Animal Wisdom: Learning from the Spiritual Lives of Animals (An Excerpt)

Posted by – June 10, 2014
Categories: Excerpt Metaphysics & Unexplained Phenomena Spirituality & Religion

Linda Bender, D.V.M. writes:

In the hour before the 2004 tsunami struck, many people noticed that the animals were acting weird. Cicadas stopped rattling and birds stopped singing. Dogs refused to go outdoors. Elephants trumpeted in alarm and stampeded toward the hills. Relative to the human population, very few animals were drowned. They seemed to know what was coming, and what to do about it. But how?

Wildlife experts speculate that animals, who on the whole have a more acute sense of hearing than we do, might have heard the earthquake that triggered the tidal wave, or perhaps felt its vibrations. They might have noticed some subtle electromagnetic change in the air, or in the earth’s magnetic field. If so, what remains unexplained is how the animals recognized the significance of these changes and knew that they needed to flee toward higher ground.

Animals also anticipate earthquakes—something seismologists admit that they themselves are unable to do. The bizarre behavior of animals in the days leading up to a major quake is so well known that in the 1970s Chinese seismologists began training people to watch for it. In mid-December of 1974 these observers noticed that snakes were coming out of hibernation and that rats had abandoned their burrows to congregate in the open, huddling together in large groups, many of them so disoriented that they were easily caught. By the beginning of February, domestic and farm animals were showing signs of panic. Based on these animal warnings, officials decided to evacuate the city of Haicheng on the morning of February 4. At 7:36 p.m. the same evening, an earthquake measuring 7.3 on the Richter scale struck, destroying half the buildings in the city. But for the timely evacuation, tens of thousands of people might have lost their lives.

During World War II, many Londoners noticed that their dogs seemed to know when an air raid was coming. Before the sirens sounded the official alarm, these dogs would howl or whimper or hide. Some of them even attempted to lead their families to the air-raid shelter. Cats and birds would also display signs of agitation. Sheldrake points out that it is unlikely that the animals were hearing the approaching bombers. On average, the animals began showing distress a half hour or more before a raid. Since the planes flew at a speed of 250 mph, the animals would have to have heard them when they were at least 125 miles away. Furthermore, dogs and cats are not normally upset by the sound of passing aircraft. Even if it was hearing that tipped them off, the animals were somehow able to distinguish between an innocent plane and one that was approaching with intent to harm.


Many people who live with animals have noticed that their cat or dog becomes solicitous of them when they are feeling unwell. A cat who is normally aloof may come sit in the sick person’s lap; a normally rambunctious dog may tone himself down when his human friend isn’t up to romping or running. In some cases, the ability of animals to sense illness in a human has been lifesaving.

Epileptics frequently discover that their canine companion can tell in advance when they are about to have a seizure—something epileptics themselves are not always able to detect in time to take appropriate action. In addition to knowing that a seizure is coming, these dogs seem to know what to do about it. They will attempt to lead the person to a safe place, or to pull her to the ground, sometimes lying on top of her to prevent injury. One woman reports that if her dog senses an impending seizure while she is in the bathtub, he will open the drain to prevent her from drowning. Dogs who live with diabetics display similar behavior, raising alarm when they sense that the diabetic’s blood sugar has dropped to dangerously low levels. Val Strong, who trains service dogs, has observed that some dogs display only subtle signs of concern when a seizure is impending. When trained to be more demonstrative, they can become reliable protectors of their human companions, allowing their people to lead more normal lives.

Dogs are also able to detect cancer. In one case, a dog sniffed constantly at a mole and eventually tried to bite it off. The mole turned out to be a malignant melanoma that, thanks to the dog, was discovered and removed early enough to prevent the cancer from spreading. Another dog displayed a similar preoccupation with a small cyst on a woman’s foot that doctors had dismissed as a harmless wart. As a result, she sought the second opinion that probably saved her life. Apparently dogs identify cancer by some telltale scent. By sniffing urine samples, dogs have been able to detect bladder cancer with 98 percent reliability, and they have a similar success rate at detecting lung and breast cancers by sniffing a sample of the patient’s breath.

You might be noticing a common thread. In all of these examples, the possibility that animals are picking up on sensory clues cannot be completely eliminated. In the case of cancer, we know for certain that they are using their physical senses. The mystery is how the animals know the meaning of whatever it is that they perceive. How does the cancer-detecting dog know that what he smells is a threat to his human companion? How does the seizure-detecting dog know, without being trained, what she needs to do to protect an epileptic or a diabetic?

Human intuition is mysterious in the same way. Under laboratory conditions, parapsychological investigators are able to completely eliminate the possibility of sensory input. They define ESP as the ability to know something without any help whatsoever from the physical senses. But human intuition doesn’t normally arise under laboratory conditions. Physical sensations—particularly sensations too subtle or fleeting to register in our conscious awareness—may play a part in it. For example, during ovulation, women produce a scent called a pheromone. If you hold a sample of the stuff under a man’s nose, he will say he can’t smell anything, yet research has shown that when exposed to the pheromone, men feel an increased attraction to the opposite sex. Men, like animals, can tell when a female is “in heat.” They might insist that they don’t know, yet their behavior demonstrates that, on a subconscious level, they do know. There could be all sorts of sensory cues like this that never reach our conscious awareness.

*Excerpted from Animal Wisdom: Learning from the Spiritual Lives of Animals by Linda Bender (2014).*

During the 14 years that Linda Bender spent living in Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, her veterinary work included the rescue, rehabilitation, and protection of wildlife. Her interest in spirituality and healing led her to found the Mind the Gap Wellness Center as well as a pet-therapy program. She is a certified practitioner of Energy for Life and is a cofounder of the nonprofit organization From the Heart. The author lives in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina. Connect with Linda Bender at

Animal Wisdom

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