The small, L-shaped function room above a community hall in Gloucestershire was suddenly really rather full.
Along with at least three dozen people sitting patiently on neat lines of chairs, there was also a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel called Lottie, sprawled across her owner’s lap, and a motley collection of horses, cats (fat and thin) and dogs (large and small) all with an awful lot to say.
Whereas Lottie was physically there, not all the rest were. Because some of the animals had been left at home and others were dead — although their souls were with us, apparently, and clamouring to be heard.
Thankfully, there was someone here in the hall in Nailsworth able to ‘understand’ them. Talk back, even, empathise and translate and pass on their messages, hopes and dreams to their owners.
Susie Shiner is a communicator and spiritual medium for animals, both alive and dead, who is on her first tour around England, charging people £10 to get to know their pets better.
Susie Shiner is a communicator and spiritual medium for animals, both alive and dead, who is on her first tour around England, charging people £10 to get to know their pets better. Here she is communicating with her dog Delilah
With just the name, age and a quick look at a photo of any animal, Susie says she can ‘dial’ into its soul and hold conversations. So far this evening, we’ve heard from a gelding called Pog, who we’re told is resentful he was never properly named and pines for his old Shetland companion.
Cobi the cat apparently complains his owner fries too much unhealthy food and is left alone to spend time looking out of a dirty window. Mew, another cat, wishes she’d got out more when she was younger, loves nuzzling up against beards and wants her owner’s wife, Naomi, to stop smoking.
For years, animal lovers have asked Susie — and, latterly, her partner, Paul Braithwaite — to help them communicate better with their pets. For example, to tell them why their dogs have separation anxiety, their cat has become incontinent, their horse is a bit down in the mouth — long-faced, even.
But while to many Susie is a genius, guardian angel and a 21st-century Dr Dolittle, others insist she must be a charlatan.
I had met Susie and Paul earlier at home in the Welsh countryside. To try to prove whether what they did was accurate or mumbo-jumbo, I had brought photos of my son’s pet guinea pig and of my childhood dog, Sasha — a loving but stupid setter. Thirty years ago, Sasha was at the centre of a mystery involving a Christmas turkey which vanished into thin air.
First, Susie explains her technique. She says all of us can communicate with animals — if we have the time, patience and inclination. ‘You don’t need some special gift — anyone can learn it.’
Jane Fryer’s son’s guinea pig who Susie Shiner ‘dialed in to’
To this end, she runs workshops, weekend courses and online courses: ‘Connect to your heart, still your mind, feel the love for the animal and then . . . connect.’
She says it’s a bit like ‘dialling’ in. You don’t need to be looking the animal in the eye, holding its paw or even stroking it. Indeed, most of her best work is done using photos.
Her aim is to provide evidence, a piece of information so specific the owner is in no doubt she is communicating with their Fido, and not any old dog that’s muscling in over the spirit waves (apparently they do push and shove).
Examples of convincing ‘clinchers’ are details of an owner’s illness, the time a pet was trapped in an electric fence, an owner’s favourite food, the colour of the animal’s bed or favourite chair, and where the Jammie Dodgers were kept. The pets don’t actually ‘talk’, Susie says. They communicate through thoughts, emotions and images that she puts into English, which is why it can go wrong.
‘We are translating, so there can be flawed messages. People should never rely on it,’ she says. ‘The longer they’ve been dead the harder it is, because they could have been reincarnated as other animals.’
A recent survey revealed that more than half of Britons believe it is possible to communicate with the dead. The psychic industry is worth an estimated £100 million a year in the UK, of which £10 million is related to animals. Even so, chatting with pets, and dead pets at that, is a leap for most of us.
Ever since she was a child, growing up the youngest of four girls in what she describes as a deeply spooky house in Derbyshire, Susie has had a strong spiritual side and been mad about animals. ‘I’d sit for hours outside rabbit holes trying to make contact,’ she says.
Over the years, she meditated endlessly, became obsessed with paganism and shamanism, took a degree in political science (‘a complete waste of time!’), had a son, is now a grandmother and taught herself to ‘communicate’.
‘I was rubbish to begin with,’ she says. ‘I kept losing the connection — it’s like a muscle that needs training.’
But one day, about ten years ago, she asked her horse, from the heart, how she was. The response was immediate and shocking: ‘Will I see my family again?’
‘I was devastated. I hadn’t thought about her herd as a family,’ Susie recalls.
She tried it on her other animals. It turned out her much-loved pigs — kept in luxurious splendour — were also fed up. Bored rigid.
For a while, she says, she shut down the connection, nervous to hear any more. But in the end, curiosity won and now she spends pretty much all day, every day, talking to animals and claims that, just like humans, some are better communicators than others.
Domesticated animals are chattier than wild animals, she says, but zoo animals are notoriously closed.
On a recent visit to Bristol Zoo she did get chatting with a tiny lizard who had an awful lot to say.
On a recent visit to Bristol Zoo (pictured) she did get chatting with a tiny lizard who had an awful lot to say
She and partner Paul are not an obvious match. She’s an extremely beautiful and gentle druid who talks to trees, leaves, animals and ‘spirit guides’. He’s an ex-military man and former Arabic translator for the government, seven years her junior .
Partly through osmosis, partly through watching her workshops, Susie says, he’s started picking up her techniques. Just the other day, he says, he spoke to a kitten who told him all about one of its owners who had cancer.
It goes without saying that an awful lot of people think Susie and Paul are utterly mad. But they don’t care. ‘It used to bother me a bit,’ says Susie, 50. ‘But I have so much evidence and so many happy clients. I know I’m connecting.’
Even so, the live shows were a big decision: the pressure, the exposure to failure, ridicule and criticism for exploiting vulnerable people for profit.
Susie insists she has never been in it for the money and charges very little for her consultations. She says she just wants to get the word out that animals have feelings that need respecting.
The evening doesn’t start well. Paul is nervous. He does a lot of pacing and is misfiring, badly. ‘Does anyone have a German Shepherd with a chest problem?’ No.
A file image of a cat. Susie claims to be able to to connect with them too
‘I’m getting the name Henry.’
After more misses, he finally has one resounding success — with a dog called Maverick who admires his owner’s Star Wars collection but worries about his unstable job. Susie also connects with Maverick, then Pog and Mew. She talks to a cat called Gabriel who describes his owner on her knees weeping in despair.
The audience is transfixed. As am I when I chat to their tearful owners who proclaim the readings ‘frighteningly correct’. Some felt as though they’d struck gold.
‘It was scarily accurate,’ says Naomi (who Mew the cat said smokes too much). ‘They got it spot-on — right down to the beard nuzzling and my husband’s obsession with sausages.’
‘It just had to be my cat,’ says Andy (the carpet weeper). ‘He watched me cry.’
Others, seemed nonplussed. ‘I thought they’d say something more profound,’ says one lady clutching a picture of a black cat. A few had no luck at all.
So what, finally, of my animals? I get out the photos of my childhood dog and son’s guinea pig.
Sadly, no joy with long-dead Sasha. There’s talk of golf courses, which means nothing to me, and no clue about that missing turkey.
But then Susie takes the picture of my son’s guinea pig, looks at it briefly, and starts talking, quickly, urgently, kindly.
‘She’s a bit tired, she’s indoors — she’s talking about a table leg. She’s a show off. She likes to make you laugh. Someone keeps coughing near her — it’s too loud. You stroke her a bit too firmly. You say: “Hello” in a high-pitched voice.
‘She needs more sunshine and she’s telling me about a trail of treats laid out on a wooden floor.’
And do you know what? Believe it or not — and I’m sure you won’t — every detail, right down to the trail of treats (carrot pieces laid across our kitchen floor at the weekend) is spot-on. Which leaves me rather startled.