After looking at a picture of 10-month-old German shepherd puppy Charlie, and asking a few biographical questions, Heidi Grengg leaned back in her wicker chair.
She shut her eyes, silent — the only sounds Flat Creek flowing alongside her backyard deck and the birds chirping. She’s ready to communicate telepathically with the pup, who’s a few miles away in his crate in East Jackson.
“He’s very worried about being a good dog,” she said, eyes still closed. “Whatever it was that got him into the shelter, he took to mean he’s not a good dog, not worthy of a home. That’s something he’s grappling with right now.”
As an animal communicator, Grengg takes consultations to communicate telepathically with animals, mostly dogs, cats and horses, she said.
“I’ll shut my eyes and basically turn off my mind as much as possible and just receive what it is that person has asked me to tune in with the animal about,” she said. “I’ll say, ‘Hey, your person asked me to talk to you, they want to know why you’re peeing outside your litter box. What’s going on?’”
Grengg moved to Jackson Hole in 1988 for the community and the mountains, and started waitressing at The Lame Duck. A few years later she saw a book in a catalog about animal communication, called AnimalTalk. Her curiosity piqued, she ordered it.
“It just made so much sense to me,” she said. “I just wanted to learn how to do it. I was like, well, if it’s true that everyone can do it, and everyone has that ability, then I guess that means me.”
So in the early ’90s Grengg travelled to Boise to participate in a two-day weekend workshop from the author of the book, Penelope Smith.
It started with pairing up with a partner and communicating telepathically something simple — like a color — “then you kind of move up from there,” she said. The second day you could bring an animal to talk to.
“It’s hard to know at the beginning if you’re making it up in your head or it’s coming from the animal,” she said. “That just takes practice, straight up.”
At the time Grengg lived on a ranch, giving her plenty of opportunities to practice with animals. After two more workshops she felt ready to start charging for animal consultations as a side gig.
When she’s not at her other jobs — working at Calico, gardening and dog walking — she performs animal consultations for clients locally and all over the country, for $65 an hour.
She doesn’t need to be physically with the animal. In fact Grengg said she prefers to “tune in” with them remotely because it’s less distracting. To communicate with an animal Grengg says she asks for some “tags,” like its name, a photo or description, and who its person is.
“Most animals I’m talking to I’ve never met and I’ve never met their people,” Grengg said. “Which I kind of like, because that keeps me less biased as well. If I don’t know them and I don’t know their animal, I don’t have a lot of preconceived notions.”
The messages come in, she said, as words and pictures and feelings: “I’m taking all that and then interpreting it into words. I’ll tune in, then I’ll stop and write something down.”
“I’m more like an interpreter, is how I see myself,” Grengg said. “I’m taking the nonverbal and putting it into the verbal for the person. I’m kind of the middleman.”
The most common question she hears is whether a person should put down a beloved animal.
“People do not want to play God,” she said. “Most people know, they already know. They just want confirmation.”
Sometimes she is asked to help locate missing animals, which can be more challenging when a lost pet’s mind is in a panicked state, she said. Some people want to communicate to their animal that the family is moving or why they’re being sent away to training. Or if there’s a behavior problem, Grengg said she can sometimes get to the root of it — whether a dog wants a new brand of food or a cat hates his name.
“An animal’s behavior will not change because of the communication, it’s just giving you information. They have free will, they can do whatever they want.”
Grengg says has also spoken to wild animals a few times, be it telling a bear on a trail to carry on, urging magpies to leave an unwanted nest in a yard, or telling a bison to get out of a horse corral.
Animal communication also comes with its own set of ethics, Grengg said. For example, you don’t talk to anyone’s animal unless asked by its owner.
Grengg said she used to worry that people would think she was weird, but now she doesn’t care. She said over the past 20 years more and more people have come around.
“If they don’t understand what it is, I also don’t care,” she said. “No one ever challenges me on it.”
She said she enjoys being able to resolve people’s problems with a quick communication leading to a simple solution, and to bridge the gap when animals can’t express themselves to their people.
“I like being able to speak for something that can’t speak in our language,” she said, “because I’m sure it’s very frustrating.”
An animal lover, she also likes spending time with her cat, Kitty, her dog, Bodie, and horse David (who chose his own name, she said).