CRYSTAL LAKE – Barbara Antkowiak has heard it all.
She has heard from arthritic horses, cats upset by the new brand of chow being put in their dishes, and lost dogs looking for a way to go back home.
The 57-year-old Wauconda woman believes in pet telepathy and teaches others who are like-minded. Known as an animal communicator, Antkowiak shares this New Age art in classes with assistance from her husband, Jan. The practice has its share of doubters, but Antkowiak believes that it is catching on.
“It’s growing by leaps and bounds, and people are accepting it a lot better than they were in the beginning,” she said before a recent class at McHenry County College. “People are very skeptical – and it’s good to be skeptical – but they are finding results with animal communication and gaining a closer bond with their animals.”
Antkowiak offers an introductory class for $39 and a three-hour advanced class for $79. She has held about a dozen classes and trained about 160 students. The students cannot bring their pets into the building; they bring photographs or pictures instead.
Antkowiak uses her skills to communicate with her own pets and wild animals, and even to help find missing pets. Because of the amount of energy and effort involved, she charges $100 to consult on lost animal cases. Although she doesn’t always find the creature, Antkowiak said, she has had her share of success stories, including a lost terrier in Colorado and a homeless man’s dog in Chicago.
Pets reside in 62 percent of U.S. homes, and owners are expected to spend $45.4 billion on their pets this year, according to the American Pet Products Association, a trade group. Most of that money goes to buy food, toys, treats, veterinary care, medication, vitamins, boarding and grooming. Pet owners also shell out for clothing, jewelry, costumes, antidepressants, spas, massages, travel, psychics, therapy and pedicures.
Some pet products – such as orthodontic braces or bikinis or Prozac – might seem farcical. Even so, people buy them for a reason, said Mark Rosenbaum, a marketing professor at Northern Illinois University.
“They look at pets as people,” he said. “America is obsessed with mental health, and we’re even taking it to our pets.”
Most people already can convey information through voice commands to their pet. And they can interpret learned behaviors from their pets. Antkowiak’s work takes place on another level.
“Animal communication is where you communicate telepathically with another animal through thoughts, pictures, visions, hearing, smelling, tasting,” she said. “You use all the senses to get information from the animal that you can then relate to the owner.”
In her classes, Antkowiak leads students in guided meditation. She helps them find their power animal. She gives advice on how to hone the mind to best receive pet messages.
Students who have taken Antkowiak’s classes believe that it has helped them become closer with their pets. Coming from a very technical background, Pamela Meeder of Hebron was skeptical at first. But after reading on the subject and taking classes from Antkowiak, she feels a deeper connection with her 8-year-old cat, Lacey, which she rescued from a shelter.
“It has made me far more aware of what may be going on in her head,” Meeder said of her cat.
Others report similar experiences.
“At first, you can’t believe what you can get out of it,” said Diane Schuchert of Lakewood, who has two dogs, Spike and Tillie. “It’s overwhelming.”
Nonetheless, some of what pets have to relate might come as no surprise.
“Dogs and cats are always telling me they want more treats,” Antkowiak said.