I was lying in bed, not yet asleep, when I felt my cat Indy jump onto the bed and cuddle beside my legs. Of course when I looked she wasn’t there; Indy had died two days earlier. But I knew I’d felt her presence that night, and still do from time to time.
So do animals have spirits? Souls? Can they come back to their beloved humans as ghosts, or haunt their former abode?
The idea that animals have immortal souls is not new. The ancient Egyptians mummified their pets to have them with them in the afterlife. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras (c. 582 – 496 B.C.E.) believed that animals and humans had the same kind of soul and could, after death, be reincarnated into another animal or human body. In the Middle Ages, an animal could be held responsible for its actions, taken to court, and sentenced for its crimes.
The legend of a spectral black dog with eyes that glow red, yellow, or green is well-known in British folklore. It haunts graveyards, lonely country roads, moors, and coastlines, and may have been the inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Many historical sites are said to be haunted by the ghosts of animals that lived or perished there. Tour guides and tourists alike have reported hearing the roar of lions and tigers in the Colosseum of Rome. Carew Castle on England’s Pembrokeshire coast is reportedly haunted by a small pet ape belonging to a 17th century tenant who was murdered on the grounds.
The Hollenberg Pony Express station in Kansas was only in operation from 1860 – 61, but some claim they have heard ghostly horse hooves galloping by. The misty apparition of a horse and rider sometimes appears on the Gettysburg, Pennsylvania battlefield, and the sound of dying horses can be heard amidst other ghostly sounds. Also in Gettysburg, a bull terrier named Sallie, who was a Union Army mascot, is said to be heard growling as she watches over fallen soldiers.
The Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park, founded in 1928, is the final resting place for over 40,000 animals. Like many cemeteries, it is said to be haunted. For example, actor Rudolph Valentino’s Great Dane, Kabar, who was buried there in 1929 has since been heard barking and panting, and even been felt licking visitors’ hands.
Several horses and riders have been killed over the years while trying to cross the intersection of 95th Street and Kean Avenue in the Chicago, Illinois suburb of Hickory Hills. Drivers and passersby have reported seeing horses and riders crossing the road late at night, only to disappear a moment later. Some claim to have seen a horse being dragged as though a car had hit it and dragged it before coming to a stop. There have also been reports of a ghostly dog warning riders of danger around the road. It is believed the dog may be the ghost of a local fire department mascot named Felix, who while on active duty was credited with saving a number of lives. Upon his death he was honored with a stone and buried at the intersection.
Animal spirits have appeared as a wisp of mist, an orb, a shadow, a warm presence, an indentation on a bed, a disembodied bark, purr, or whicker, and even a full apparition that can actually be photographed.
Entire books have been written containing anecdotal accounts of pets – especially dogs, cats, and horses – coming home to comfort their grieving human.
Just like my Indy.