I’ve blogged about human spirits before, but what about beloved pets who passed away? Do they come back in spectral form and haunt the homes and lands of where they lived and roamed?
Sometimes we still feel their muzzles touching our arms, hear their little footsteps in the hall, rubbing against our legs, or the jingling tags on collars. Sometimes we see them. Hear them.
One former owner was author Dusty Rainbolt of Lewisville, Texas. She never believed in apparitions, actually thought that those who did, had “one too many mind-altering experiences in the 1960’s.” Then she had her own ghostly experience with one of her own cats named Maynard. A month after Maynard died, Rainbolt lay in bed when something invisible jump up on to the covers, padded across the bed and settled down at her feet. She felt sure her pet had come back to say goodbye.
Another ghost cat I had heard stories about concerned the one that haunts Ferry Plantation in Virginia Beach, Virginia, along with eleven human phantoms. For too many years beyond a feline’s even nine lives, a cat has been seen and heard in this historical house. When I was there with a paranormal group led by Ghost Eyes, I caught a cat’s meow in the kitchen, where the head docent, , was telling us some of the ghost stories about the place. Like it was at her feet, demanding to be picked up and petted, or fed. And no, there was no cat seen there at the time.
I had a male cat, Ra, that we had to put to sleep, when we lived in El Cajon, California. A friend called me a week later, saying she saw him lying in the kitchen window. "I thought you were taking him to the vet's to be put to sleep due to his condition?" I said, "Kathy, he's been dead a week." Silence. That freaked my friend out. A few times, when I lay on top of the bed, something I could never see would jumped up onto the mattress, walk up to me and lie down. Ra had never left us. I never mind, not like the human spirit that also haunted our place and was one of very few that scared me, along with others who been to visit me and my husband.Another cat, other than one I shared from a chapter in my new nonfiction ghost book later in this blog post, was a cat meowing in the auditorium in the Byrd Theater in Richmond, Virginia, which runs second-run movies.
Dozens of hotels around the country have ghost cats. Some of the more famous ones include The Crescent Hotel in Eureka Springs, Ark., where an orange tabby named Morris (because he looked similar to the spokes cat for the 9 Lives Cat Food) lived in the '70s and '80s. Morris used to greet guests from his favorite chair in the lobby. When he died, the hotel staff buried him in the hotel’s rose garden, but visitors over the years say he still sits in his favorite chair from time to time and has also been seen wandering around the rose garden. In San Antonio, Texas, visitors to the Marriott Plaza San Antonio Hotel claim to have seen a woman wearing a white dress strolling through the upper levels of the hotel with a cat in her arms.
The Los Angeles Pet Cemetery known as L.A. Pet Memorial Park on Old Scandia Lane in Calabasas, California is the final resting place for many of Hollywood’s famous animal actors including cowboy hero Hopalong Cassidy’s horse Topper and Petey the pitbull who starred in the movie Little Rascals. It is at this graveyard that Rudolph Valentino’s Great Dane, Kabar is said to still walk through this hillside cemetery and playfully lick people who stop at his grave around Halloween. The dog died in 1929, three years after his owner's passing.
In another cemetery—a human one—in Richmond, Virginia is the tomb of famous author Ellen Glasgow. After she passed away, there was a stipulation in her will that her two pet dogs that preceded her in death be dug up from the backyard of her home and buried with her. There are those who claim to hear these two dogs running around and whining at the graveside, late at night. Is Ellen tossing them sticks to fetch?
The ghost of a small dog has also been seen coming and going from a
bedroom at the Whaley House in San Diego, California, as well as outside the house in the yard. In Maryland, there’s a ghostly canine that snarls at travelers on certain roads in this state.
The Pony Express hasn’t been used for delivering mail since mid-1800s, but hoof beats of ghost horses are hears galloping pass the Hollenberg Station in Kansas. There’s a cliff in Texas—called Stampede Mesa nowadays—where cattle stampeded over it and perished back in the 1800s. Today, there are those who claim they hear hooves of steers still stampeding.
A bull terrier called Sally was a Union Army mascot at Gettysburg. There are those who say they still hear her growls as if standing over fallen soldiers, protecting them.
There’s a legend about a cat called D.C. that stalks the United States Capitol. It is described as having glowing eyes and appears from shadows at people. It is supposedly always appears before major national disasters. It had been seen before the stock market of 1929 and before President Kennedy’s assassination in ’63. Haven’t heard if it had been seen before September 11, 2001, or other terrible things since or before. Be interesting to find out.
In Blacksburg, Virginia, there once lived an African-American who helped his community by hunting and bringing back game to share with the hungry. Every morning he would go out with his beagle. The dog helped with tracking and scared off larger animals such as bear and wildcat. But one day, the old man did not return. When the community went out to search for him, they found both his body and his dog’s. Apparently, both had been murdered by someone, though no one had ever been caught or convicted. The man and his dog were buried together in a Blacksburg cemetery on top of a nearby hill.
The legend goes on to say that on the anniversary of the hunter’s murder, a dog can be heard barking—sounding exactly like a beagle. Then the dog’s barking switches to a long howl as if mourning both their unsolved deaths.
The Black Dog is a common occurrence in many hauntings. Most of the tales come from Great Britain. Stories such as this are surprisingly common and some of them notably ancient. Sightings of such creatures are in a class of their own in the ghost world. Ghostly black dogs have been seen throughout Britain with few counties being left unaffected, though the form and identity of the beast may differ.
Apparitions of this sort may be distinguished from normal flesh and blood black canines by features such as large or glowing eyes—sometimes only one—their ability to appear or disappear out of thin air or into and out of the ground, no head, two heads; or the ability to change their size or appearance.
The Black Dogs go under many names depending which county you are in. In the north of England in counties such as Yorkshire and Lancashire, you will hear names such as Guytrash, Shriker, or Barguest; in East Anglia and Norfolk you will hear Black Shuck, Skeff, or Moddey Dhoo; and in the south of England you will hear names like Yeth or Wish Hounds. The origin of the word Guytrash is unknown, but Shuck can be traced back to the Old English Scucca, meaning Demon while Barguest may come from the German 'Bargeist' meaning “spirit of the (funeral) bier.” The demon association is sometimes emphasized by the title ‘’Devil Dog.” In the south, Yeth means Heath, while Wish, in a similar vein, is an old Sussex word for marsh. This name for the hounds is widely used in Sussex, but the origin also seems linked to the term Witch Hounds, which is also common. Whether there is any connection between the two is unknown. The names may only be referring to the fact that these dogs are often seen in wild country places. In many places, the dogs are seen as omens of death. To see one means either a portent of your own death or the death of a family member.
But you don’t have to go to the British Isles to see one. There have been some of these beasts reported in Virginia. There’s a legend of one that has been seen in Goochland, big as a young calf as it roamed the county. Sightings of it have always been reported to be near the State Farm, at the entrance to Thorncliff, and also at Chestnut Hill Bottom. Unlike Black Shuck in England, this one has never portended the death of anyone. There have been no tales of this animal seen since 1900 though.
Often, like the traditional Black Dogs seen in Britain, it would appear out of nowhere, trot alongside someone on foot or horseback or in a buggy. Even though it looked fearsome and was very big, it didn’t harm anyone. Some, though, didn’t want the dog accompanying them and would shoot at the animal. The bullets would just pass through its body, frightening the shooters, while the dog just kept trotting beside them.
A lawyer named P. A. L. Smith, Sr. used to walk from his house to the State Farm, where he caught a train into Richmond. On many evenings when he returned he would find the black dog beside him as he headed home.
A woman who lived near the State Farm claimed that the dog entered her house by opening the screen door. She said that it walked over to her old-fashioned icebox, unfastened the door, took out some food, and then shut the door and left the house. An interesting side note about this woman’s house was that other strange phenomena also happened there. Many would come to see the windows and doors of her house rock and rattle for no obvious cause, so when she told of the food-stealing Black Dog many believed her.
Another Black Dog story is set in southwest Virginia, in the Saltville area. In the past, the roads became black and dusty, packed down with cinders from a factory there. Travelers on some of these roads swore they heard footsteps behind them, or saw dust clouds rising, but no horse or wagon would be visible. There would be reports of a dog, black as pitch, encountered on these roads too. It would keep pace with the frightened person and lope through ditches alongside the road, leap fences or pass through them, and go through water, no splashes seen. Some would say that the beast would jump up right behind them as they rode their horse down the road, spooking their horse and them.
A man named Tom Hurt reported an encounter with the Black Dog in the 1900s. When his shift ended at the Mathieson screening plant he walked home. The dog appeared and followed him for a quarter of a mile. Tom decided to test it, so he threw several rocks at it, aiming for the white mark on its head. Instead of hitting the animal, the rocks apparently passed through and left it unharmed. Tom shot five lead balls from his gun into it, but once again, the dog was unhurt. Frightened, Tom felt he had to destroy it. But as they neared British Row, the dog bolted ahead and vanished at a large bridge on the road. Just then, Tom heard a woman’s panicked voice, screaming. Worried that the dog could be attacking someone else, Tom got a neighbor from a nearby house to help him search for the woman. It didn’t matter. Even with lanterns, they could find neither the woman nor the dog.
Though other residents of Saltville say they have seen it from time to time, its mystery remains unsolved.
In Mathews County, there is a legend of two black, headless ones seen running in the woods of Old House Woods.
Then there’s the spectral hound of Blue Ridge.
According to the tale, this massive black hound was seen along Skyline Drive during the late seventeenth century. At that time, there was a pass traveled by people going from Botetourt County to Bedford County and also used by visitors accessing the mineral springs. Just at sunset, along the wildest section of this pass, the black dog would appear. It would pace in a listening attitude for 200 feet and then return back the way it came. It did this each night, starting at sunset and dissipating at the crack of dawn. The animal’s legend grew from one end of the commonwealth to the other. Some believed it was sent by some master to watch, others thought it was a witch dog. No matter what they thought, all were frightened by this apparition.
During one night with a full moon, a party decided to arm themselves and make it through the pass, dog or not dog. As they approached, they saw a dog bigger than any dog they had ever seen before. They urged their steeds on. But the horses snorted with fear, and in spite of whip, spur, and rein, would not go near the dog. The dog kept pacing as if no one was near. The men were unable to make the pass by horseback until daylight. Their comrades laughed at them when they told the tale.
So they decided to wait in ambush with guns, kill the animal, and bring in its hide. As the last light of day faded away the dog appeared and began his march as usual. They fired at him, over and over. Not one bullet appeared to hit it. Frightened, the hunters fled back to civilization.
And so, the dog continued to do this each night for the next seven years until one day a beautiful woman came over from Europe, searching for her missing husband. Eight years before, he had come over to make her a home in the new land. She had traced him to Bedford County, but at that point it was if he vanished off the face of the earth. There seemed to be nothing more she could do, until she heard of the tale of the great black dog that night after night kept vigil on the pass. She begged to be taken there, wondering if it was her husband’s dog. When the dog saw her he came over to her. He laid his head in her lap, then stood up and walked a short way, pausing to look back as if making sure she followed him. He led her to a large rock and with a whine, began to dig at the ground. Suddenly, with a low wail, he vanished.
The woman told the others to dig at that spot, but at the time they had brought her there, no one thought to bring digging implements. Someone galloped off on horseback to get some. When he came back with the tools, they dug until they found the skeletons of a man and a dog. The man’s bony hand had a seal ring circle one finger. He also had heraldic embroidery in silk that the woman recognized as something she had made for him. They removed the bones for proper burial and she returned home. According to the legend, after that day, the dog was never seen again.
Another spectral canine is a headless one that some say they have seen in the Northern Neck area of Virginia, east of Fredericksburg. It appears in creek bottoms when mists often rose above marshes. This headless beast is said to wander for the most part, in the lower section of the Neck—mostly alone, though there are occasions that he is joined by a companion. This companion is not always one shape, but three different ones— a white mule, a headless man, or another dog, this one with a head with glaring red eyes. Though not black as the other spectral dogs seen in Virginia, it is brown and large as a calf. It wears a chain around its neck that drags on the ground and rattles as it moves. The legend goes on to say that it is seen at night, between Cockrell’s Neck and Heathsville, and only after or before a local resident’s death.
There is a belief that the Devil pays visits to people in the form of a dog. Most of these visits are to men who lead notorious, wicked lives. Like the story of an old rich man who owned a lot of slaves and led a wicked life. He had been married four or five times, each wife would become ill and die, or be found dead for no apparent reason. With their deaths, he inherited a lot of money. When his slaves died, he wouldn’t let anyone come help bury them. It was thought he killed them.
As he lay dying, the neighbors came to sit with him. It was midnight and everyone expected him to die at any time. There came a noise at the door. Someone got up and opened it. A large black dog with eyes as big as saucers and glowing like balls of fire stood there. It entered and walked up to the bed. It reared up to place its front paws on mattress at the foot of the bed and stared at the old man. The old man screamed that the Devil had come for him. He tried to escape by getting out of bed, but fell back and died.
As for the dog, without a sound, it turned around and went back out the door, never to be seen again.
The last spectral dog spooky story is set in the Eastern Shore, in the Seymour House in Accomac. An elderly aunt was visiting the house and grew ill while there. A strange black dog no one knew or seen before appeared mysteriously on the stairway. No reason had been given why, but one of the household shot at it on the fourth step as it began to climb the stairs. The animal dissipated, and when they searched, they couldn’t find it. The aunt passed away four days later. Had this creature about to steal her soul? Or was this a foretelling of her death? Whatever the reason, no one ever saw it again.
“Ghost Cat” from Haunted Richmond II:
We have a third cat and it’s not even a living one. When I first saw it, it was back in January 2011. I had walked into our laundry room to take some wash out of the washer and put into the dryer. Now, our laundry room is not big. I looked down at the open maw of our dryer and saw the upper gray body and tail of a small cat turning around. Naturally, I thought it was our older cat, Ripley, as she is small and gray, but when I flipped on the light switch by me, there was no cat to be seen anywhere! There was no way for her to have dashed out the door, as I stood in it and she would have smacked my legs.
I turned around and stepped out. Our other younger black cat, Bast, had this wide-eyed freaked out look and she sat there tensed. I walked into the living room, looking for Ripley, and found her asleep on the floor. That whole night, as I sat on the couch, I would look toward the doorway that led into the kitchen and where you could see the doorway of the laundry room, watching Bast stalk slowly to the laundry room and peek in as if looking for something. Even when she lay down on the floor outside of the laundry room she kept staring at it.
The next time I had an encounter with the ghostly gray kitty was when I came home one morning a couple of weeks later from exercising at Curves. With the door open, sunlight filtered in, and I caught a gray cat rearing up on its forelegs to peer into the top hole of Bast’s kitty-condo. Then it dissipated right before my eyes! I stepped over there and saw Bast in the living room, body tensed and looking freaked out. Again, I found Ripley asleep on top of the couch.
My adult son, Chris, was next to see the feline spirit. He rushed into the office/sewing room, yelling, “I saw the ghost cat!”
Bill and I looked at him. He blurted out, “I saw it standing in the doorway leading into the kitchen. It disappeared.”
Ripley was in the office at that time, as Bill was in there and whenever Bill is home, you can be sure to find his gray shadow. Even Bast was, too.
Who is this phantom feline? Chris thought it was our past cat, Samhain, who passed away from a heart murmur some years ago at the age of thirteen. He thought the cat was black, but I know the color gray when I see it and know it was not Sam that I saw. Whatever it is, it doesn’t bother me. Now I can say I have another cat... It’s just not alive.
So, with so many stories of beloved animals coming back from the dead to visit us is it any wonder that many search for proof beyond death. Not just for humans, but for animals, too. Have you had a pet return to you, or do you know a story of one? Leave a comment, telling about it.