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Are there such things as ghostly pets? There's a somewhat long and short answer to the question.
The long answer involves whether you believe animals have souls. If they don't, then they lack the "residual energy" necessary to become a ghost once the body dies, because ghosts are the manifestations of a departed soul. Having a soul opens the possibility of a faithful dog or affectionate cat returning from the dead.
If that's a little long and complicated, then we offer a shorter answer: Why not?
One thing is for sure: there is no shortage of legends of ghostly pets. The most reported ghostly animals, according to researchers, are dogs, followed by cats and horses. It isn't hard to imagine why a dog's soul would linger after the body has died. Dogs are so focused on their owners, their souls are often unwilling to depart. Cats, too, are beholden to a particular person or place, and their souls may not be able to imagine themselves anywhere else.
Horses are a little more complicated. Ghosts of horses tend to be connected with events, especially those connected with the American Civil War. It's as if these moments in history were so tragic that they took on a life of their own.
Perhaps our pets never really leave us. Perhaps they just wait for us to join them.
Loyalty Beyond the Grave
Rusty was the classic mutt. And in classic fashion, he acquired his owners, rather than the other way around, by finding himself a family – in this case the Ahrens family of Wisconsin.
Mike Ahrens always wanted a dog, but his wife Bridget was against the idea. She worried the canine would careen wildly through the house, knocking over the antiques, digging up the yard, and making enemies of the neighbors.
But Mike persuaded her to give Rusty a chance. Rusty was a brownish, medium-sized dog that had hints of Labrador, bulldog and hound. He promptly fulfilled Bridget's expectations and added a few others – he escaped the yard and made acquaintance with some of the female dogs in the area before the Ahrens.
Rusty did have one redeeming quality. He was devoted to Stephen, the couple's 2-year-old son. Rusty took Stephen's playful tail pulling and the poking in stride. He slept outside Stephen's room and was there to greet the boy when he woke up.
Rusty continued to find ways to escape the yard, leaving for a few hours and then returning on his own. One day, however, he was crossing the road in front of the Ahrens house when a car struck him. The Ahrens rushed him to the vet, but his conditioned worsened quickly. Wanting to spare Rusty pain, they decided to euthanize him. The family grieved – losing Rusty had punched a hole in their lives.
A month later, Stephen was walking with his mother along the same stretch of road when he broke free from her hand and ran after a ball he saw in the street … and into the path of an oncoming car. But before the car struck, something threw Stephen to the curb.
Bridget ran to her son. He was shaken and crying, but unhurt. The driver, relieved that the boy was all right, said he was sorry he couldn't avoid their dog, but that he was a hero.
Perplexed, Bridget said there wasn't any dog in the road. The driver insisted there was – a brown dog had knocked Stephen out of the way, and the car had hit the dog. "I felt the wheels going over the dog's body," he said.
When they looked, the dog – if there was a dog – was gone. When asked if he saw a dog, Stephen nodded and said, "It was Rusty."
The Phantom Cat
Cats crave routine, which is why so many people report seeing ghostly apparitions at specific times. A cat may return at the same time as her feeding, or at the time she expects her owner to return from work. Sometimes a cat is just not ready to say goodbye.
One story tells how a cat was taken to a veterinary office, where she was diagnosed with feline leukemia. The cat was put to sleep, and the grieving owners prepared to donate the cat's carrier and other belongings to the local shelter.
The owners put the cage and personal belongings of the cat in the back seat. As they began driving, the woman felt a familiar presence – then she heard a familiar "meow." She looked in the rearview mirror and saw her tabby, sitting in her carrier. The woman slammed on the brakes.
Her husband looked back and saw the tabby clearly – no ghostly apparition, the cat looked like flesh and blood. The couple looked at one another – was it possible that their cat somehow made it out of the vet's office and into the car – even after getting the fatal injection?
The cat didn't answer. She meowed again, and looked at them expectantly. Guilt-stricken and not knowing what else to do, they drove back to the vet's office, talking in soothing tones. The cat laid down in the carrier and appeared to go to sleep. The couple looked at each other again, but when they turned back to their tabby, she was gone.
The Ghostly Horses of Lincoln's Funeral Train
On April 21, 1865, a black train left Washington D.C., bearing the body of Abraham Lincoln. His body would cross 1,654 miles of a grieving country to his final resting place in Springfield, Ill. From the train, a horse-drawn hearse traveled local roads, allowing ordinary citizens to witness and memorialize the slain president.
Lincoln predicted his own death. It's said that the night before his assassination, Lincoln dreamed he walked into a room filled with servants and soldiers surrounding around a body. He asked what had happened. "Someone has shot the president." Lincoln looked down and saw himself. He ignored the premonition and went to Ford's Theater, where he was shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth.
Not long afterward, reports that Lincoln was seen walking the halls of the White House emerged. Even now, his presence is felt especially in what is now the Lincoln bedroom, originally the 16th president's personal office. Future presidents, their families and visitors have reported seeing, dreaming, feeling or even talking with the ghost of Lincoln.
But his death may have been so tragic that its power extended beyond the White House. The funeral train is a common local legend along the route traveled. The black train is seen running along tracks that no longer exist. Surrounding his body are skeletons clad in blue uniforms – soldiers killed during the Civil War, guarding their president.
In towns scattered across the funeral route, the horses that draw the hearse are also seen. Often 14 or 16 horses, covered in blankets, pull the hearse along the main street. Different towns have slightly different versions of the legend. Some say the horses are guided by skeleton-soldiers; others say the horses themselves are skeletons.
But the horses are always part of the scene, retracing the solemn steps they took 136 years ago to lay President Lincoln to rest.