Sonya Fitzpatrick lies on a bed surrounded by her seven cats and five dogs. Dressed in a red blouse with matching red nail polish, blue jeans, gold hoop earrings and a gold necklace, Fitzpatrick, who's inside her Conroe home that's shaded by towering pine trees, is on the phone conducting a pet psychic session.
"I would suggest you get down on your hands and knees and walk around the furniture, darling," says Fitzpatrick in an unmistakable British accent. On a nearby nightstand is a photo of Fitzpatrick with Ellen DeGeneres at the television personality's private home in the southern California hills. Fitzpatrick's clients, who range from A-list famous people to folks who live in trailer parks, pay her $300 per half hour to descramble the thoughts and feelings of their animals.
During this particular phone consultation, Fitzpatrick is communicating with a blind dog named Max, a chow chow who keeps bumping his head into the furniture. The pet owner, instead of taking the advice of a traditional veterinarian to equip the animal with a helmet, has decided to consult with the famous pet psychic.
"Now, walk around the furniture because [the dog] will be able to pick up the pictures that you're projecting," continues the 71-year-old, English-born Fitzpatrick, a former fashion model who could still turn a few heads. "Max just said, 'I can find my food and my water dish!' He also says, 'Mum worries all of the time about me.' And now he's telling me that he loves the fact that you're all going to walk on all fours like he does!"
Fitzpatrick, the pioneer of mainstream pet psychiatry, has become a full-blown celebrity due to her self-proclaimed ability to telepathically communicate with dogs, cats, birds, frogs and snakes. Once the messages are decoded, she relays the information to animal owners.
Because she has become so good at accessing the "magnetic fields in which animals project their thoughts and feelings," just about all of her consultations are by phone only. She says that even without a photograph of a pet, she can decipher what's going on inside an animal's mind in order to further bond animals with their "human companions."
Fitzpatrick's so-called gift isn't limited to household dogs and cats. Unsolved Mysteries once hired her to talk to an ailing racehorse, and Fitzpatrick's diagnosis turned out to be spot-on. More recently, a circus had her communicate with an unhappy tiger, who told her that he would rather enjoy the last few months of his life than undergo chemotherapy. (The tiger was left alone and died four months later.) Fitzpatrick claims that she can communicate with bears and autistic children, too.
Fitzpatrick, who believes that traditional veterinary medicine is the predominant cause of animal disease, asserts that she can also talk to dead animals. Many of her clients ("mostly women and gay men," says Fitzpatrick) as well as callers to her Sirius XM radio show, which challenges Howard Stern in terms of phone traffic, seek out Fitzpatrick to talk to animals that have crossed to the other side.
There's no doubting that Fitzpatrick, who says that she has "never met an animal that isn't spiritual," is cognizant of animal behavior. However, in a women-dominated field that didn't professionally exist until two decades ago, it remains impossible to prove if she (or anyone else, for that matter) can really figure out what animals are thinking and feeling.
Not surprisingly, college-educated veterinarians are quick to point out that pet psychiatry is a pseudoscience that's on a par with a "party trick," according to one Houston-area veterinarian.
However, at least one traditional animal doctor at Texas A&M University's College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences — one of North America's most renowned educational, medical and research institutions for animal medicine — thinks that "maybe there is some truth" to animal communication.
Fitzpatrick, seated at the dining room table of her family's English farmhouse, stares at her friends that have been cooked and served on a dinner plate. She's 14 and her farmer father has slaughtered and prepared a Christmas Day feast that includes the three geese that Sonya had telepathically spoken with on a daily basis.
Decades after the Association for Research and Enlightenment, founded by the psychic Edgar Cayce, discovered the possibility of human-animal communications, Fitzpatrick says she was naturally talking to animals. She grew up surrounded by free-range chickens, pigs and ducks in the English countryside, where her father and uncle owned farms. Fitzpatrick especially grew close to Daisy, Primrose and Buttercup, a trio of fowl she would tell to show up outside of the school gate so that they could walk her home from class.
Because of Fitzpatrick's rural upbringing, she bore witness to all sorts of farm killings. When this happened, she could feel the pains that the animals were suffering. To this day, when she's performing a psychic reading for a pet that has died, she'll feel his or her physical discomfort.
"If they couldn't walk, I would feel that, too," says Fitzpatrick, who extends her arms to demonstrate that, during pet psychic sessions, they model an animal's front legs while her legs are a pet's hindquarters. "I'll feel a discomfort in my abdomen area if they had a problem with the stomach. If they had a nail cut too short, I would feel discomfort in my nail. I use every part of my body, really."
"When the pigs got slaughtered, it really used to upset me. I used to tell my dad that they know, but my dad would say, 'Oh, don't be silly,'" says Fitzpatrick, who ditched the meat diet after her geese pals were butchered. She and her daughter, Emma Kiper, remain vegetarians while Sonya's sons and eight-year-old granddaughter Emily are vegans. (Vegetarians don't eat meat, while vegans abide by a stricter diet that includes zero access to dairy products.)
Fitzpatrick eventually went into hiding as an animal communicator, an abnormal ability that Fitzpatrick's psychic grandmother had cautioned her about. "I started to realize that people didn't feel the same way about animals as I did. My grandmother told me that people don't do what I did. It was very hard emotionally."
Instead of pursuing a professional path that didn't exist at the time, the 17-year-old Fitzpatrick moved to London to sculpt a successful four-decade career as an international fashion model that included photo shoots for accomplished British fashion designer Sir Norman Bishop Hartnell.
In the early 1990s, Fitzpatrick lost most of her money to Lloyd's of London, a British insurance and reinsurance agency that would be exposed for corruption during one of the largest financial scandals of the decade. For a change of pace, she and her daughter Emma emigrated to the United States.
Though her line of work is more suited to spiritual epicenters like Hawaii, she picked Texas because an American friend of hers, who used to live in a neighboring flat on London's Baker Street, had moved to the Houston suburbs for a job. Fitzpatrick has stayed in the conservative Woodlands-Conroe area, located more than 30 miles from central Houston, ever since.
Animal communication dates back to the 1910s, when the Association for Research and Enlightenment, during its research of the era's human-to-human telepathy, claimed to have discovered a similar link between humans and animals. Though pet psychic readings moderately increased from the 1930s to the 1990s, the often-mocked practice never hit the mainstream. In its place was the much-ballyhooed human psychic industry, led by future multimillionaires Sylvia Browne and Miss Cleo. Many contemporary animal communicators say that their psychic abilities were first realized through extrasensory perception of the human mind.
Fitzpatrick was still suppressing her paranormal capabilities when she arrived in the States, but that changed when the spirit of Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals who died in the year 1226, visited Fitzpatrick. Around the same time, she talked on the phone with a blind pet psychic and was blown away by the experience. Says Fitzpatrick, "I did [animal communication] as a little girl, but I shut down when my geese died. Then, I was suddenly communicating with animals."
In 1993, Fitzpatrick and her daughter opened Sonya of London, an etiquette studio that helped decorum-seeking Texans become a bit more proper. The parlor above La Madeleine in Highland Village also dabbled in pet psychiatry, though it wasn't really advertised.
One of the more than 20,000 callers to Animal Intuition cries as show host Sonya Fitzpatrick tells the woman that her deceased sister is holding the caller's departed cat Malibu in her arms in the afterlife. The next caller dubs Fitzpatrick a lifesaver after the distraught woman's dog tells Sonya, from the spirit world, that he is not angry with the woman for putting him to sleep.
These are just some of the quick-hitting remedies that Fitzpatrick dishes during her weekly two-hour radio program. The Tuesday-evening show also features Sonya's psychic eight-year-old granddaughter Emily doling out advice. During a recent episode, the child mused about the evils of declawing, something Fitzpatrick calls "the cruelest, most unnecessary thing" you can do to a cat.
Fitzpatrick's radio program is one of the only ways to get a free pet psychic session with the celebrity animal communicator, who leads an industry that has transitioned from a vanity business to a profitable line of work. This is especially the case in Texas, where Dallas-based Sandra Larson charges $150 an hour for her pet psychic sessions via telephone. Larson also moderates workshops such as the Animal Communication Gallery, a meet-up in The Colony that once featured several dogs, a cat, a snake, a guinea pig and their owners sitting in a circle and communicating with one another.
These and other pet psychics, such as the $100-an-hour, Houston-based Griffin Kanter, claim that they can translate the thoughts of animals even if the animals are absent and sometimes without the aid of a photograph. Instead, self-proclaimed pet therapists, many of whom have taught themselves since a pet psychic school does not currently exist, can tune into the brain biology of animals through a phone conversation with pet owners.
Fitzpatrick, who remains unmarried after divorcing her second husband in 2005, charges $300 for a private 30-minute phone chat that she conducts exclusively from her two-story home in the affluent Conroe Woods. (The property, which Fitzpatrick has made into a lavish English-style house, is valued at $377,600, according to a Montgomery County public records search.) These rates are a flat fee for all of her clients, who include famous people such as Rosie O'Donnell and Sharon Osbourne as well as low-income folks who live in mobile homes.
As Fitzpatrick became more comfortable with her long-forgotten ability that, according to her, is something "you're born with," she turned her fledgling Sonya of London etiquette parlor into a $120-an-hour, pet-communicating hotbed. However, it wasn't until she published her first book, in 2003, The Pet Psychic: What the Animals Tell Me, that she landed talk-show spots on The Oprah Winfrey Show, a spread in People and her own show on Animal Planet.
Fitzpatrick, who's currently working on a fourth book, one that will inform readers about animal reincarnation and what deceased animals are up to in the hereafter, shares Sirius XM airtime with Dr. Martin Goldstein, a.k.a. Dr. Marty, who begins a phone interview with the Houston Press by impersonating a confused, elderly woman. ("We don't take ourselves seriously around here," says Goldstein about himself and his team of alternative practitioners.) Together, Fitzpatrick and Goldstein are unquestioning believers that holistic-centric medicine — rather than traditional vaccines and commercial pet food, which the two believe cause fatal disease — can reverse cancer conditions and paralysis in animals.
Goldstein received a traditional veterinary education from Cornell University in the 1970s. Enticed by alt-methods, in part due to his own failing health, Goldstein discovered that naturally based treatments for animals, including Chinese acupuncture, were being taught underground.
"I came back to share [the knowledge] with my colleagues and got condemned from society," says Goldstein. "In those days, that was voodoo." Instead, he scurried deeper into the fringes and "worked one by one on hopeless, terminally ill animals, and sent them back into society."
After his license was nearly revoked, the renegade veterinarian published The Nature of Animal Healing: The Definitive Holistic Medicine Guide to Caring for Your Dog and Cat. The 1999 handbook chronicles his use of integrative medicine — a mixture of traditional and holistic methods — that Fitzpatrick and other pet psychics have adopted as their companion bible for animal therapy.
"It's been literally 30 years of struggle to get the truth out there that there's this thing called integrative medicine," says Goldstein, whose New York-based practice recently treated a dog that had been flown in from Fiji and a cat that was shipped from Egypt. "Some things are being done in conventional medicine every single day that are harming animals that are not needed."
Dr. M.A. Crist, a professor and veterinarian at Texas A&M, one of the world's most prestigious schools for animal medicine, definitely sides with clinically proven treatments that are based upon mountains of paperwork and countless in-depth studies. However, Crist, who also runs a practice in Houston, doesn't completely believe that animal communication is witchcraft, especially after four of her own clients consulted Fitzpatrick and reported positive results to Crist.
The vet explains that Fitzpatrick, whom she has never met, talked to one of the cats that had been to Crist's clinic for treatment. The animal apparently told Sonya that it had hurt feelings because certain doctors at Crist's office openly complained, in front of the cat, that the feline was too fat.
When Crist got wind of this, she remembers thinking, "Maybe there was some truth to that. It definitely got me to think that maybe I shouldn't say so much about weight in front of the animals."
It's feeding time at Fitzpatrick's house, and Sonya stands in her kitchen whipping up a lunch of rice, vegetables and afternoon tea for her animals.
"Oh, here's Sunshine!" exclaims Fitzpatrick as she places cups and saucers on the hardwood floor so that her pets, including her cat Sunshine, can drink English tea. "Come on, Sunshine darling. I didn't think it would be long before you came and showed yourself!"
Every day, Fitzpatrick prepares edibles such as codfish, sweet potatoes and cottage cheese for her seven cats and five dogs that live inside her Conroe house. She makes such a fuss over her pets' dining habits because she believes that traditional pet food is the cause of cancer. She also thinks that, aside from the government-required rabies shot, vaccinations are "killing our animals."
Says Fitzpatrick, "I'm always amazed at how many vets don't know about nutrition. They really don't. They're all about keeping them on Science Diet, which is terrible food."
Fitzpatrick's philosophies were partially triggered by Goldstein, who inspired her to discourage clients from giving their pets shots and feeding them commercial pet food. Goldstein says that this approach is based on his experiences in transitioning from a traditional animal doctor to a holistic vet.
"I have witnessed the incidence of cancer at least triple in my career. It's now becoming a disease of the young," says Goldstein. "We use things in veterinarian medicine to prevent disease that actually cause disease. When we go to school, we're not taught about health and the immune system. We're taught how to diagnose a disease and how to drug it."
Of course, traditionally trained animal doctors, such as Dr. Lori Teller of Houston's Meyerland Animal Clinic, think this philosophy is hogwash. Teller, a graduate of Texas A&M and a Texas Veterinary Medical Association-certified veterinarian, points to today's advanced field of animal medicine, where immunization schedules can be individualized to meet each animal's health needs. She adds that pet psychics who can't boast any type of veterinarian training are "reckless" to dissuade people from seeking vaccinations.
Along with brushing off traditional animal medicine, most pet psychics also don't believe in higher-power lessons based in organized religion. Instead, many came to the field after some sort of personal spiritual experience, and apply similar concepts to animal communication. "The work that I do is not a religion for me, but I do call for all of the divine help that I can get," says Dallas pet psychic Larson. "I call for the archangels and the guardian angels to give me permission to talk with [animals]."
Unlike Dr. Crist's clients, none of Teller's clients have consulted with a pet psychic, though several have asked her opinion about animal communicators. Her thoughts on the matter can be best summarized when she says, "There are certainly better ways to spend the several hundred dollars to ensure the health and well-being of a pet...but I understand that sometimes people need to do something that makes them feel better, even if it's a crock."
Because it's impossible to prove if animals can indeed send their thoughts into a magnetically aided telepathic field — and a human being can actually get in there to decode the messages — pet psychics are often called out as wannabes, even by people who speak to animal communicators on a regular basis.
Helen Stroud has been a client and friend of Fitzpatrick's for 19 years. According to her, Fitzpatrick is "just psychic, period." However, other animal communicators that she's spoken with are not, period.
Two years ago, Stroud talked to Myra Logan, a Houston-based pet psychic who conducts all-day animal communication workshops for $180 a person. Logan, who quit her corporate job in 2002 to become a full-time, albeit financially strapped, pet psychic, is known in the community as the animal communicator to go to if money is tight. (She charges just $70 per half hour.)
Stroud apparently got what she paid for because she wasn't impressed with Logan's "horrible, fear-based bullshit" consultation. When Stroud reported the results to Fitzpatrick while visiting her home, Fitzpatrick became angry and said, "That's what gives us a bad name!"
Logan, during a phone interview, was rendered speechless by the allegation that she preys on people's insecurities during her pet psychic readings. "I don't know how to respond to that," says Logan after a long pause. "I can give you the numbers of hundreds of [former] skeptics that have referred other clients to me."
Even Fitzpatrick admits that there are limitations on what she can do. Unlike with dogs and cats, which boast a "single consciousness," she's unable to communicate with nonhumans that have "mass consciousness." This includes spiders as well as flies, which she kills every chance she gets. (In fact, during a closed-door pet psychic session witnessed by the Press in Fitzpatrick's bedroom, a lone fly wouldn't leave her alone. She tried over and over to kill the pest, but was unsuccessful.)
Fitzpatrick has also given up locating runaway animals through telepathy, a trend that many pet psychics have adopted because, according to Logan, the owners who don't find their lost pets are always disappointed. "This is not a science. You can't get an animal to do anything," says Logan.
To trained professionals like Dr. Teller, these are just some of the obvious shortcomings of pet psychiatry, a field she won't be shelving her day job for anytime soon.
"My only intrigue with seeing a pet psychic would be like going to a party and they have a palm reader because you're always a little bit curious as to what they're going to say," says Teller. "Other than that, I don't see it as much more than an interesting party trick."
Fitzpatrick, in between sips of afternoon tea, composes some words on a yellow notepad for her forthcoming animal afterlife book. Across from the white couch where she sits is a four-legged table that holds her psychic grandmother's ashes.
"Oh, that's Wanda Sykes, darling," says Fitzpatrick, who takes a break from writing to point to another table that's lined with photos of Fitzpatrick posing with celebrity clients such as Sykes and Denise Richards. Aside from trips to Los Angeles and New York City for television interviews, Fitzpatrick rarely leaves this room or her bedroom. That's because she's found a way to conduct her profitable affairs — ranging from telephone pet psychic sessions to writing books by longhand that have been translated into Chinese and Japanese — without vacating her home.
Even if non-clients are hanging about her home, it's not unusual for Fitzpatrick — who perpetually dresses like she's going to a function, a habit that she picked up during her modeling days — to perform impromptu readings for free. For example, during one of the Press's visits, Fitzpatrick unexpectedly starting talking to this writer's dogs. "Which one has troubles with his ears? You see, I'm picking that up as I'm talking to you. I've got discomfort in my ears. He says he has ear trouble every so often. Let me [telepathically] tell your dad how to get rid of the allergies."
In all of the years she's been doing pet psychiatry, Fitzpatrick claims that only two people have asked for their money back. One person desperately needed the cash to pay some other bills, while the other became upset because Fitzpatrick didn't inform the owner that her pet was going to die (which it did) a few days after the session. In both cases, Fitzpatrick refunded the money.
Instead of seeking additional fortune in L.A. (which wouldn't work because Fitzpatrick is afraid of earthquakes) or New York City (where it's too busy for the country-reared woman), she's not planning to move out of state. Instead, up until the day that she leaves the planet, she'll continue to untangle the thoughts of animals while lying in a bed in east Texas.
Says Fitzpatrick, "There's only one other job you can do in the bed, darling."
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