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Can Dogs and Cats See Ghosts?

Louise grew up in a haunted house in St. Louis. As a child, she witnessed her pet cat and dog reacting to spirits.

Have you ever felt like your pets could see things you couldn't? It's possible that they were sensing ghosts.

Have you ever felt like your pets could see things you couldn't? It's possible that they were sensing ghosts.

I come from a pretty crazy family, but I'm the least imaginative of the bunch. My sister is a dancer. My mom was a theater director. My twin brother is a poet. Me, I run a textile company, and I'm very happy doing so. I'm a businesswoman and a mom, and that's enough for me. So when I say that cats and dogs can "see" ghosts, don't assume that I also use crystals for deodorant or that I get my aura adjusted with the New Moon.

I should clarify something. It's not that pet animals can really see spirits, but I have seen first-hand that they sense them. As a child, I had plenty of opportunities to observe this phenomenon—enough at least to feel pretty confident that it's true. You see, I grew up in a haunted house. And I had lots of pets.

"She's back," my sister would whisper.

"Who?" I'd growl, pulling the covers over my head.

"The dog lady."

Can Animals Sense the Presence of a Spirit?

I would say yes, and I'm not usually a believer in the supernatural. So even as a kid I was surprised when I saw my childhood pet, a Jack Russell terrier, plop onto his back and wiggle around with pleasure while someone, or something, invisible to me scratched his tummy. The first time this happened I was about 9, but after that it became routine.

The house where I grew up in St. Louis had previously been owned by a woman who loved animals and who came back for visits long after she had passed away.

The house where I grew up in St. Louis had previously been owned by a woman who loved animals and who came back for visits long after she had passed away.

After-Hours Visits From a Dog Lover

Reggie—my dog—slept every night on a cushion in the living room. But on some nights, after everyone had gone to bed, he would get up and find his way to the long hallway upstairs. He'd position himself in front of the door that led up to the attic and sit there, staring at the door (my sister and I watched him do this many times).

After a few minutes, he would back up excitedly as if someone had come through the door. He'd plop himself down on his back and receive the belly rub he's been waiting for. Keep in mind that my sister and I were just standing there, watching, and there wasn't anyone else in the hall but us.

Ghosts Coming Back for a Visit

Maybe it's because I've always been pretty sensible, but this experience never bothered me at all. The spirit that came to scratch Reggie's tummy didn't wander around the house rattling chains or moaning. It made no sound at all, but it did make its presence known in other ways.

You can see from the picture that the house was old (and kind of spooky, now that I think about it). It dates back to the early 1800s. That left plenty of time for former occupants to live their lives in the house and then pass away. We always felt that the spirit that visited Reggie had lived a happy life and just wanted to come back to visit once in a while.

The only bad part of this unusual recurring visitation was that my much more sensitive sister (the dancer) couldn't sleep when the spirit came around. She said that her room filled with a strange smell, like smoky cherries, that made her feel sick, so she'd creep down the hall to my room (those two upstairs windows on the left) and climb into bed and wake me up.

"She's back," my sister would whisper.

"Who?" I'd growl, pulling the covers over my head.

"The dog lady."

Reggie, the dog who liked belly rubs from ghosts.

Reggie, the dog who liked belly rubs from ghosts.

Invisible Pet Lover

Reggie was the best dog ever. He was loyal and loving and always on the job. He spent hours on the front porch, watching neighbors walk by and greeting everyone who came up the front steps. He'd sniff them and, if he knew them, let them pass. If he didn't he'd bark once, which was our signal to come out and greet the "strange" visitor. He had a nose that just didn't quit. He could sniff out a potato chip in the bottom of your backpack, or (as my brother discovered) cigarette smoke under layers of cologne.

Everybody loved Reggie. Little kids who were afraid of other dogs let him snuggle up. Even my stern father would let Reggie sit on his chest while he read the paper at night. As it turned out, the Dog Lady loved Reggie too.

A photo of Esther Flint with her two French Bulldogs. Esther lived in our house but died in the early 1900s.

A photo of Esther Flint with her two French Bulldogs. Esther lived in our house but died in the early 1900s.

Who Was the Dog Lady?

Later, I learned that one of the previous residents of the house—a woman who had lived there many years and who passed away long before my parents moved in—had been a dog lover with several pets of her own.

The spirit that came to visit Reggie was most likely that of Esther Flint, the daughter of a successful railroad magnate. Esther grew up in the same house where I grew up, the youngest of four girls. She was the prettiest one and loved to draw animals. Most of all she loved her dogs.

When Esther's favorite sister Marjorie married and moved away, Esther was heartbroken and spent hours drawing. She used the top floor room in the house as a studio and kept several pet birds in that room. The story goes that Esther kept a chaise lounge in the attic where she would rest and smoke black cherry tobacco in a small ivory pipe.

Esther was often busy at her drawing table into the wee hours of the night. Most nights, when she came downstairs, she was greeted by her loyal French Bulldogs.

Esther eventually fell in love with a fellow artist, and the two lived happily in a nearby mansion where they had many children and even more animals.

What Do Scientists Say?

I'm not generally one to go in for stuff like this. But I was interested to find out that ours wasn't the only home where animals seemed to "see" ghosts. Author Peggy Schmidt writes in her book Tails of the Afterlife: True Stories of Ghost Pets about several pets who received visits from their deceased owners and reacted in much the same way as Reggie—with delight.

Even though I've witnessed animals sensing the presence of something that I couldn't see, I was curious about other explanations. Turns out that lots of people report seeing their dogs display a "sixth sense" by alerting their owners to bad news, sensing danger, or even death. There are accounts of dogs refusing to walk in areas where a death had occurred years prior. This story, told by Dr. Stanley Coren, a psychology professor who researches canine intelligence, demonstrates that dogs are intuitive and have keener senses than humans, says Coren.

Animal Planet, a science-based show about animals, seems to agree that dogs are highly perceptive and are more open than humans are to unexpected (or unexplainable) things that happen. Even, possibly, to the paranormal.

Animals and Ghosts

Can Cats See Ghosts Too?

I live in my own house now, but my pets still seem to perceive spirits. My tabby cat Marlin (pictured at top) will sometimes sit and stare at the empty staircase in our house. He moves his head as if he is tracking something that is moving and then paw at the air. This happens at least once a week, in the same spot.

Marlin, on our side of the fence, not Frank's.

Marlin, on our side of the fence, not Frank's.

My Cat Can Definitely Sense Spirits

The moment when I knew that Marlin could see ghosts was actually kind of chilling. I got Marlin when he was just a newborn kitten. At that time I had a next-door neighbor named Frank who was quite elderly. Frank was one of those grouchy neighbors who notices everything (the recycling bin that hasn't been pulled up from the curb even though the recycling truck just came) and often yelled at my kids for being too loud when they were bicycling up and down the street.

Well, Frank, it turned out, really, really hated cats. He might have been one of those people who believed that cats were in league with the devil, but for whatever reason Frank thought that tiny, fluffy, squeaky Marlin was the worst thing that had ever happened to our neighborhood

The trouble was that Marlin thought that the grassy spot on Frank's side of the garden fence was the absolutely best place to nap. Several times a week I would hear Frank come stomping down his porch steps to chase Marlin out of his yard.

"Damn cat!" he'd yell. "Scat you damn cat!"

When Frank passed away, his house stood empty for months while his children argued over what to do with it. Aha, I thought. Now Marlin can sleep wherever he wants.

Marlin seemed to have the same thought, at first. One day, not long after Frank had died, I watched Marlin slink through the fence between the two yards. I peered over to see him circling round and round in the grassy spot he loved and then settle down for a snooze. Three seconds hadn't gone by before Marlin straightened up, the hair on his back bristling, his eyes big black buttons. Then he looked up, not at me but in the direction of Frank's house. He seemed to recoil as if to avoid a hand or rolled up newspaper, and bolted back through the fence and up onto our porch.

After that final reprimand from the grave, Marlin has never been seen in "Frank's yard," as it's still known even though a perfectly nice family has now moved into the house.

© 2018 Louise Danvers

Share Your Story! Has Your Pet "Seen" a Ghost?

brian from uk on May 14, 2020:

Ive never seen a dog reacting an invisible presence but one of my nans cats started hissing and growling at a corner in the living room one night and we could see nothing it fur stood up and its back hunched. On a personal note i went to live in a friends house one year he gave me a back room bedroom for myself with a single bed i was waking that saturday morn when i could feel like dogs paws and sniffing nose of a dog in my one ear i jumped up quickly but there was nothing there later that morning i asked my friend if hed had many dogs in his life he took me outside to the back garden there was concrete stones were dogs were buried i told him what happened he just laughed at me

Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on January 22, 2020:

Interesting. I don't doubt cats and dogs can pick up on many things we miss or we can't notice. This was a thoughtful article. Thanks

Mary Ann Endre on November 27, 2019:

My sister had ghosts in her house, but I don't know if her dogs ever saw them. She had two different dogs during the time she lived there, plus a lovebird. I myself have had a few experiences that surprised me. One day I felt someone caress me on the head (this is a weird feeling.) I have also heard rapping sounds. I try not to obsess about it because I don't like it. I would not want something hanging around in my house.

Autumn osborne on February 22, 2019:

have you seen a ghost or a spirits