Skepticism

Marla Steele lies to pet owners and takes their money

lulz

I suggest you never sign up for Google to send you alerts whenever the word “psychic” appears in a news story, because before long you may become like me — prone to slipping into a fantasy world inside your head where journalists write investigative articles about people claiming to have paranormal powers. This will develop as a defense mechanism against the stark reality where journalists write long advertisements for frauds in the form of softball question-and-answer sessions, ending with a convenient way for the target consumer/reader to contact the fraud about his or her services.

So it is that this morning I opened my Google “psychic” alert and read an article titled “Marla Steele makes pet talk a two-way street,” prompting electrical impulses to travel through my brain, first activating areas devoted to basic reading comprehension and understanding the meaning of the words, then jumping to my understanding of the phrase “pet psychic,” then to my understanding of reality, eventually hitting upon the key phrase

THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A PET PSYCHIC

which finally threw a switch that sent my brain into survival mode, where I retreated to a fantasy world resulting in me thinking I was reading the title of this post.

From the article:

Last winter, a good friend of mine consulted a pet psychic to help her comfort and care for her cat Mambo who was battling cancer. As a gal who is inherently wary of everything woo-woo, I

” . . . investigated a local pet psychic and found that she was full of at least seventeen different variations of BULLSHIT and she couldn’t even psychically connect with the bull from which it emerged.”

How did you learn to communicate with pets? I believe that we’re all born equipped to do this, but most of us get distracted and wrapped up in a completely different way of relating and communicating in the world. Being a pet communicator requires practice just like any other kind of work. It’s a muscle that needs to be flexed or it goes away.

When did you realize that you

” . . . could rip off naive pet owners?”

For as long as I can remember . . . they . . . paid.

Where do your readings take place? Usually over the phone or by email.

Um, over the phone? And email? Really? How does that work?

“. . . because it sounds like total bullshit.”


How long have you been

” . . . ripping off pet owners?”

I first heard about animal communication from a coworker at Nordstrom’s who was paying $100 to talk to a pet psychic in Oregon about her German Shepherd. I always listened politely to her stories, but secretly thought she must just have money to burn, or be crazy, or both. Now we laugh because I not only became a pet psychic, I also appear on radio and television talk shows all over the country.

“Wow, that sounds exactly like you know “pet psychics” are complete bullshit, but you realized how easy it is to scam people out of much more money than you could make working in retail the rest of your life, you cruel, sniveling fraud.”

Here are some other questions the real reporter missed but my fantasy reporter asked:

“Can you demonstrate your ability?”

“Can you perform under controlled circumstances so we can make sure you’re not just making things up?”

“Can you tell me what my last dog died of?”

“Can you tell me my cat’s name?”

“Can you tell me what illness this randomly chosen shelter dog has?”

“Can you prove you have any of the paranormal powers you’ve claimed?”

Here’s one last quote from the real article with emphasis added:

The Pet Specialist Showcase is an ongoing Tails of the City series. Please send your suggestions for future posts to [email protected].

+++
One more thing: Boston Skeptics in the Pub is coming up this Monday, Aug. 25. It’ll be skeptical trivia again hosted by yours truly. I’ll post all the details tomorrow, but here’s the Facebook event page in the meantime.

Also, I’ll be in New York City next weekend, so stay tuned for a possible meet-up!

Tags

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

Related Articles

30 Comments

  1. Please. Anyone who can’t tell what a dog is thinking doesn’t deserve to be around dogs.

    Ears up, tail wagging: “Is it time for me to get food?”

    Ears down, eyes sad: “Are you going to get me some food now?”

    Leg in bear trap, blood running freely: “Any second now, this human will bring me some food.”

    Just yesterday, I had to surrender the larger of our dogs to the vet to get a lump removed from her neck. (It was just a fatty deposit, which sort of describes her whole head, but it was too closse to her lymph nodes to ignore.) When she got back, her neck was shaved, she had some gruesome stitches, and she was clearly groggy. Then she walked to her food dish and just looked at me (or near me — she had trouble focusing). “I don’t know what the fuck all that was, but is it time for dinner?”

    If any of you need help reading a dog’s mood, let me know. There’s a trick to it, and you don’t have to be a cold reading expert to figure it out. No charge!

    I understand it’s simmilar with cats, although you can replace “feed me” with “claw open one of your arteries.”

  2. I always wondered if pet psychics could only communicate with pets, or if they could communicate with animals in general. There are some lionesses at the Houston zoo I’d like to see her climb into the cage with to see if they are happy or depressed or feeling pretty. Also, there are a couple of horses down at the track I’d like her to speak to for me.

  3. Sadly, journalists have to lowball it if they want a cooperative interview. If a journalist gets a reputation for debunking professional psychics, their quarry will shy away, and then the poor journalist is left without a story, and their editor is all up in their Kool-aid.

  4. I guess I don’t mind so much seeing stuff like this in the paper, but only because I know I can rant about it with fellow skeptics. If not for knowing that there’s a community of people who find this crap as completely ridiculous as I do, I’d be incredibly unpleasant. (Much more than I already am!)

    I suppose if I had more time managed my time better and were slightly more responsible, I’d send a well-written complaint to the editor — which I’m hoping the less lazy amongst you are already doing. :-)

    Thank you Rebecca for a great post and a general thank you to skeptics everywhere for spreading the word that not everyone believes in crap like this.

  5. Sadly, journalists have to lowball it if they want a cooperative interview. If a journalist gets a reputation for debunking professional psychics, their quarry will shy away

    Well, there’s always the alternative of not running pieces about psychics. But again, a journalist is someone hired to fill the space between ads.

  6. Andrés Diplotti: “Well, there’s always the alternative of not running pieces about psychics. But again, a journalist is someone hired to fill the space between ads.”

    There is also the option of doing the hard work to report the truth about things regardless of how cooperative your subjects are. This is otherwise known as actual reporting.

  7. I am in love with Captain Obvious Cat. I am not in love with pet psychics. I might be a bit biased towards the lolcats, though.

    Also, I feel I have to say hi to sophistiKate. Hello my name sharing, word playing sister!

  8. @ Peregrine, #3,

    I once read a report about Robert de Niro (and I’ll be damned if I can remember the magazine). Apparently, he declined an interview, so the magazine went along the lines of taking a picture of an empty phone booth in Manhattan captioned as “Here’s a phone booth in X street that de Niro may have used”.

    Of course, it depends on the editor, but my point is that there are a lot of ways – and magazines – to go with your story, and the OP shows only the comfortable way.

  9. There was a “Dexter’s Lab” a while back where Dexter created a device that would let him hear what his dog was thinking. It was thinking, quote, “Food for me? Food for me? Food for me?…” That pretty much sums up any dog’s state of mind.

    I actually know a “pet psychic,” although she wasn’t one when I knew her. I worked at a video rental store in high school, and the owner was a lady named Monica Diedrich. 15 years later, I was utterly stunned to see her profiled on the Penn and Teller “BS” episode about ESP (here).

    She never mentioned her “gift” during all the time I worked for her. I do, however, remember that she and her husband were always trying various get-rich-quick schemes. Apparently she finally found one that worked.

  10. Ha! Thanks for the laughs, Rebecca!

    I share your frustration with such “journalists” and their articles, and I would dearly love to see an interview of the sort your fantasy journalist would conduct. It might be even better, though, as as a video presentation, so we could see the “psychic’s” panicky reactions!

    ~Wordplayer

  11. ““Food for me? Food for me? Food for me?…” That pretty much sums up any dog’s state of mind.”

    Now now, dogs often want more than just food. They want walkies, and to make poopers, and to get cuddles. And to kill other dogs. At least my chihuahuas do.

  12. Detroitus: “I always thought a ‘pet psychic’ was a cold reader who slept in a little basket at the foot of my bed…”

    I can see the ad now:
    “Do you have no scruples whatsoever but are too lazy to learn how to cold read? Then maybe a career as a pet psychic is for you!”

    laarree: “Now now, dogs often want more than just food. They want walkies, and to make poopers, and to get cuddles. And to kill other dogs. At least my chihuahuas do.”

    My girlfriend’s dog appears to want to do the following things in the following order:
    1. Eat human food
    2. Be near my girlfriend
    3. Pee and poop

    A higher numbered desire will be consistently sublimated to meet a lower numbered one.

  13. I wonder if her psychic abilities are limited to mammals, of if it extends to reptiles and fish. If so, why stop with the vertebrates. We are all swarming with viruses and bacteria. If this is the case, how can the psychic discern between the subject animal and the bacteria colonizing its colon.

    Thats what I’d like to see, a microbe psychic.

  14. If this is the case, how can the psychic discern between the subject animal and the bacteria colonizing its colon.

    Thats what I’d like to see, a microbe psychic.

    I think it’s called “quantum touch”, but hopefully with rubber gloves.

  15. I emailed the author of the article (Amelia Glynn), pointing out that news articles should contain actual news.

    She wrote back almost immediately, and politely, which was surprising and pleasing. She said, in essence, that a) this isn’t actually news, it’s just a Q&A, “…not an
    endorsement of or proving ground for [Steele’s] practice.” And also b) since there are people out there who consult pet (and other types of) ‘psychics’, that makes it acceptable fodder for an article. And lastly, “freedom of speech.”

    I just wrote back, saying a) by virtue of the article being on a news website, it is, by definition, an endorsement, b) many people believe a lot of things, like that African-Americans shouldn’t be allowed to vote or that homosexuals shouldn’t be allowed to marry, and you wouldn’t do an article on that, would you? And c) you can’t yell fire in a crowded movie house.

    I also added d) how about another article with someone who’s tested a pet psychic, or been burned by a pet psychic? I’ll see if I receive a reply.

    However, by virtue of the fact that the woman wrote me back, clearly, everyone should write her as well – since she’s apparently reading those emails, it might actually have some sort of effect and hence be marginally more effective that just snarking about it in the comments below the original article, or here. Though I do love the snarking.

  16. Sounds like the author’s ‘b)’ should have been:

    “There are people out there dumb enough to think this *is* some kind of journalism, but it doesn’t require that I do any actual work.”

Leave a Reply

You May Also Enjoy

Close
Close