- The Washington Times - Friday, October 11, 2002

The incredible part isn't that Terri Diener talks to animals. It's that they talk back. . Ms. Diener is a modern-day Dr. Doolittle who talks to the animals, but also gives them a voice. She has worked as an animal communicator for the past seven years, building her practice on the concern of people who want to know what's running through the minds of their cats, dogs and other pets.

"Sometimes all animals want is to be heard," said Ms. Diener. "I'm talking directly to the animals, and they are telling me what's going on."

Ms. Diener became an animal communicator in 1995 after she took one of her own pets to someone practicing the trade. Her cat began doing its business outside the litter box. So she took the feline to an animal communicator who was able to find out from the cat that the behavior stemmed from a hair product Ms. Diener had started using. The cat was upset and defecated outside the box to express its anger.

Problem solved. But Ms. Diener developed an interest in the process and took classes to figure out how she could pick up the signals she says animals send out.

"I started practicing on the animals of my friends. Then my teacher started referring animals to me," Ms. Diener said.

Ms. Diener says animals don't communicate with words so much as with images and feelings.

She establishes a telepathic connection with animals. It's like tuning in a radio, she says. You fight through the static, then it's all there to hear.

It's a quick and silent process. But Ms. Diener said it helps to correct behavioral problems, address issues like separation anxiety, comfort grieving animals and help owners understand a pet.

Nancy Fox is a repeat customer. She has five cats and a dog. When Ms. Diener arrives at Mrs. Fox's Linthicum, Md., home, every species runs to the door to greet her. Ms. Diener takes a seat on the part of the couch that Sasha, a 92-pound boxer, has decided not to be on.

Most of the cats in the house are on the coffee table directly in front of Ms. Diener. She is surrounded by dutiful patients.

Mrs. Fox is concerned about Starla, a domestic longhair with calico markings. Starla has been digging into Mrs. Fox's new living room carpet, and she's afraid the aggressive behavior will ruin her investment.

"Bob, my husband, is at his wit's end. If Starla keeps digging up this rug, I might be moving in with you," she tells Ms. Diener.

Ms. Diener shares an apartment in Baltimore with two cats, so it's unlikely to be a neat fit.

Starla leaps into Mrs. Fox's lap. Sasha looks worried and lays her enormous head on the couch.

Ms. Diener is silent.

The session has started.

"She says it feels really good on her paws," Ms. Diener reports. "That's what it is. She likes the feel of it. If you can get a scratching post that has material similar to the rug, that might be the answer."

Starla jumps down and settles into one of three cat beds in the living room.

Mrs. Fox is seated and satisfied.

Ms. Diener has been coming here for three years to sort through the silent, emotional problems that Mrs. Fox's collection of cats and dogs seemingly are plagued with.

"It really helps keep the harmony in the house, and that helps me. I don't know if I would have kept some of these cats if it wasn't for Terri," Mrs. Fox said.

And that may be the most significant contribution an animal communicator can provide to a relationship between a pet and its owner offering peace of mind to worried owners.

"It doesn't take me that long to tune in and get the information I need. What often takes a long time is interpreting it for people. It's kind of like being a coach for people and their animals. The way I see my job is that I am an intermediary. I have to be as clear a translator for the animals as I can," Ms. Diener said.

While Mrs. Fox is a willing customer, Ms. Diener does have to battle the perception from skeptics that what she does is neither an art nor a science. But since the cable network Animal Planet began broadcasting "Pet Psychic" earlier this year, many people have inquired about her service, which costs $40 for a 30-minute session.

"I've had countless people call and say they saw 'Pet Psychic' and they were glad to find someone who's local," she said.

She sees about 20 animals and owners each week. Half her patients are in Maryland, and half are outside the state. In fact, she diagnosis most problems over the phone. As long as a pet owner sends her a photograph, she says can help a pet during a telephone conversation with the owner.

Now she is jetting across the region and talking to distraught pet owners almost full time.

One family she is helping now has a golden retriever that keeps chewing on the siding of the home. They are typical customers, Ms. Diener says.

"Most people who come to me are at their wit's end," she said.

The golden retriever is upset over being penned up in a new dog run the owners built, Ms. Diener says, but he hasn't quite gotten the message that he shouldn't be consuming the home's exterior.

"I'll be going back there," she said. She's nowhere near finished talking to the animals.

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