Hilary Renaissance first suspected she had a gift when she was 16. Lying around one day with her cat, Otto, she suddenly picked up a clear message: He was hungry, she sensed; his stomach was upset and, she realized, he loved her. To her, it felt like the most natural thing in the world, she says now, but at the time there wasn't really language to talk about it, let alone the possibility that animal communication might be a career path. “If you went to your high school guidance counselor,” she laughs, “they didn't say, ‘Hey, do you want to be a pet psychic?’”
It wasn’t until she was in her 30s that she started putting her gift to work – but 20 years later, from her home base in Seattle, Hilary has helped people all over the world find missing dogs, cats, birds, horses, and more. Explaining what she does for a living hasn’t gotten any easier, though. There are skeptics, of course – like this Seattle news reporter – but even the believers often come to her without a clear understanding of how she can help them, and what that process might look like.
“In talking to people over the last 20 years I've learned people have just a really wide variety of expectations of psychics,” she says, so she tried to clearly outline what she can and cannot do. For example, some psychics will stay with clients on the phone while they're communicating with the pet. But Hilary says she works better meditating on her own, undisturbed. “Basically, I interview the person: I ask, ‘What happened to you? How did your pet go missing?’ I get the name of the pet and a picture of the pet, I get the street address of where the pet went missing, which gives me context as to what to look for in the area. And then I get off the phone and I communicate with the pet.”
The interview and meditation takes an hour, but some clients balk at committing to that long a process, whether out of skepticism or financial worry. They’ll ask for a ten minute reading instead, but Hilary makes it clear she doesn’t work that way: “This is not something I can just pull out of a hat. You know, it's not a magic trick.” Other clients may imagine her to be omniscient – and start pressing for information about other pets not on the original agenda, or ask wildly off topic questions. “People seem to think that I'm going to be all-knowing like God,” she says, but she’s not. “It's like having a conversation back and forth. And I only know what people tell me or what they don't.”
When she does make contact with an animal, the message is often a vibe, or a visual, or a sound – it’s a general impression rather than a clear answer to a question. It’s not picture perfect, she says, but “I always say to myself, the more that I don't know what I'm looking at, usually the more right I am, or more correct I am. Because it means that I'm seeing things from the animal’s perspective.” She might be able to tell a client she sees a lost dog hiding under the deck of a red house, frightened by fireworks, for example – which narrows things down, but is still not a place you can find on Google Maps.
Sometimes the messages might be wrong – because the animal might not actually know where they are, or they might be too frightened or traumatized to communicate clearly. “I always say, if you're gonna work with a psychic, be prepared for some things to be wrong. It's just like if a policeman interviews a bunch of people about what happened at a crime scene, they're all going to give you a different perspective.”
And, of course, there are realistic limits to the sort of information a lost dog can convey. “One of the things that people always want me to do is give them a street address,” she notes, ‘but I can't do that. Because dogs can't read.”