Horses are chattier than most beasts. That's because they've had so many experiences they want to share with their human friends.
But dogs, cats, hamsters, snakes and even tarantulas can be almost as communicative.
That's according to animal psychic Lydia Hiby, who will be giving a lecture and demonstration at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Traditional Acupuncture Institute in Columbia. The event will benefit the Camelot Wildlife Refuge, which provides care for Maryland's sick, injured and orphaned wildlife.
As a professional psychic, Ms. Hiby doesn't scratch her head over the meaning behind a whinny, bark or meow: She says she communicates with animals through visual images that pass back and forth between her and her animal subjects.
"I picture the things I want answered to the animal, and the transmission is quick, less than a minute," she said during a phone interview, explaining her technique, which draws on extra sensory perception. "If the animal has a physical problem, I start to feel in my own body the kind of problem it's having."
These claims arouse skepticism, as Ms. Hiby herself admitted. Among the unbelievers is local veterinarian Kim Hammond, of the Falls Road Animal Hospital, who said he has heard of the psychic but is not convinced of her powers.
"It's pure fun," he scoffed. "There's no scientific basis to it, and I have no belief in it whatsoever. But I won't close the door entirely. Who the heck knows?"
But Baltimore clairvoyant Sonia Benser took a different view.
"Anyone who is truly psychic can in some way communicate with animals," she declared. "I feel dogs and cats have souls."
Based in Riverside, Calif., Ms. Hiby travels the country lecturing, giving seminars on how to communicate with animals and offering consultations, often to get to the bottom of problems that have baffled veterinarians and trainers.
Along the way, the 33-year-old psychic has communicated with Gunther Gebel Williams' tigers at the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus and with the killer whales at Florida's Marineland. She has worked with the British equestrian team and with clients from as far away as the Netherlands. In some cases, she consults over the phone. Rates vary from $25 for 15 minutes to $50 an hour, with the latter including a home visit where possible.
Most animals are eager to "talk" to their owners, and have a lot to say, said Ms. Hiby. Anyone can learn; all it takes is an open mind and the willingness to try something different, she maintained. Ms. Hiby was trained by Beatrice Lydecker, an Oregon animal psychic with whom she has worked closely for the past eight years.
Describing the ESP process, she said, "It's like two twins -- one burns a hand and the other feels it -- or like mother's intuition. Children have the ability when they're little. And a lot of grown-ups are capable of it without realizing it.
"Certainly when [pet owners] get up in the middle of the night to give their dog some water or when they trust their instincts and race home to check on their animals because they feel something is wrong, they're doing basically what I'm doing without understanding the dynamics."
Two-way communication between animal and human requires some level of intelligence on the animal's part, Ms. Hiby said.
She elaborated: "They understand consequences -- if they do this, this happens to them. They're capable of feeling the same emotions of fear, frustration and grief we do. And they're very goal-oriented -- especially the horses. They can plan on things in the future and they're very in tune with what's going on."
Tickets for the Camelot Wildlife Refuge fund-raiser are $5. For more information, call 255-8764.