Can Dogs See Dead People?

by Bill Knell

“I see dead people.” Uttered by actor Haley Joel Osment in M. Night Shyamalan’s The Sixth Sense, it has become one of the most famous lines in movie history. Although the film was based on a fictional story, we have all seen those people on television who claim they can see or communicate with the dead. Would it surprise you to learn that dogs may also possess that ability?

One of the oldest known paranormal beliefs is that dogs have the ability to see or communicate with the dead. It would be easy to believe that people have come to that conclusion based on a dog’s natural behavior. We’ve all seen dogs stand still and stare or react to something we were unable to see or hear. However, there may be much more to it then that.

Most of the pet people I have known had some sort of a weird dog story to tell. The most common involves the death of a beloved dog owner. The dog owner would die and it always seems like his or her pet would know about the event before anyone else. My mother often recounts the story of Grandpa Bill.

For the last few years of his life, Grandpa Bill languished from a terminal illness. When he wasn’t in the hospital, he stayed with us. It was during those stays that Bill became very close to an Irish Setter adopted by my mother. Rusty and Bill were inseparable. Whenever he sat in our back yard to get some sun during summer afternoons, Bill would play with her by throwing a ball for Rusty to catch or using her favorite old sock as a pull toy. Rusty slept at the foot of Bill’s bed and would start barking anytime he coughed or experienced shallow breathing.

During the final days of his life, Bill was back in the hospital. It was during that time that Rusty started acting strangely. She would pace back and forth in front of the bed in a spare room where Bill slept when he stayed at our home. She would circle the lawn chair he used to sit in when he played with her in the backyard. It was really eerie! However, stranger things were yet to come.

Although we knew he wasn’t going to live much longer, it came as a bit of a shock when Bill finally passed on. We thought that he would probably live another few months based on what the doctors said, but that wasn‘t to be. A nurse checked on him around three in the morning and found he had passed on. Around the same time and without explanation, Rusty awakened everyone in our household. She began to howl uncontrollably. Less then an hour later, we received the sad news of Bill’s passing by phone.

I was too young to remember most of what happened, but I do recall that my parents were freaked out by the whole event. My mother was a no nonsense kind of person who had no use for anything paranormal, yet she recounted this story several times to me in later years whenever the subject of strange animal behavior would come up. Anything but a storyteller, I always felt that she spoke of those events as a way of trying to understand them. I suppose we could just toss it all off to coincidence, but the odds do not seem to be with that considering how many other people have experienced similar events.

Most everyone who has ever lived in any kind of a suburban neighborhood has some sort of a story to tell about that one weird house that everyone would stay away from. In my case, it was about seven houses down from mine in a neighborhood on Long Island. All of the houses on our block had been built in the early 1950s. With slight exceptions of larger or smaller models, most of the homes looked like they belonged together. All except one. The weird house in our neighborhood had a dark wood exterior and was landscaped with small trees instead of bushes and hedges. It stood out and most of the neighbors were not amused.

If it’s a true saying that strange houses attract stranger people, you could prove it by the weird house on our block. From the moment they moved in, the first family to live in that house made no attempt to fit into the neighborhood. The parents and three children were weird. They hated to answer their door, had two dogs that were as mean as they were big and never kept up their property.

Within ten years of moving into the house, the family fell apart. After several biting incidents, the police took the dogs away. The older brother died of a drug overdose, the younger one stopped speaking, their sister always seemed to be taking on the role of mom, and dad as their parents seemed unable to cope with anything. After their father was hospitalized for alcoholism, mom gave up, sold the house and moved away to parts unknown.

Before anyone could move in, the house was given a major facelift. Gone was the excessive number of trees that had created a haunted mansion look. Gone was the nasty looking wood exterior that gave way to aluminum siding. The inside was gutted and replaced with lighter colors and modern appliances. By the time the new family moved in during the mid 1960s, it was like an entirely different house. However, some of the sorrow from the previous family may have been left behind.

The new family consisted of a couple, a boy and girl under ten, and a cute Yorkshire Terrier they called nappy (short for Napoleon). These people were just the opposite of the previous occupants. They were friendly, took care of their property and got along well with all the neighbors. I knew the children and played with them when they came by my end of the block, but rarely visited their house. Most of what happened next I got from my other friends and people closer to the family then I was.

A couple of my friends were regularly invited to sleepovers at the house. During the sleepovers, Nappy would normally roam the house and eventually settle into his little doggie bed in one corner of the living room. However, on more then a few occasions the friendly little dog exhibited some very unfriendly and odd behavior.

Nappy would bound up the stairs to a finished attic with two bedrooms. This is where the children slept in bedrooms separated by a small hallway. Once there, he would inexplicably start to growl at the room to the right where the boy slept. This was also the room were the older brother from the previous family had once slept and where he had been found dead of a drug overdose.

Their dog’s odd behavior was first noticed by the children a few weeks after the new family moved in. Some of my friends who had slept over in the boy’s room told me that the boy and his parents were really freaked out by the whole thing. The girl had seen it, but since it wasn’t directed at her room, tended to ignore the incidents.

It seems that Nappy got along fine with the children and showed no animosity towards the sleepover guests either. That meant that his nighttime growling behavior was being directed towards an unknown source. I suppose that any number of simple explanations could be used to explain the whole thing away, but the dog’s growling wasn’t consistent. He didn’t do it every night and as often as not slept quietly without the growling when friends of the boy stayed overnight.

About a year after they moved in, the family moved out. This seemed strange considering the investment they had made in the property, but I doubt the reason for their move had anything to do with their dog‘s odd behavior. There were some strange stories from my friends who spent more time at the house then I did. On a few of the sleepovers they said that the boy’s room always seemed very cold, despite a brand new oil burner having been installed in the house before the family moved in.

Like so many other events involving the paranormal, odd animal behavior is often categorized as explainable even if we do not know the cause. Because dogs cannot talk, we do not know exactly what they are reacting to. Can dogs see dead people? I guess we’ll have to wait until we’re dead to find out the answer to that question!


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