Can Dogs Sense Our Sorrow Even After We're Dead?
After a wealthy woman died in her luxurious Northern California home, her daughter put the house on the market. It should have been snapped up quickly. It was a custom-designed architectural marvel in one of the country's most desirable areas, offered at a time when the real-estate market was still thriving.
But the house wouldn't sell. The daughter couldn't understand why.
Her dog did.
Bailey, a friendly yellow Labrador retriever, was the type of easygoing dog who felt comfortable wherever she went -- and made everyone around her feel comfortable as well. Yet the only place in which Bailey ever appeared uncomfortable was in that house. Some kind of negative energy, Bailey's owner came to assume, pervaded the house and unsettled the dog.
Bailey refused to enter the house if at all possible. Forced to go in, she was clearly desperate to leave. Taking this as a sign of problems that no realtor could correct, Bailey's owner hired Sheldon Norberg to "heal" the house.
Having trained for this work at Northern California's Academy of Intuition Medicine, Norberg uses a wide range of techniques, from visualization to a type of Chinese abdominal massage known as chi nei tsang, to diagnose why houses "feel weird" to their occupants -- including their animal occupants. He believes that most household disturbances are caused not by ghosts but by bits of disembodied emotion, the residual grief and pain left behind by now-departed residents.
He calls these emotional leftovers "stains," but warns that they are usually too messy to be removed by anyone but a professional. As detailed in Norberg's memoir, Healing Houses: My Work as a Psychic House Cleaner, a single healing can take up to five hours and cost a client thousands of dollars.
The house Bailey hated was her owner's childhood home -- but it wasn't just an ordinary house.
Set directly on San Francisco Bay in the chichi town of Tiburon in Marin County, one of the nation's highest-priced real-estate districts, it had been built to resemble a ship. Wooden paneling sported nautical-style brass fixtures and actual porthole windows; bay water lapped at a private dock out back.
The house's late former owner had been a well-known socialite, a strong and glamorous woman whom a series of tragedies had laid low. In the early '90s, her adult son vanished inexplicably without a trace. This loss broke her heart and complicated her relationships with her husband and daughter. A dozen years later, the heartbroken homeowner was stricken with cancer and died of it slowly in the house.
"She was a powerful woman," Norberg says. "But she spent the last fifteen years of her life looking and looking out the windows of her house onto the bay and onto the world, waiting for her son to come home. No one had ever discovered what had happened to him. Had he died? Nobody knew.
"In addition to the cancer that ate away her body, she had this longstanding, unyielding force of desire to reunite with her son," he continues. Both tragedies "made her so deeply invested in this building that everything about the place felt like her."
Enter Bailey. Or to be precise, not enter Bailey. The Lab avoided that house as if it was on fire.
"Bailey was your typical fun, happy, everybody's buddy kind of dog. Yet she totally reversed her character whenever she got there. She would even freak out before she got there, just knowing she was going there."
As soon as Norberg arrived, he realized that this beautiful house in its incomparable setting was more densely saturated with its dead owner's spirit than any other home he had ever been hired to heal.
"The room in which she had died was filled with a real sense of loss and yearning -- and that particular feel of sickness that comes with a cancer death after which somebody's been physically degrading over a long period of time. They're watching and waiting and degrading and getting physically weaker and having more pain and waiting to transition" out of this world into the next, he says. "All of that was still in the house -- along with the sense that, no matter what, she was still going to keep watch for her son.
"It turned out to be a long job for me. I had to spend a lot more time sitting with that house than with most."
At long last, Norberg felt certain that he had dispelled the house's deep "stains" and released its former owner's energy.
"I called the client. She came over and we walked through the house together, just the two of us. She said she could feel a definite difference." As far as she was concerned, the sense of sorrow and sickness were gone. "Then she said, 'Let's get Bailey out of the car and see what she thinks.'
"I was eager to see what Bailey would do. I thought: Okay, here's this living breathing Geiger counter that will show us whether this house is healed or not. Animals are sensitive to energy in ways we aren't. That's how animals operate: Unlike us, they're not confused by language, by the past and the future and our relative sense of time or desire. They're right here, right now. They're all about 'What's going on with my five senses at this very moment?'
"Everyone knows dogs are sensitive to their owners' moods."
Apparently they're also sensitive to the moods of people whom the living can no longer see. Even human psychics, Norberg says, "aren't as tuned in to these things as animals are.
"Bailey looked a little weird as she walked through the front door gingerly. She looked around. She climbed the staircase. She sat down. Then she lay down on the landing and took a nap."
Before the house healing, "that would have been unheard-of," Norberg says. "My client watched Bailey sleeping and said, 'Whoa. Now, this is something.' Of course, the house sold very quickly after that."