First published in The Record, Jan. 3, 2019
Channeling pets for $200 an hour
The pets of Shira Plotzker’s divination are vainglorious beasts. They feel no shame. Silas the Goldendoodle knows he’s smarter than his brother Boomer, but Boomer doesn’t care because he is Daddy’s favorite.
Thumper, an African grey parrot who lives in Upper Saddle River, believes he looks divine. So does Frosty the cat.
Recently, Plotzker found herself in telepathic communication with Gertie, a black kitten located 30 miles away from Plotzker’s home in West Nyack, New York. Plotzker was not provided a photograph of the cat, nor have the two ever met.
Nevertheless, Plotzker said, an exploration of Gertie’s mind revealed a beautiful creature who’s dumb as a post.
“When you’re this good-looking,” said Plotzker, 60, claiming to plumb Gertie’s innermost depths, “who needs to think?”
Plotzker markets herself as a medium, a psychic, a person gifted with the ability to decipher the future and channel voices from the past. Tarot cards and mystical numerology serve as her primary tools, but she functions just fine without them; in conversation, Plotzker’s mind seems to operate like an open microphone in a haunted auditorium, as dozens of dead relatives elbow for a chance to speak.
She charges $200 per hour.
“Your grandfather on your mother’s side thinks you’re a little too thin,” Plotzker said to your admittedly skinny correspondent.
Plotzker also is a pet psychic. This means she hears the voices of pets, living or dead. She has enjoyed chats with a chinchilla, a bearded dragon and a gecko. A boa constrictor named Jenny told Plotzker she knows many people who believe snakes are disgusting.
Jenny finds this hilarious, Plotzker said.
Plotzker has talked to a turtle at a wildlife preserve near her home in Rockland County, and elephants at the Tampa Zoo. A woman once called Plotzker from a hotel desperate to find Thumper, her pet skunk.
Through remote telecommunication, Plotzker located the animal sleeping in a box in the hotel room’s closet, she said.
“I don’t know if I could necessarily look at a rat in person,” said Plotzker, “but I can talk to him over the phone.”
Plotzker’s faith in her abilities is so strong, in fact, she occasionally channels pet personalities before a live audience. Such an event occurred recently at the Upper Saddle River Public Library, where she faced a room of 20 pet owners.
The event was free to all comers. Still, the risks were obvious immediately. Plotzker’s intuitions arrive like automatic gunfire. Jokes, accusations and rapprochements pile up so quickly, sometimes it seems she barely has time to breathe.
“Shade says thank you for saving his life,” Plotzker said as she channeled the dog of Renee Frei, a resident of Upper Saddle River. “Also, thanks for the change in food, mom. I’m not farting as much.”
Over the course of two hours, Plotzker claimed to enter the brains of 38 pets. Occasionally her words seemed jarringly on-point.
“She got everything right,” said Jennifer Hart, 46, who lives in Upper Saddle River with Thumper and Sammy, a pair of African grey parrots. “I mean, she clearly has a gift.”
But with every sentence, Plotzker risked public scorn. Because inevitably, she got stuff wrong. She said Oreo the cat died alone, when actually Oreo died alongside Leila Miller, the cat's owner. She suggested Betty Rappaport’s granddaughter enjoys a close bond with Kati, Rappaport’s cat.
In fact, Kati lives in Rappaport’s home in Mahwah. The granddaughter lives 8,000 miles away, in India.
“For some people, she seemed to nail it,” said Rappaport, who also works as a medium. “But with me, she had it totally wrong.”
If the animals involved were even aware of it, perhaps they found the event soothing. Finally, someone speaks their language! As an audience member, however, watching Plotzker commune with pets is a scary spectacle, like seeing a circus performer walk a tightrope without a net.
“It’s eerie,” said Lori Pletenik, 51, a Paterson resident who asked about her parrot Wally. “I’m a Christian, and I shouldn’t believe in psychics. But everything she says is just so unbelievable.”
In heaven, dogs don’t drool
Silas the dog fancies himself an interior designer. He has strong opinions about color. He loves the way his owner, Bridget Schweisguth, renovated the first floor of their home in Mahwah, even though the project required Silas and his brother, Boomer, to stay locked inside an upstairs bedroom.
Also, Silas abhors the color blue.
“Tell Daddy I need a red bandanna,” Plotzker said on the dog’s behalf. “This blue one is a piece of crap.”
Schweisguth laughed. Next, Plotzker asked whether Boomer appears in an album of Christmas photos.
“Uhhhhh,” Schweisguth said.
“The answer is yes,” said Plotzker. “And Boomer’s in it!”
In time it was conceded that Boomer makes a regular appearance in Schweisguth’s annual Christmas card.
“There you go,” Plotzker said.
Other exchanges required less tooth pulling. Kris Spindler handed Plotzker a photograph of a Labrador retriever named Cody. Plotzker praised Cody as the happiest dog in the world. Even now, after his death, Cody is happy in heaven.
“Cody likes that you took a piece of his hair before he died,” Plotzker said.
“Cody says, ‘You have a shrine for me in the living room,” said Plotzker, “and you’re waiting to put my picture up.’ ”
Spindler placed her hands over her mouth. As tears fell down her cheeks, she nodded yes.
A few minutes later, Jennifer Hart handed Plotzker photos of Sammy and Thumper, the parrots. Sammy likes his new birdseed, Plotzker said, and he loves the sardines.
The bird had just one complaint.
“Sammy wants to know where the apples went,” Plotzker said.
“Oh! Gosh!” said Hart. “Yeah, we stopped giving them apples because the sugar content wasn’t good for Thumper.”
Sammy (or Plotzker, or some combination thereof) found this solution intolerable.
“I don’t think so!” Plotzker said. “I am not Thumper. I am Sammy! I should be able to have the apples back. I like the taste of them. Also they kept my poops regular.”
Hart laughed. She agreed to feed Sammy apples again.
The evening progressed in this manner, with Plotzker pinging between public humiliation and apparent clairvoyance. She told Wendy Guskind that her miniature dachshund, Pepe, didn’t miss her golden retriever Cubby, now deceased.
“Pepe said he’s glad Cubby doesn’t drool in his food anymore,” Plotzker said, “which is a blessing.”
Next Plotzker said Pepe loves jumping up into Guskind’s chair to snuggle.
“He really doesn’t sit on chairs,” Guskind said. “Because, you know, dachshunds have short legs."
Perhaps the confusion was due to Plotzker’s rule that participants bring photographs of their pets, not the animals themselves.
“I’m allergic to pets,” she said.