When Terri Steuben was six years old, she stole a horse, a beautiful black stallion who belonged to neighbors. He couldn’t be trained, no matter how much his owner struck and whipped him. The owner’s son offered Steuben the challenge—rather a dare—to ride the stallion. If she, a mere girl, could ride the horse, she could take him home.

“I entered the gate and I heard the horse say hello,” Steuben says. “So I said, ‘Hello, Blackie, would you like to come live with me? I won’t beat you.’ I could see pictures in my head like a movie playing…he wasn’t happy. Then he raised his huge head and started nodding up and down, like, yes, let’s do it. That was my first experience with animal communication. I got in trouble for it.”

Long Beach resident Terri Steuben is a professional animal communicator whose vocation since her days as an “ornery” child has been to give animals a voice. She has communicated with domestic pets, birds, sharks in Australia, iguanas in the desert, and a penguin, once, in a veterinarian’s office. She regularly travels throughout the state and the country to assist people and animals. If the picture you get is a crystal-gazing New Age kook, you’ve treed the wrong bark hugger. Steuben is an earthy, no-nonsense woman with both feet planted on the ground. She’s worked with tough animal-related cases—the only member of a cockfight bust team not to have her clothing and skin ripped to shreds by angry roosters and thus earning her the title of cock whisperer. She’s gotten her feet and every other part of her body wet in Louisiana during hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Presently, she’s writing a book on how to communicate with animals, tentatively titled “Animal Communication: It’s Time You Knew” to tell everyone to please try this at home. And yes, she talks to the animals—not in a literal, Dr. Doolittle way but through visualization and paying attention to what the animals are telling her. “Left-minded people,” as she calls skeptics and pooh-pooh-ers, scoff. At first.

“I’ll go into households where the wife doesn’t believe, or the husband doesn’t believe, and then I’ll pick up something about the spouse, and it’s a surprise to them,” Steuben says. During a session for a recalcitrant cat (is there any other kind?) at a client’s home, Steuben kept getting, “The pink panties. The pink panties. The pink panties. Are mine.” The panties of mention were part of a lingerie set owned by the client, who turned bright purple when Steuben mentioned the feline psi cypher. Later that evening, the skeptical husband called and said that his wife had thought she’d lost the panties, so he’d gotten his wife a new negligee set. The cat got to keep the panties, which she wasn’t about to give up anyway. Everyone won, and the husband most likely shook his head and kept his mouth shut.

Steuben said that the looks and ostracizing she got from her peers, along with her mother’s constant admonitions to be quiet about her gifts taught her to keep them to herself until adulthood. During her time working as a property manager in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, she and her carpool companion regularly came across a group of red-tailed hawks sitting on a fence on a stretch of road. Red-tailed hawks, according to Steuben, are signs to follow a path. When she took one to California to work in the bank business, she decided to hone her animal-communication skills with a well-known communicator, Carol Gurney, who told her after class that her skills were amazing.

“I asked Carol if she thought I should do this as a business, and she shut the door and said, ‘If you don’t, I’m going to come down and knock you in the head.’”

Steuben worked up her business and also began mentoring young people whose parents have noticed their gifts in communicating with animals. They bring them to see Steuben so that they can feel, in her words, “more normal.” Even though she says that her own mother to this day thinks she’s nuts, veterinarians and other professionals call on her for service. Ethel Daniels, a Long Beach marriage and family counselor, referred a client whose dog was behaving oddly during construction work. Steuben understood from the dog that it wasn’t so much the work as the invasion of his space when one of the workers would make a daily foray into the client’s jewelry box and make off with small items, piece by piece. The client examined the box and verified the theft.

“I think she’s a great communicator,” said Dr. Ann Ichikawa, a Huntington Beach vet. “And I think she’s helped many people. I’ve had a lot of positive responses from clients.”

An animal communicator doesn’t work by giving hands-on commands like a trainer or attempting to change behavior. He or she “talks” with animals in a combination of ways: by phone, through photos, face-to-muzzle, or spiritually in situations with deceased pets. The general idea is positively visualizing what you want the animal to do or to tell you. Animals, she says, communicate in pictures and don’t understand negatives.

“Words to stay away from are don’t, won’t, can’t, shouldn’t, stop, not, and sometimes, no,” Steuben said. “You say, that’s not yours, and they look at whatever it is and say, uh-huh, thank you.”

Steuben says to form a picture in your own mind of what you want the animal to do, but to make sure that the picture is positive, or else you’ll have the cat jumping on the counter as soon as you picture the counter with the red line through it. Instead, picture your pet remaining on the floor or your barking dog being quiet. If an animal is exhibiting illness or discomfort, Steuben uses what she calls medical intuition to feel where the discomfort is. She may then recommend some yogurt for an upset stomach or a massage for an ache, but if a condition looks serious, she tells the client to get the pet to the vet immediately.

Steuben’s had other edgier adventures. During the bust of the San Luis Obispo cockfighting ring, Steuben said she avoided injury to her part of the 1,200-plus chickens she banded by letting them know that she was going to take them out of the cage, ID them, take a photo and put them back in. She most likely did not convey that most of the poor animals, who had been shot full of steroids and vitamin B, trained to fight and had been maimed by razor blades attached to the feet of their opponents in the ring would most likely be euthanized if rescue farms couldn’t be found for enough of them.

She also went to Louisiana as part of HSUS’s highly trained National Disaster Animal Response Team (N-DART) when Katrina hit, helping with intake and aggressive dogs and assisting veterinarians in her capacity as a communicator. Then, she went out into the flooded field, and the real fun started.

“We were going into houses in 100-degree temperature with 105-degree humidity,” Steuben says. “You had to go in and shut the door behind you and then you had to fumble around in the dark, all muddy. The military came with us to keep us safe.”

Steuben recounted a couple of ghostly experiences with people who weren’t there and who asked her to save their dogs in the back of the houses (this is New Orleans, remember), and stayed behind in the shelter with a skeleton crew to help the animals get through the storm. They secured the shelter for the oncoming storm and hunkered down. They took their meals and their rest next to their animal charges. Mother Nature was apparently pleased, because the storm passed over them with no damage.

Even the most skeptical among us can probably remember when his or her pet or one belonging to a friend seemed to be trying to communicate something, and there was no figuring it out. Maybe the message came later. Not every pet psychic episode is “What is it, boy? Is the schoolhouse on fire?” Sometimes it’s just pink panties. But Terry Steuben is willing to teach even the most left-minded among us what a loved pet wants you to know.

“There will come a time when you’ll need some help for your pet, and you’ll be open to all avenues,” she says. “That’s when you’ll come to me.”

Visit Terri Steuben at calmhealer.com, or e-mail her at [email protected].

Animals can communicate quite well….And they do. And generally speaking, they are ignored.
—Alice Walker, “Am I Blue?” From the essay collection Living by the Word