Watch out, Dr. Doolittle. This telepath has a phone.

When I need a new career because people have stopped reading novels — and, alas, someday people really will have chosen podcasts over pulp — I am going to become an animal communicator specializing in interspecies telepathic consultations in person or by phone. I am only half-kidding.
Last month I saw an ad for an animal communicator in a magazine and decided to give her a call. Why not? I have five cats, and heaven knows I’ve no idea why they think turd hockey is fun or they’d rather pee on my boots than in the litter box.
The animal communicator’s name is Jane Grillo, and she lives in Wells. She is not, as far as I can tell, a lunatic. I might be a lunatic since I called her, but she sounded as reasonable as a mental health counselor — which, incidentally, she will become when she gets her degree from the Antioch Graduate School in Keene, N.H., in 2007.
“When I was a little girl, I remember talking to animals. All kids do. They talk to them, and get answers,” she told me. “But then we shut down that part of our intuition as we grow up.”
Her point? “This is not a gift for special people. It’s available to anyone who wants it.”
She talked to three of my family’s cats for me … over the phone. Sort of. I held the telephone, and the cats slept. This in itself seemed to be a great benefit to the job of animal communicator: When I call people on the phone, they’re usually awake. Occasionally our cats thwapped their tails a bit in their sleep when Grillo was telling me what they were telling her … telepathically. But otherwise they seemed pretty oblivious.
In any case, Grillo told me she learned the following: My family’s cranky, overweight Volkswagen of a cat, Ella, admires our daughter’s dancing and views herself as a bit of a ballerina herself; BK2, our former barn cat who has a hissy fit whenever we pick him up, is claustrophobic — and embarrassed by his phobia; and our regal dowager who doesn’t eat much anymore, Dorset, views eating as a chore and is easily distracted. Moreover, she is intimidated by her wolfish cat siblings.
Consequently, over the next few days we started reassuring Ella that — despite the reality that she is shaped like a pumpkin — she is graceful and winsome and lithe. I told her (often) that she was the prima ballerina of cats.
We let BK2 know that we understood his nervousness and that it was nothing to be ashamed of. I told him that I, too, would be frightened if an animal eight times my size picked me up and held me close to its chest. Good grief, look at the fuss Fay Wray and Naomi Watts made when King Kong was grabbing them.
And, finally, we began to keep Dorset company when she ate, so her brothers and sisters would not wait like vultures for her to grow bored — even though this alone necessitated a leave of absence from work because people build solariums in the time it takes Dorset to eat a half-can of cat food.
But here’s the thing: It all seemed to make our cats happier. Demonstrably happier. Ella stopped snapping at us, BK2 was less skittish, and Dorset ate more.
Now, it’s possible — perhaps even likely — that our cats have been behaving better lately because we humans have been paying more attention to them. At least I have. It might have nothing to do with the literalness of our (and I love this term) interspecies communication, and everything to do with the mere fact that I’m no longer viewing them as throw pillows that shed.
We’ll see. Either way, I might have found a new calling. After all, I have a phone.
(This column originally appeared in the Burlington Free Press on February 26, 2006.)

Chris Bohjalian

Chris Bohjalian is the author of nineteen books, including his forthcoming novel, The Sleepwalker. His other novels include the New York Times bestsellers Midwives, The Sandcastle Girls, The Guest Room, and The Double Bind.