It was a yawning Monday morning in Maine. Above me, the sky was filled with Earl Grey–colored clouds. A gentle rain fell from them, drumming the aluminum roof of my car like bony fingers. I flipped on the driver-side butt-warmer then reached over and turned on the passenger’s as well. I was the only human in the car, but I wasn’t alone. My dog Maybe Trouble was riding shotgun, and my other road dog, Huckleberry, sat in the back. Today, the three of us would be visiting a pet psychic.

The very act of spending money on gasoline and a full workday to visit a person who claimed to be a modern-day Dr. Doolittle, with all the vast, wicked, and unjust things going on in the world, struck me as absurd, perhaps useless. But there I was, and it was happening. Something hidden somewhere within me told me that this trip going to be more than a twee voyage to a pet whisperer.

So we drove. The dogs snored and farted while I wondered how this would work. What exactly does one do during a pet-psychic consultation? Was I supposed to come prepared with an objective, a list of specific questions or detailed pet problems in need of a diagnosis and prescription? Whose problems were they supposed to be — the dogs’? Or my issues with them? Also, would she sue us if they bit?

***

My husband Andrew adopted Maybe, a furry, overweight, cantaloupe-shaped Jack Russell terrier with tremendous eyebrows, right before he and I met. Not long after we began dating, I adopted a mutt from Kentucky — a bluetick coonhound–Shar-Pei mix that looked like he needed a Sherlock Holmes hat and pipe. He was brought to us from a dog-rescue group called “Recycled Treasures.” I named him Huckleberry. The dogs quickly became a part of our little family: we took weekend road trips together, we celebrated the dogs’ birthdays, got them holiday presents. We called our parents their grandparents; the dogs were their “granimals.”

All of this changed when I got pregnant. Now we have two kids. Human ones. I can’t remember what it felt like to give birth, but I still recall the look on Huck and Maybe’s furry faces when I left for the hospital to go deliver my son. It’s like they already knew: that they were being downgraded, that they were about to turn into an item on a checklist (daily chore number three: walk dogs). I felt terribly guilty about this. And lately, the dogs had been acting out — running away in the woods, giving strangers attitude, chewing up the kids’ toys. So I figured I’d bring this up with the pet psychic.

Enlightened Horizons was located in an old railroad station house near the White Mountains of New Hampshire — a crème-brûlée-colored office building that looked like a dollhouse in the center of North Conway. The building smelled like cupcakes. I knocked on the door to the office of Enlightened Horizons and was greeted by Sara Moore, proprietor, intuitive healer, psychic medium for people and pets, Reiki master, hypnotist, and the woman we’d be working with today. The dogs greeted Sara with wagging tails (Huck attempted a mouth-kiss), and she greeted them right back with the unbridled joy of a golden retriever.

“So,” I began, settling in, “they’re both rescues.” I said this almost as an explanation, but really, it sounded like an apology, as Huck was already clamoring and barking loudly at the window at a UPS delivery truck in the parking lot below.

“Oh, Huck doesn’t think he’s a rescue,” Sara quickly retorted. “His attitude is ‘No one would ever abandon me.’ He has absolutely no abandonment issues, which is actually really cool, because this goes directly into you,” she said.

I steadied myself and held on.

“I close my eyes — it turns off my ego — and I think in pictures. The way you see your breakfast is the way I see what they’re talking about. So they show me in my head. It’s like I’m looking at a memory, but it’s a movie screen. And I’m also an empath, so I’ll feel what they’re feeling.”

I looked over at Maybe, who had made herself quite at home and was snoring in the corner of the room. Huck, on the other hand, had tuned in and was practically climbing up into Sara’s lap.

We continued to talk a little bit about our dogs’ issues, about Maybe’s attacking anyone who walked into our house, about Huck’s relentless baying, barking, and occasionally lunging at everything that moved. “My husband says these two are the most magnificent pains in the ass,” I said.

“Oh, he is,” Sara confirmed, referring to Huck. “But he is also saying this: I’m also here for a purpose. I’m here to make sure you find your way, to clear the way for you. So when you think about you finding your way, doors are opening for you, and they’re opening very easily; he wants credit for that.”

I looked over at Huck, who was now staring straight back at me. He wagged his tail.

“Huck is the one pulling you forward enough and giving you the inspiration that you need,” Sara continued. “I’m not sure if you’ve written about this or not, but there is a divine story in there that the dogs have conjured. Just divine.”

Sara was spot on. The reason we lived in Maine was the dogs. Before we’d had kids, Andrew and I had left Brooklyn. We’d had it up to our breaking point, and we owed so much of it to our pets. When we weren’t working (or, overworking), we were in the dog park with the pups. Like, always. Mornings before work, evenings afterward. For hours. And the weekends. Andrew and I were often irritated, stressed, and bickered.

The dogs must’ve picked up on this energy, because they started acting out and nipping randomly at strangers. Their misbehaviors led us to say “Enough is enough,” pack up shop, and start life over in a slower setting: a tiny island off the coast of Maine. Since then, life has mostly done a 180 for the better. But I told Sara that lately, the dogs had started acting out again. “What’s up with that?”

“Here’s what he wants you to know: I need you to make me sit, stay, walk. Be more authoritative. More than that, I want you to be more present.” And just like that, the conversation shifted from my questions about the dogs to the dogs being answers to questions I’d had about myself but, up until that point, hadn’t realized, at least consciously.

HEY, HUMAN. PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR SURROUNDINGS, Sara went on, paraphrasing for Huckleberry. “The intricacies are in the details,” she said. “Why are you not there right now? Just because you’re a writer doesn’t mean you should stay in your shell all the time.”

Until recently, I’d thought that’s what was required by writers. You sit in your cave like a hermit. You surround yourself with your work, and you keep your nose hard to the ground. But this kind of approach wasn’t making me thrive.

“You have to get out and meet people and expand your audience and expand your mind,” she sang. “Huck wants you to pay attention to the world around you. That’s why he and Maybe act out.” I lowered my hand down to Huck’s velvet fur and petted his head. “They want you to know that you can’t go around the world with your head in a bubble.”

She was right. It was winter. I was on a book deadline. I had gotten lazy and was staying in my house, on an island, not showering and not taking the dogs to the woods as much.

“Ouch! That hurts!” Sara squeaked, interrupting my thoughts. “Your late grandmother on your mother’s side is making my butt hurt. She’s here right now. Did she have any hip issues? Because she’s here and letting me know.”

I took a breath. My grandmother died from incredibly painful rheumatoid arthritis and limped with a cane. Sara’s accuracy didn’t make my heart skip a beat; it felt more like she was relaying a message from a friend. Which, depending on what you believe, I suppose she was.

Shortly after that, our time was up. The four of us hugged, the dogs and I got in the car, drove back to the ferry that would take us to our little island in Maine, and that was that.

***

Months have passed since meeting with Sara. Her observations allowed me to see things from a different perspective, which is exactly what I needed. The older we get, the more we get locked into cycles and habits and ways of being in and viewing the world. We lose the ability to see things in a new and innocent light. We all know this.

The hard part is taking the leap and actually being open to someone helping you change (even if that someone is a canine) and trusting that you will be able to grow from it. My dogs aren’t just my pets — they’re my spirit animals. True, one looks like a potato on toothpicks and the other has a police record in three states, but regardless, Huckleberry and Maybe are helping me chart my course. What Sara Moore interpreted from them was that I must slow down, look, listen, and let my guide dogs lead me to the best place I’m supposed to be.

Mira Ptacin is the author of the memoir Poor Your Soul (Soho Press, 2016) and the forthcoming book The In-Betweens (Liveright/W.W. Norton). @miraptacin