue and they had hunting dogs on their property. They were the biggest pack of sad animals," Chaya says. "They were in these teeny tiny little pens ... they had eaten their puppies, and when it gets to that, to me, it's kind of a little logical to say there's something wrong here." She suggested that they be moved to an enclosure where they could run around and burn off some of that energy.
Chaya has a pack of four beagles herself, all rescues. Two were rejected by their original owners who didn't think the animals would be good hunters, but she says they're actually her best. "One came in a couple months ago through the doggy door, as proud as any man could come through the door, with a dead squirrel draped through his mouth. I did the really adult thing and screeched like a woman." She told him he was a good boy.
"As a hunter, you're aware of whatever you're hunting," she says. "If you can put some of that awareness into your animals of how they're thinking, what they're feeling, where they're at, it's not the pop psychology, touchy-feely thing. It's more paying attention, because your energy and your body language, just like their energy and their body language, have a lot to say." She suggests walking your hunting dog and getting the energy out, because if you're just running them to hunt, they're probably not going to do exactly what you want.
"I do really feel strongly that you get the animal you need," she adds "There's a reason this animal comes into your life to teach you something that you need to learn. A lot of times people are fighting that, which is why I get calls." Pets, whether a rescue like Sam or a world-class hunting dog, can give us unconditional love because they're not human beings, Chaya says. "As much as I adore my husband and my kids, it's not going to happen. They're never as happy to see me as my dog." It's only fair that we should give them some of the same in return.
And Sam, for however weird he may be, loves us. Chaya told us so. He just wouldn't mind an extra walk now and then.