Pet owners all over the world call Columbus animal psychic seeking answers.

The cat is staring at you again. That glare, impossible to decipher, won't let up. Once you've ruled out the need for more food or affection, the meowing begins. What could she possibly want? And why does she always do this?

Jacquelin Smith says she can tell you. Or, rather, she can help the cat tell you. Smith prefers the job title "animal communicator" over "psychic," though they mean the same thing - she telepathically speaks with animals all over the world.

While the Columbus resident has previously traveled to hang out with wild gorillas and Galapagos Islands tortoises, most of the time she works from home, using her phone to connect with concerned animal lovers seeking help with behavioral problems, missing pets or grief over deceased animals. The phone works well, Smith says, because space is inconsequential in telepathy.

She believes she was one of the first two animal communicators in the country when she started more than 30 years ago. In the past 10 years there's been a surge in demand for animal psychic services, Smith says, and a quick Google search now pulls up hundreds of communicators. Smith might be responsible for some of the newcomers; she regularly holds training workshops.

The practice's popularity is due in part to TV shows starring Sonya Fitzpatrick and "dog whisperer" Cesar Millan, who Smith and her psychic friends say uses telepathy (When I asked him about it, Millan said he's flattered by their assumption, and though he believes he has some natural ability to understand dogs' thoughts, he still needs to develop the skill).

So what do experts in the veterinary field think about the ability of Smith and her colleagues to speak with animals, a practice which no doubt has many skeptics?

"Often it's helpful for the owner. It helps them feel like they're making connections with their pets," said Dr. Meghan E. Herron, a veterinarian who runs the Behavioral Medicine Clinic at Ohio State's College of Veterinary Medicine. "I don't have any scientific evidence for or against whether what a psychic is picking up is actually accurate. That's left to whether you believe that or not."

She pointed out that animals feel emotions the same way humans do - their limbic system, which controls feelings such as anger, fear and pleasure, is very similar to ours - but said they physically aren't capable of complex emotions such as, say, remorse.

Her start

Smith, a people psychic who had worked as a dog trainer and veterinary assistant, decided while visiting a zoo in the 1970s to try a little experiment. She mentally picked out one animal in the zebra enclosure.

"I sent out the thought, 'If you can hear me, turn around, walk over to me and stand in front of me.' And literally within three seconds, the zebra turned around - it was way across the exhibit - walked over to me and stood in front of me," she recounted.

Smith said she thought it could have been a fluke, so she tried to communicate with a gorilla. The gorilla showed her images of being in a crate on a ship, she said, and when she researched the animal, she learned he had been shipped from Africa.

"So I thought, well this is more than coincidence. That kind of started me, and I was off and running," she said.

Images are often the way animals express thoughts, according to Smith. Animals don't think in words.

"When animals communicate, we receive it through thoughts and images or words that get translated through our brains in a way so that we can understand what they're saying," she explained. "They're just sending out an energy."

Smith said she usually receives an enthusiastic response from animals.

"Most animals I communicate with now are always very excited and sometimes surprised, saying, 'Oh my gosh! You're human and you're listening to me. You can actually hear me,'" she said.

Her clients

When an animal goes missing, Smith said she is usually able either to help the owners find it or to tell the animal how to find its way home. She also works to resolve behavioral issues; some of the calls she receives are from people so distraught that they are ready to put their animals down.

She frequently offers practical advice to human companions. Sometimes behavioral problems are solved when Smith suggests the animal be treated by a vet, who then discovers the animal is sick.

Kathy Sheehan of Dublin sought help from Smith when her new Labrador, Daisy, was acting aggressive toward her older dog, Callie. According to Sheehan, Smith essentially told Daisy that she needed to let Callie be the No. 1 dog, but that the two would receive the same amount of love and food.

"Within an hour, Daisy went over and laid down next to Callie," Sheehan said. "That had just never happened. Never happened. So there was this dramatic change in behavior within an hour of doing this consult with Jacquelin."

Every so often, the two dogs get on each other's bad side again, and Sheehan contacts Smith each time.

"I'd call her, and there would always be a change in their behavior afterward," she said. "My husband still says he's skeptical about all this, but he said he noticed there were differences in their behavior."

Not all of Smith's clients have animals in dangerous situations. Smith has requested that a group of mice leave a woman's shed, explained to a dog that there was no need to walk backward and worked with a race horse that would only run three-quarters of the way around tracks. And then there was Simone.

Patricia DuBois, who runs a "geriatric llama farm" in southwestern New York, has called Smith multiple times over the years. But the case of Simone stands out in her mind.

One day, her llamas were in the field, DuBois said. It started to storm, so almost all of the llamas ran into the barn. Simone remained in the rain. She refused to move, even when DuBois tried with all her might to push her. After a while, DuBois managed to get Simone in the barn, but then the llama refused to go back out. She remained there for many weeks while the other llamas enjoyed sunning themselves.

"She seemed fine, she looked fine, but she had this faraway look in her eyes," DuBois explained. She called Smith. Smith communicated with the troubled animal and told DuBois that Simone had been near a lightning strike. But Simone didn't budge from the barn after that session. Smith reached out to Simone a second time. Still no change.

On the day Smith had a third session with her - almost six months to the day after the storm - DuBois said she was shocked to see the big, white llama saunter out onto the field and lay down in the sun for the rest of the day.

"It was a miracle - an absolute miracle - what she was able to do for this llama," DuBois said. "I called everyone I knew in the llama community and said, 'You're not going to believe this.'"

Dealing with death

Smith also helps clients determine whether an old or ailing animal is ready to be put down, and she says she can communicate with those who have already died. There can be a lot of crying during those phone calls, she said.

Lynette Carpenter of Delaware called Smith after her cat Cleo was blinded by a stroke. Smith told her Cleo felt ready to pass on.

"To me that's very comforting. You don't want to let go, and so it's hard," Carpenter said, adding later, "It was like being told what you really do know."

New Albany resident Laurie Gregory said she felt enlightened and moved when Smith communicated with Blair, her golden retriever that died tragically.

"She never met [Blair], but she knew her. It was like she had had a cup of tea with somebody," Gregory said.

There's no way to prove that animals, alive or dead, tell Smith what she says they do. But for those who do believe, the emotional benefits can be very real.

"It was uplifting and so healing and so helpful," Gregory said.