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SANDY BANKS / Life as We Live It

Even a Skeptic Can Be Moved

January 30, 1998|SANDY BANKS

She sounded sheepish, and the word "psychic" never passed her lips.

She hoped I wouldn't take her for a nut, but she had something that might help me deal with my dying dog: The phone number of a "pet communicator."

OK, I thought. It's the wacky world of animal nuts. . . .

This seemingly rational woman--attorney, high-powered job with the state Court of Appeal--is referring me to a lady who talks to dogs. And reads their minds. Over the phone.

"I know it sounds crazy," Letitia Pepper admitted. "I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it myself."

Then she launched into tales of how Lydia Hiby could describe animals she'd never seen, diagnose ailments that stumped the vets, reveal histories of pets she didn't know . . . even for people who didn't believe.

"I can't explain it. But what would it hurt to call?"

*

I was polite, but wary. I've been overwhelmed this week by the kindness of readers who've called, e-mailed and written to me in response to Monday's column about the illness of my family's dog, Cookie.

The prayers, advice and stories of the lives--and deaths--of readers' pets have given me tremendous comfort and strength. But still I spend much of each day mired in despair.

Cookie's still hanging on, but her prospects are bleak. She's spent 10 days now unable to move, and each day without progress makes me wonder how much longer we can go on.

So with nothing to lose, I gave Hiby a call.

She hadn't read of my plight, and I gave her only the bare-bones version: My dog's back legs are paralyzed from eating poison. What do I do?

She asked for details to home in on Cookie--what kind of dog, what color, how old, do her ears stand up like a German shepherd's or flop back over her head, where is the veterinary hospital located?

I don't know what I expected, maybe chanting--or barking--as she communed with my pooch. Instead she went on, without missing a beat, to describe my backyard.

"Do you have a brick or block wall alongside the house, and at the end some bushes at the back of the yard? That's where Cookie got the poison."

I could hardly catch my breath. She was right.

One week before Cookie took sick, we'd caught her coming from those bushes with an empty bait box in her mouth. We'd had poison hidden there after spotting mice in our backyard, but the exterminator had assured us that the little box of mouse bait couldn't harm our big dog.

"She's beginning to get some feeling back in her toenails," Hiby went on. "And the sensation is coming back in her left leg, though her right leg's still numb."

I was stunned, shocked out of my arrogance.

I had just talked with my vet for our daily update. Cookie was showing some feeling in her toenails. Her right leg was still numb, but earlier that day--for the first time--she had responded to pressure on her other leg. Her left leg.

*

There are probably logical ways to explain it all. Hiby's experience in animal care must have taught her that vets test for feeling by pinching dogs' toenails, so that's where improvement would register first. And that left leg business . . . well, she had a 50-50 chance to get that right.

And doesn't every home in the San Fernando Valley have a block wall and bushes? And isn't that where a rummaging dog might encounter poison?

But our phone conversation still shook me up.

I'm a professional skeptic, a rational soul. I hoot at those ads for psychic hotlines, and haven't read a horoscope since my high school days. But I also believe there are some things that logic just can't explain, some forces at work outside our understanding.

And if I believe in God and angels, in epiphanies and serendipity, then why not in a woman who can talk with animals?

Letitia Pepper recalls a similar conversion. She first consulted Hiby after she found some abandoned puppies and wanted to know about their pasts. She was stunned when Hiby accurately described her "senior" dog--the eldest of her brood of seven--as a shaggy, black-haired sheep dog type, even though Pepper had never described or spoken of him.

"I didn't know what to think," Pepper said. "But the longer I live, the more I realize that we don't understand it all, that things just happen that we can't explain."

*

Hiby isn't put off by the skeptics. She was once one herself. "If anybody'd told me 15 years ago, I'd be doing this, I would have said they were crazy."

Trained in New York as a veterinary technician, she was grooming horses for a New Jersey stable when she met Beatrice Lydecker, internationally known among animal lovers as the master of animal communication. Hiby told me Lydecker learned--she was told by the horses--that Hiby also had the gift, and persuaded the young woman to train with her.

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