Are you one of those people who knows who is calling before you pick up the ringing phone? Do you, or your pet, get a premonition or a funny feeling right before something goes wrong? If you’ve ever wondered how these and other unlikely events happen, then you should check out Dogs Who Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home.
This is a wonderful book, combining research and anecdotal information in an imminently readable format that’s guaranteed to please pet owners and non-pet owners alike. Readers will be delighted with the stories or “case-histories” that are liberally sprinkled throughout, and many a pet owner may recognize himself or his pet in these tales. (No pun intended.)
Readers may be familiar with some of Sheldrake’s prior offerings, such as A New Science of Life, or Seven Experiments That Could Change the World. The author, who is a biochemist, postulated the existence of “morphic fields” — unseen forms of energy that pattern and connect all forms of life, and “morphic resonance,” a greater over-arching energy that acts much like a collective memory for each species. This latest effort continues to develop those ideas by examining the human to animal “bonds” in real life phenomena that have fascinated people for centuries.
But one needn’t have read any of his other books to understand and enjoy this one — Dogs That Know When their Owners are Coming Home is a very charming book. The author has compiled hundreds of fascinating stories of unusual animal behavior (and some human) and presents them in a thought-provoking way — reading them can be so much fun, in fact, that one almost loses sight of how much science and research has gone into this fine book.
There are not only dogs (and cats, and parrots) that know when their owners are coming home, but animals that know when their loved one is calling on the phone. There are animals that know when their owners have died or been injured even though they are miles away, and there are pets that seem to read their owner’s minds. Other animals, both domestic and wild, know beforehand when earthquakes are about to happen — and some pets have stopped their owners from going out or continuing on a journey just in time to save them from an accident.
We’ve all heard of “service dogs” — those who help the blind or the deaf to navigate out in the world — but there are also dogs and cats that help by warning their people ahead of time that the owner is about to have an epileptic fit, allowing him or her to get into a safe position before blacking out. Many of these animals were never trained to do this, they just started doing it on their own. In fact, it’s observations of this naturally occurring “prescient” behavior that have led some dog-trainers now to develop new programs to teach more dogs how to do this, to aid more people with epilepsy.
These stories, and more, are heart-warming and entertaining, but Sheldrake’s real talent is in the fine research he has done and in the points he makes about how much these animals have to teach us. Indeed, the book is dedicated to all the animals from whom he has learned. As the author says, humans are, after all, members of the animal kingdom too, and as a “social species” there is a great deal we can learn from our bonds with our domesticated animal friends and with each other.
The author’s greatest service though is that he actually chose this topic for research instead of dismissing it as most “institutional” scientists have. We always hear that science is “objective”, but what a scientist chooses to study and what research gets funding is actually very subjective. What data scientists exclude by dismissing as anecdotal, superstitious or outright lying — all means of inhibiting inquiry — has important repercussions for what we can know about ourselves and our universe. By looking at the real world and confirming phenomena that animal lovers have been noting for centuries, Rupert Sheldrake has done much to further real science.
From 1968 to 1969, based in the Botany Department of the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur, he studied rain forest plants. From 1974 to 1985 he worked at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) in Hyderabad, India, where he was Principal Plant Physiologist. While in India, he also lived for a year and a half at the ashram of Fr Bede Griffiths in Tamil Nadu, where he wrote his first book, A New Science of Life. He is currently a Fellow of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, near San Francisco, and an Academic Director and Visiting Professor at the Graduate Institute in Connecticut. He lives in London with his wife and two sons.
He has appeared in many TV programs in Britain and overseas, and was one of the participants (along with Stephen Jay Gould, Daniel Dennett, Oliver Sacks, Freeman Dyson and Stephen Toulmin) in a TV series called A Glorious Accident, shown PBS channels throughout the US. He has often taken part in BBC and other radio programmes. He has written for newspapers such as the Guardian, where he had a regular monthly column, The Times, Sunday Telegraph, Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, Sunday Times, Times Educational Supplement, Times Higher Education Supplement and Times Literary Supplement, and has contributed to a variety of magazines, including Resurgence, the Ecologist and the Spectator.
All biographical information is cited from www.sheldrake.org/intro/