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Talking to the animals goes too far

Wednesday, May 29, 2002

Who didn't enjoy Rex Harrison as Dr. Dolittle in his 1967 film of the same name? Wasn't he terrific?

How about Eddie Murphy's delightful take on the same wacky veterinarian a few years ago? He was outstanding in that role, wasn't he?

So we've seen the character as a prissy white man. We've seen him as a funny black man.

But is the world ready for Dr. Dolittle as a middle-aged English woman who actually believes her own shtick?

We'll find out at 8 p.m. June 3 on Animal Planet -- the premiere of "Pet Psychic."

Meet Sonya Fitzpatrick, a fashion model, etiquette consultant and now animal mind reader, according to her bio on www.animal.discovery.com. She discovered her skills as a child, when she bonded with her terrier, Judy. ("When Sonya realized she could communicate with any animal in the village simply by concentrating, she began to exchange juicy tidbits of local gossip with her animal friends," the site explains. What sort of gossip would that be? Farmer Smith's cat sleeps around?)

However, she suppressed her telepathic talents after her father gave her three geese to raise and they ended up as Christmas dinner. Apparently, Dad's story that they flew south for the holidays didn't fool her.

But in 1994, after a "spiritual experience" (read: introduction to Ecstasy), she rediscovered her remarkable ability and applied it helping people understand their pets and, eventually, finding a network goofy enough to put her on the air.

The preview clips are quite remarkable. A horse -- through Sonya, of course -- thanks the person who rescued him from starvation. Sonya also translates a bear's thoughts for the woman who nursed him back to health. ("Does he know why he got sick?" the owner asks. "He said he just got sick," Sonya replies.) She thanks a pig for chatting with her, and, finally, she conveys a bison's wish to know what the future holds.

Forgive me, but I don't think buffalo care what the future holds. You could reply, "Steaks," and the buffalo would behave no differently than before. Animals simply aren't that complicated.

For instance, you can't tell me animals whose greatest thrill is sniffing each other's butts are concerned whether they sleep on one blanket or another, just as long as both blankets are equally comfortable. But in the same upcoming episode where Sonya reveals that Oscar the dog prefers the blue and green blanket, she also offers up the startling revelation that Oscar would like to ride in the car more.

Imagine that! A dog wanting to ride in the car! Next she'll be telling us Oscar prefers to have the windows down so he can put his head out.

Don't get me wrong. I adore animals and have two cats myself. I've never had a bit of trouble with them, and maybe it's because of the way we communicated when they were young. When they started to scratch the furniture, I squirted them with a water bottle and said, "No!" then took them over to their scratching post. Eventually, they only scratched the post.

I guess, under Sonya's theory, I could have mentally communicated my reasons for them not to scratch the furniture: The furniture is expensive, and scratch marks make it ugly. But how would cats understand the concept of money? They don't even have pockets!

But, for those of you who go in for this sort of thing, Sonya offers some tips for communicating with your pet. Picture your pet in your mind. Mentally say his name. Send him a message, asking if he'd like you to do anything for him. Acknowledge anything he sends in reply.

And then promptly check yourself into the nearest residential treatment facility. Either that or get your own television show.

Heidi Hall is managing editor of the Southeast Missourian.


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