There has long been the assumption that only humans have true souls. We like to think that we sit on some high perch above the rest of the myriad of life that populates our planet. Yet what about the dear pets we keep? Alongside us often exist beloved animal members of the family that form emotional ties with us, live with us, and forge deep bonds with us. Is it possible that upon their passing they can find a way to linger within our world as ghosts, just as surely as humans are believed by some to do? Do animals have souls that can transcend that boundary between life and death? There have long been cases and accounts that seem to point to that possibility, and show that, if a life after death exists, we are not unique in our ability to partake in it. Here we will look at cases of ghostly dogs, cats, and others, and see that maybe animals do have souls that survive death after all, or at least that they can become ghosts.
Considering the popularity of dogs as pets, it is perhaps no surprise that a good portion of ghost pet accounts take the form of dogs. Take the case of Preston, a boxer who apparently died when he ran out into the road to save a young boy who was out trick-or-treating in the neighborhood of Nashville’s Belmont Hillsboro. According to the tale, a 13-year-old girl and her younger brother had been out trick-or-treating one Halloween night when the boy fell behind after he dropped some candy in the road. As he bent to pick it up, a car came barreling through and would have hit him if it wasn’t for the neighborhood dog Preston, who came speeding out into the road to be hit by the car instead. Ever since then, people in the neighborhood have claimed that every Halloween a disembodied barking can be heard in the area, and many have claimed that an unseen dog will brush against them or nudge them when they are in danger of wandering into the road. The girl from the original story, now an elderly woman, apparently leaves a dog biscuit out every year for the spectral pooch. Spooky tale or reality?
Also in the United States is the ghostly dog of Atlantic City, New Jersey, who is simply known as “Night Life.” Apparently owned by a local bartender in life, the dog was said to walk home patrons who had had a little too much to drink, guiding them safely through traffic lights and then returning to the bar when his work was done. It is said that taxi cab drivers would even pick the dog up and drop him off for free if his charge took him too far away, with the mutt well known among cab drivers here. By all accounts, the dog was a beloved member of the local community.
When Night Life died, he was buried in a local pet cemetery after funds were raised by bar patrons and others in the area, but from some reports it seems that he has never really left. The ghost of Night Life has been persistently reported as waiting near traffic lights and approaching drunks walking home, much as he did in life. Taxi drivers even claim that the ghostly mutt will approach them and beg to be let in, only to vanish when the doors are opened, or will wait at street corners for a cab to pull up before flickering out of existence. Is Night Life still roaming the streets going about his business as he had done in life? It is hard to say.
Another ghost dog is one named Yabba, who passed after a long life on the night on August 30th, 2011 after a long battle with cancer and other health problems. The dog and her owner, Maureen, had been inseparable, and Maureen was absolutely crushed that her best friend had passed on, to the point that she called out to Yabba while taking pictures in the hope that she could capture the animal’s spirit on film. Eerily, one of the pictures apparently did capture the image of what looks like an indistinct figure of a dog. Maureen would call out to her cherished dead dog every day and talk to it, and one day when she called Yabba out to play with the ball as they had always done she claims that the ball actually moved on its own, after which Maureen felt something brush against her. That very same night she felt something gentle nibble on her toe, which was something Yabba had often done in life. Maureen would say:
I felt compelled to tell my story to those people that are suffering with the loss of their furry companions to try to give them some comfort and hope in knowing that death is not the end, but a transition. I hope with all my heart and soul, my story will touch that special someone who is grief stricken with their loss and give them some peace and understanding.
Some stories of ghost dogs go back for years. In 1916, an Albert Payson Terhune, who was an author of dog stories and breeder of collies in Sunnybank, New Jersey, saw his beloved dog Rex die. Although Rex wasn’t a collie, the two had always been quite close, and Rex had always been incredibly loyal to Terhune, with the author so distraught by the death that he actually wrote a book about his cherished dog. Around one year after Rex’s death, Terhune had a financier named Henry A. Healy over for dinner one night. Healy would reportedly keep looking towards the floor at something no one else could see before proclaiming:
Bert, I wish there was someone or something on earth that adored me as much as Rex worships you. I watched him all evening. He lay there at your feet the whole time, looking up at you as a devotee might look up to his god.
This was shocking indeed, as there was no dog there and Rex had died long ago. When Terhune informed his guest of this, Healy was immediately visibly unsettled but remained adamant that indeed the dog had been sitting there by the table all evening. On another occasion, a visitor to the house wondered what the big dog with a scar on its forehead was doing looking in through the window and why it wasn’t a collie when that ws pretty much the only type of dog around Terhune’s house. Although there was no dog there when Terhune looked, this just so happened to have matched Rex’s appearance, leading him to think that maybe the dog’s spirit had somehow been there looking over him. Terhune would later say that the other dogs of the house could sense Rex’s presence too, always avoiding going anywhere near the spot he had always slept in.
An even earlier tale of a ghost dog is that of a German Shepherd named Sheba, who in the late 1800s was traveling from Cuba to Bermuda by ship along with its family and their two young daughters. During the journey, the ship was heavily hit by a relentless hurricane and torn apart. The two girls desperately clung to Sheba in the water, with the dog valiantly trying to keep them afloat, but the sea was too ferocious and one of them was swept away. Sheba was eventually able to save one of the sisters by pulling her to shore, after which she heard the cry of the other out upon the grey sea and went back out into the churning waves to save her. Neither the dog nor the missing girl were ever seen again.
Since then there have been many purported sightings of Sheba in the Bahamas, usually in the form of a phantom German Shepherd that appears, swims out to sea, and vanishes, often diving below the waves never to surface. Other reports of the mysterious dog are more detailed. In one case, a 9-year-old girl claimed that she had fallen from her parent’s sailboat and had been thrashing about in the water when a German Shepherd appeared out of nowhere to drag her to shore, after which it barked and suddenly just blinked away into nothing. In another encounter, a 12-year-old girl was snorkeling in the area when she allegedly saw a German Shepherd swimming on the surface above her. Curious, she surfaced and called out to the dog, which looked back at her, barked a few times, and dove under the water to never come up. It is thought that this spectral dog patrols the area seeking to save young girls it thinks are in trouble, just as it had sought to save that young girl years ago and failed.
Some spectral hounds seem to be inextricably linked to actual places. For instance, in Los Angeles, California, there is the pet cemetery there that has a very curious inhabitant. In the 1920s there was a famous silent film actor by the name of Rudolph Valentino, who had a dog named Kabar that was buried there upon its death. To this day, visitors to the grave claim to feel their hands licked, as well as to have their arms or legs gently brushed or shoved by an unseen force. The dog is even said to appear when its name is called.
Another location said to be the haunt of a ghostly dog is the historic Holly Hotel, in the U.S. state of Michigan, which is known for its quaint, turn-of-the-century architecture, and is of such historic value that it sits upon the National Register of Historic Places. However, the long standing, famous hotel is not without its own dark history, having seen two major fires during its lifespan that proved to be deadly. It is perhaps due to these disasters that the Holly Hotel has earned itself the title of being one of the most haunted places in Michigan, if not the entire country, making it perhaps not surprising at all that a ghost dog should be included in the mix.
Of all of the many, many ghosts said to haunt the Holly Hotel, perhaps the most unusual is the one that is said to be the spectral pet of the former hotel owner, Mr. Hirst. The dog’s name was Leona, and was a common sight running about the halls in life, and seems to continue to do so in death. Guests at the hotel have reported being brushed up against by some unseen force, having their hands licked, or even seeing a full-blown apparition of what is described as looking like a rat terrier, just like Leona. Disembodied barks are also reported to come out of thin air when no one is around, and not a few guests have reported hearing a dog’s panting echoing through lonely corridors here. Leona, the ghost dog, is said to be most active in the early morning hours and is supposedly often seen by chefs in the hotel's kitchen.
Moving away from the United States, there is also Scotland’s Ballechin House, also notable for being an intensely haunted place. The story of the haunted pet here is even odder than usual. One man born in the house in 1825, a Robert Stuart, spent his life traveling the world, in particular India, where he became enamored with the idea of transmigration of the soul upon death. He would eventually return to the Ballechin House in 1850, and proclaimed that when he died he intended to return in the form of a black cocker spaniel, which happened to be the breed of his favorite pet, one among the 14 dogs he is said to have owned.
In 1874, Stuart died, and ownership of the house was taken over by Stuart’s nephew John, who made it one of his first orders of business to ruthlessly shoot all of Robert’s dogs, having always loathed them and been keen to get rid of them. Not long after this, the house saw a deluge of strange occurrences and supernatural activity, not the least of which was what seemed to be the activity of marauding ghostly dogs. One of the first victims of this was said to be John’s wife, who after just moving into the house claimed that she had smelt the characteristic odor of dogs and felt an invisible dog rub against her legs. Guests began to persistently complain that they could smell an overwhelming odor of dog, and that they would feel unseen forces brushing up against them at all hours or hear incessant barking in the night that would keep them from sleep. Some even claimed that they had seen ghostly dogs prowling about, including none other than a black cocker spaniel, which was apparently able to knock objects over, move things around, or bang on doors. This paranormal activity apparently would gradually escalate until the house was demolished in 1962.
Dogs are perhaps the most commonly reported type of ghostly pet, but spectral cats are also not uncommon. The most well-known of these is probably the ghostly cat said to haunt the United States Capitol building in Washington D.C. It is uncertain just who the cat could have belonged to, but lore has it that it was one of the many cats brought in to patrol the tunnels under the Capitol hunting rats, and that it makes its home in the basement area originally designated as a crypt for the body of George Washington.
What has come to be known as the “Demon Cat” seems to have earned its reputation as a decidedly ominous, even sinister presence. The cat is said to look like a normal black house cat, only with glowing red eyes and the ability to grow to enormous sizes if provoked, by some accounts to as large as a tiger. It apparently likes to appear out of nowhere to startle people, and is even known to hiss at and pounce upon witnesses, only to disappear before making contact. These encounters have apparently been so intense that one guard is said to have once died of a heart attack out of fright when the malicious spectral cat lunged at him. The Demon Cat of Capitol Hill reportedly is most active before important events, or especially tragic disasters, such as the nights before the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Abraham Lincoln, as well as before the stock market crash of 1929. Although these tales have been seen as mostly an eerie urban legend, they are curious nevertheless.
Not all ghost cats are so vicious, and there is at least one that seems to have been rather benevolent. One such case is that if the cat named Wiggy, who was owned by a nursery school teacher named Debra Tadman. Upon its death, the distraught woman called in a psychic pet medium, who claimed to make contact with Wiggy’s spirit, which told her in no uncertain terms that the whole apartment was a “toxic place.” Concerned about this spooky premonition of foreboding, Tadman then had the place inspected by professionals, who found the walls to be lined with the potentially deadly material asbestos. When the walls were removed there were also found to be many instances of faulty, potentially fatal wiring running through them, as well as a dangerous amount of possibly toxic mould. Considering that neither Tadman nor the psychic had known anything of this, so are we looking at a case of a beloved pet reaching out to provide a warning from the great beyond?
Joining the menagerie of ghostly pets are horses as well. One isolated wooded spot on the edge of the Cook County Forest Preserves, near the busy intersection of Chicago’s 95th Street and Kean, in the south side suburb of Hickory Hills, Illinois, is home to some horse stables and riding trails, and has proven deadly for some riders of a trail that passes right through the intersection. Several people and their horses have reportedly been hit and killed by cars here, with one of the problems being a lack of any traffic control for riders and the other being that the eastbound traffic of LaGrange Road have to go over a rise that obstructs their view of the road ahead, and this is where the tales of the paranormal start.
This particular intersection has long been the scene of an array of bizarre paranormal activity. Many drivers passing through have claimed to have seen the nearly transparent apparitions of horses and their riders, which seem to appear either to the side of the road or sometimes even right in the middle of it. The startled drivers will slow down, only to witness the entities to fade away into nothing. Living horse riders passing through will often complain that for some reason their animals become unruly and spooked at the intersection, often refusing to cross at all. Adding to all of this is the presence of an alleged spectral dog as well, said to be the spirit of a dog named Felix, the former mascot of the local fire department, who also happened to have been buried right near the intersection after years of dedicated service.
There are numerous other cases along the lines of what we have looked at here. What arrow dealing with here? Do these animals continue to go about their business even in death? There is much debate as to whether even human beings have souls or can become ghosts, let alone animals. Yet, are these cases where out beloved companions have transcended that barrier between life and death to continue on and remain amongst us somehow? Do animals have the capacity to be ghosts just as much as humans might, and can they linger on in that place beyond which we can normally see? The debate on an animal's capacity for having a soul that might survive death may go on forever, but there are these cases of people who insist upon their beloved pets' ability to continue on. Can not only humans become ghosts, but animals as well? It is intriguing to think about. If readers have any personal tales to tell along these lines, please feel free to share them in the comments. I'd love to hear them.