Doing What You Love: The Edge Interview with Lena Swanson


A Conversation on Animal Communication & Shamanic Healing

Once there was a time when Lena Swanson taught young Hmong children to speak English. For 22 years she was an educator, and she loved it dearly. Then 9/11 happened. And shortly afterward her sister, to whom she was very close, died suddenly from a pulmonary embolism, and Lena’s world suddenly had turned upside down.

She began to wonder if there wasn’t something else out there that she was supposed to be doing. And as hard as it is to imagine now — years later when she is known far and wide as a trusted pet whisperer — Lena had never heard of animal communication before the age of 47.

“I was an elementary teacher,” she said. “I was not into the metaphysical world at all. I didn’t even know animal communication was possible. I had known about psychic readings, past lives. I was open, but I wasn’t familiar.”

A woman who visited her home frequently to provide Reiki healing to her Golden Retriever with painful arthritis and to her cats told her one day, “Lena, you are so intuitive and you love animals so much. You should take an animal communication class.”

So she did. But her initial foray into the world of pets and intuition was frustrating and she was not very good at it. Following her sister’s sudden death, Lena tried again, because she loves animals and really wanted to be able to do it. This time she took a weekend animal communication class out in the country on a hobby farm populated by cats and dogs and other critters large and small, including the shy cat Cricket who hid out downstairs.

Tell me more about Cricket.
Lena Swanson: It was at the weekend class and we were given a list of questions, very simple things, like “What color is your bed?” “Who’s your friend?” “What kind of food do you like?” The teacher gave us a list of her hobby farm animals and said, “We’re going to take a short break, and then go and talk to the animal of your choice, and then come back and we’ll share.” One of my golden retrievers at home was sick, so I remember thinking, “I’m going to talk with him and see if I can find out what is wrong with him.” It didn’t have to be an animal from the hobby farm.

She told us that one of the cats she had, named Cricket, was extremely shy. We could talk to her, but we probably wouldn’t see her. She said Cricket would never come out, because she was way too shy. So I went to the basement to go to the bathroom, and when I came out, there was Cricket. She was there waiting for me. And I was like, “Whoa, there is that shy cat she talked about.”

And then Cricket looked at me and I heard her clear as a bell say to me, “I want to talk with you.”

I wanted to check in with my dog at home, but I said to myself, “Lena, that cat is talking to you. Talk to her.” It was our break time, so I told Cricket, “Okay, but I want to get a cookie.”

And just like a bossy cat would, she said, “Okay, but hurry up.”

I was still teaching elementary school and all of this was all so new to me. I went upstairs and wondered if I was crazy. I got a cookie and then figured I wouldn’t see Cricket again if I went back downstairs. So I went back down and she was in one of the rooms, up on the window sill ledge.

She said, “I want to talk to you.”

So I sat on the floor and started asking her questions on our class practice sheet. And then finally I asked her the final question on the sheet, “Do you have any pain?”

And she said, “We’ve known each other before.”

I thought she meant she had been one of my cats back when I was a kid or something, and then she said to me, “It’s good to see you again, my darling!”

I immediately got so emotional — and I’m not that kind of person who cries easily. She started showing me images of a lifetime we had together during medieval times. She was the chambermaid’s daughter and I was the son of the king, and we were having an affair. She didn’t tell me all of this right way, just enough so I knew I had been emotionally attached to the soul in that cat’s body. I was just crying. And then suddenly it felt like male hands, male energy, on top of my hands, holding me, and comforting me. Oh, I was a mess. Finally, I didn’t know what else to do so I started asking her the questions again, like, “What do you like to eat?”

Then the teacher called us back, and I thought, “Oh my gosh, this is really something to share.” Luckily I was the last person to share, because it took me a long time to pull myself together. I was so emotional. Everybody in the class was open to these kinds of things, and they weren’t questioning at all.

After the Sunday session, I went home and took a bath, and that Cricket came back and told me the whole story. That’s how I learned about everything, how our relationship was discovered and the king had her killed.

That was all so interesting, so I thought, “If I could get images from this cat and I can hear words and I get feelings, this is what it’s about. This is what they were teaching.” So then I started practicing on the animals of family and friends — for free, I wasn’t charging anything — and I did that for several months. And then people started telling me that I was getting good information. Because my sister had passed away, my whole life was changing at that time, so I left teaching and started doing this.

I imagine many people would find it strange to consider that a person can reincarnate into an animal’s body. What have you learned about that experience?
I’ve learned that other animal communicators have revealed that experience when speaking to animals. Animals are very adept at talking about past lives. They don’t need to be regressed like people do. They can just tell you all about it. A couple of years later I got some training in past life regression, and when I was doing a past life regression on a woman one time, she immediately went to a past life as a neglected dog, with all of the emotion and everything.

You’ll meet people in the metaphysical world who say that’s impossible. In my experience, I’ve had a lot of animals give me detailed information about past lives they’ve had with their people, and in that case of the past life regression, that woman actually talked during the regression about being a dog. I personally think it’s very possible. I’ve had my animals come back and reincarnate as my pets.

Actually, one of my clients had the experience of his grandmother reincarnating as his rescue dog. The guy had such a close relationship with his grandmother, and she came back as a rescued yellow lab mix. I know for some people that is so far-fetched, and even the fact that you can talk with deceased animals, they say, “No, I’m not going there.” Some people have problems with it because of their religious backgrounds, but it doesn’t refute anything I am doing or the people who do believe that. It’s important to let people be on their own path.

The other thing I’d like to mention is my clients or myself often will have multiple pets in the family, three cats and two dogs or whatever, and my clients say this all the time: there is often one dog or one cat or one horse that we have an uncanny relationship with. We love all of our animals, but there often is one animal that is so extra special to us. I call those our “heart animals.” When I started doing past life regressions for people, I realized that those animals are souls we’ve had so many lifetimes with — and our souls recognize each other. That accounts for that extra deep relationship. And our other animals recognize that, too. They don’t get jealous. They just know, “Oh, wow, they’ve had an extra special and very long connection.”

I have those “heart animals” intermittently, and the hard part is when they leave. You’re so deeply bonded, and when they pass away, it’s just harder.

Another thing I think it’s important for people to know about is that I always thought that in order to reincarnate the soul needed to go into a newborn — a puppy or kitten or whatever. But then I had an experience with a client a long time ago who had to say goodbye to her German shepherd, and that soul reincarnated into an adult that they found at a rescue site in Montana. These people lived in the Twin Cities. We had no idea that their dog was going to reincarnate like that. They drove to Montana and picked up this neglected, rescue German shepherd, and took the dog home. Then she calls me and says, “Lena, it’s uncanny. We are convinced that this dog is our Ellie.” She looked just like the dog who had died. So she said, “Will you please ask her if she’s Ellie?”

Then the dog says to me, “I am Ellie, but I don’t want them to know right away. I want them to treat me like a new dog in a new lifetime. I don’t want to relive that past life.”

After about six months, she calls again and says, “Lena, are you sure it’s not Ellie? Because my husband thinks it’s Ellie, my best friend thinks it’s Ellie, and I think it’s Ellie.”

So I checked in with the dog and asked if it’s okay to tell now, and she says, “Yep, I’ve been here long enough.” So I told my client, and she was not upset that I didn’t tell her right away. I always honor my animals’ requests. I want to make sure I always keep that bond of trust. So she completely understood, but said, “We all knew it. She had all the mannerisms.” And it was about the heart. No matter what they look like, you have that heart connection.

A very interesting reincarnation experience involved a client who had a cat. She had to move home with her parents during the economic downturn several years ago. Then her cat was killed in the street in front of the house. She called me every couple of weeks. “When is Patrick going to reincarnate?” She hadn’t gone through her grief yet, so Patrick said, “You have to grieve first, and then I’ll come back.”

She was still living with her parents and her dad didn’t want any more cats in the house. So when Patrick decided it was time to finally go back, he said, “That’s fine. I’m going to come back as an older Yorkie puppy. The family doesn’t know how to take care of me, so I’m going to be in a shelter.” My client was ecstatic because her family did a lot of work with the shelter in her area. They told the vets and the shelter to let them know if a Yorkie ever comes through, “because we think it may be our cat coming back.”

Sure enough, a vet called and told them, “I think I have your Yorkie puppy. It’s an older puppy. The family came in and said we want to euthanize the puppy, and the vet was like, “What?” They said, “The puppy is peeing and pooping all over the house, and we can’t stand it.” Then the vet explained to the family that you have to house-train a puppy. And they said, “Well, we don’t want it then.” Clearly the people didn’t understand dogs. So the vet called my client and she got the puppy. It didn’t even make it to the shelter.

There’s a perfect example of an animal whose soul reincarnated into a completely different species. This is not something I learned in animal communication classes — where you learn the method, how to do it and how to trust what you’re getting. These are all things the animals have taught me over the years.

Is there a general message animals want us humans to understand?
I would say the message is: I’m not just a cat; I’m not just a horse; I’m not just a raccoon. There’s a soul in there — wild or domestic. And we need to treat them like beings, rather than just like an object or possession. That’s the message they want us to understand.

If we got that message, then we’d be treating the Earth, the trees and mountains — because they have souls, too — in a better way. I think that’s the message. The way we treat animals is the way our civilization goes. They’d like better treatment.

What do dog owners not understand about cats, and what do cat owners not understand about dogs?
Dog owners don’t understand that cats really like to exercise their free will. They’re not just going to do everything we want. They’re oppositional at times because they want us to know, “You’re not going to boss me around. You’re not going to train me. I, in fact, am going to train you. If I get up and beg for food every morning at 5 a.m., eventually you’re going to get up and feed me every morning at 5 a.m.”

As for cat people, a lot of them just don’t want to do all the work involved with having dogs, like having to take them for walks. They like the ease of having a cat. And cats do vibrate at such a higher level, and a lot of people are attracted to that.

The best thing is to have both, if you’re able — if you can take good care of dogs and make sure they get enough exercise and keep them intellectually stimulated. It’s fun to have a whole houseful, I think!

So if our animals are misbehaving, it might say more about us or our home than it is about them?
Yes, I’d say 90 to 95 percent of the issues people call me about are person created. What I’ve learned over the years is that the biggest cause of misbehavior, or a sudden change in behavior, is the presence of earth-bound spirits or ghosts in the house. Animals are so evolved in many ways beyond us, and they’re very psychic. They feel those energies and they see the earth-bound spirits. It might be a Native American who doesn’t want to leave the land, or a farmer, or whatever. And all of a sudden, people call me and say, “My dog just won’t go in the basement anymore,” or “My cat keeps staring at a wall in the bedroom” or other different weird behaviors. Nine times out of ten there’s a spirit in the home that needs help leaving to the other side.

That started happening so much early on in my career that I wrote up a very detailed set of clearing instructions so people could clear their space while being very compassionate and loving, talking to the earth-bound spirit and helping them go to the light, because they are freaking out our animals. Earth-bound spirits tend to drain OUR energy. Smudging sage in the home is a good way to balance energy.

I’ve had people react, “What?! Spirits?” I tell them, “This isn’t The Exorcist. These are just lost souls who for some reason haven’t crossed over. They’re usually coming for help.” With a little love and compassion, people can clear their spaces. I encourage them to step into their own power, because this is their home — and why not set a clear boundary and keep it clear. I’ve sent those clearing instructions literally out to hundreds of people. That’s probably the biggest reason for misbehavior.

To those who are skeptical about the practice of animal communication, what do you tell them?
I tell them just to have an open mind and give it a try. I don’t try to convince anybody, but I would hope they would be open to at least trying it. Usually it’s the husband or the boyfriend who is super skeptical — and then we do a couple of sessions and they see changes in the animal that they just can’t explain away to happenstance, and so they come on board.

I always tell the wife or the girlfriend, “We’re not trying to convince. The goal here is to help the animals, and if your husband or partner comes along for the ride and they finally understand that it has to be real because they have irrefutable evidence, then that’s great. The big thing is to give it a try, because I’ve been doing this for almost 20 years full time, so the animals are getting help. So much of my practice now comes from referrals, and that means I’m helpful and that means it’s working.”

Can you give a case study that definitively shows how animal communication is a way to solve problems between a pet and its person?
Here is one involving a health issue. I had one case with an animal who had some dental issues. The dog had gotten a teeth cleaning and the vet couldn’t really find anything. But the people said the dog still was not behaving the same way. They knew something was off, but nothing was really found.

When I checked in with the dog and said, “Are you sure you’re not having trouble? Can you pinpoint something in your mouth where they could look?” The dog gave me some pressure, a funny feeling on my upper right side of my mouth, and I told the people, “You know, I’m just getting that your dog is sending me a feeling of a problem on the upper right side, so I would go back and have them explore that side further.”

They did an x-ray and, sure enough, there was a major problem they could not see under the tooth. So, that was a case where it was kind of humorous, because the wife had used me for years for animal communication and the husband had started to come on board, but he was still kind of skeptical. When that happened with the tooth, he’s like, “Okay, I’m never going to doubt this again, because how would they know about that tooth if I hadn’t talked to her.”

What has the practice of animal communication meant to your life?
It’s really interesting. In my twenties, I traveled a lot. I’ve always been footloose and interested in different cultures. And I really loved my teaching job. I was able to teach for 22 years, mostly Hmong kids, and immerse myself in their culture. The last couple years of teaching I felt so strongly that there was something else I was supposed to be doing, but I couldn’t figure out what it was. I had been a teacher so long that I didn’t know what else to do.

When my sister died and everything changed, I just got called to this path. What it’s done is allowed me to do what I absolutely love: helping people and helping animals. It’s allowed me to continue doing something that I’m called to do. I very much loved my teaching career. I loved teaching. Then my school district changed my program and I began to get the idea I needed to be doing something else. It turned out to be this.

It’s been very gratifying to be able to do what I’m supposed to be doing in this life.

What led you to the shamanic path?
The death of my sister. I was devastated. She died unexpectedly from a clot in her leg that she didn’t even know about that broke off and killed her. She was one year younger, so we were very close. We shared a bedroom growing up.

When I took that second animal communication class, when I talked to Cricket, the teacher had a book by Echo Bodine called Echoes of the Soul. In that book, Echo describes having a soul retrieval, and she talked about some of the symptoms of having soul loss. It was like she was describing me. My dad died when I was 5, and I had other loss in my life. Even now I don’t remember the years from kindergarten from when my dad died up until fourth grade. I have no memory. That’s a huge symptom of soul loss.

I knew I needed a soul retrieval. I was putting off going through my sister’s things to get her house ready to sell. So I ended up having a soul retrieval with a local shaman in Minneapolis, Timothy Cope, the one that Echo had used. And that was absolutely my calling, to not just get a healing but to be called to the shamanic path as a healer. So at the same time I was being called to do animal communication, I also was definitely called to the shamanic path.

I began by taking a journeying class in Minneapolis from the Foundation of Shamanic Studies, then I did a weeklong soul retrieval that next summer. I practiced a lot, and there I went. I actually never went back to teaching after my sister died. I took a leave of absence. I was too young to retire so I just resigned.

For those unfamiliar with shamanic journeying, how does it assist them in their lives?
It helps us get better connected to the spirit world and our helping spirits. We have them but we aren’t normally very connected to them. In a journey, we get to that place where we can make a very clear connection. Then we can ask for healing. We can ask for information to help guide us in our lives. It’s like doing your own psychic reading, but you’re getting information for yourself, from direct revelation from your helping spirits.

It’s nice to go to therapy, to talk with parents and friends about our issues, but when you can get direct revelation on information about your life and healing through a journey, that’s really empowering.

I’ve done my shamanic practice as long as I’ve done animal communication, since 2002, and I’m not from a line of indigenous shamans at all — and you don’t have to be. It’s totally based on developing a relationship with your helping spirits.

You had a highly developed intuitive life, so that made it easier to step into the shamanic path?
I guess in a way it did, but that intuitive part of me was very surprising. I really wasn’t all that aware of it. I was what you would call pretty mainstream. During my teaching career, I remember the Hmong kids having a difficult time. Their parents didn’t speak English and it was so hard for them. I always remember thinking, “I want to make their spirit comfortable, in their bodies, here in the United States, in this culture.” I wanted them to learn English and math, but I focused on working with their souls.

The Hmong use shamans for healing, unless they’ve converted to Christianity. I heard my Hmong students talking a lot about Hmong shamans. I remember one time when a group of fifth-grade boys were talking about their grandmother shaman. The Hmong culture is very patriarchal, so I was surprised to hear about a “grandmother” shaman. Women didn’t have much of a role in Hmong life.

So I said, “Your grandmother’s a shaman? How do you get to be a shaman?”

And one boy looked me and said, “You just know.”

When I got called to the shamanic path, I immediately went back to that fifth-grade class and that boy looking at me and saying, “You just know.” And I was like, “Oh my gosh, I know.” It was uncanny. It really was an amazing thing. I just knew it. That’s why this intuitive part of me, which I wasn’t even aware of, just came out. And it all happened after my sister died. She died three weeks after 9/11. We all were already in total shock because of 9/11, and when she died everything was upside down for me. She died October 5, and I left teaching the next April, and my life changed in a matter of months.

Because I taught for so long, and I think that was my calling, I jumped right into teaching animal communication and teaching people how to journey. I really want people to do these things themselves. Whether they do any of these things professionally or not, that’s not the point. Getting people closer to their animals and understanding them better, and getting people closer to the spirit world and get that assistance, that’s big for me.

How has your life been changed through the practice of shamanic healing?
I feel so much more supported. I feel like I have Team Swanson. I have helping spirits in the form of power animals that I’m very connected with. I have teachers in the Upper World that I’m connected with. I don’t feel like I’m going it alone. I feel like I have a lot of support.

It’s changed my life. I feel like I can help people now in a different way. I used to help the Hmong community by advocating for them and helping their kids learn English, and now I have switched totally to helping individuals. I help them with their animals, and I am now offering psychic readings and past-life regression.

I’ve always felt like my life was to be of service, and what I’ve changed is the way I am of service.

What message do you have for people who are so fearful about where their lives are today, about what they should be doing, and why it is so hard to make things work in their lives?
I would suggest thinking outside of the box as much as possible. Start exploring different healing modalities and get the healing that you need.

Just because I have a healing practice, it doesn’t mean that my personal healing journey has stopped. That’s the essence of the wounded healer. You continue to be wounded and heal, and wounded and heal., so you continue to keep your compassion for your clients.

People often say, “I’m stuck,” but at the same time they don’t really do anything about it. Any kind of movement is valuable — walking, exercise, being more in nature. Be willing to take a class, especially now when we aren’t taking classes in person. There are so many opportunities to explore different avenues through remote learning, through Zoom classes. You can take classes from anybody right now, without having to fly out to New York or Santa Fe. There is an abundance of possibilities.

It’s important to step into something new. If you’re doing the things you love, it will work out. I feel so bad for people who are in a job because their parents wanted them to do it, or they don’t know what else to do. It can be a rut. I felt exactly that the last few years of teaching, because the district changed my program so much I wasn’t able to help the kids. I was just going to work every day and doing what I was supposed to do, but I didn’t have any power to change anything. It was a district-level decision. So I can empathize with people feeling stuck. I don’t know what I would have done if my sister hadn’t passed away.

The thing is to explore and discover, because there are so many possibilities now, especially with Zoom. Covid certainly has closed things down, but it certainly has opened up a lot of other things. The way to look at things now is that there is opportunity. We don’t have to be stuck in the same way. The status quo is being destroyed, so let’s go for it!

Is there anything you’d like to share that we haven’t talked about?
Yes, about the end-of-life conversation. I was at an expo one time and they had a visiting animal communicator give a talk. She was saying, “Oh, you never want to talk to animals about whether they want to keep trying or if it is the end of their life.” And I thought, “Hmm, that’s not my experience — at all. I always tell my clients that if you’re at a point when you’re not sure, I will check in with your animal and quickly get a yes or no. It’s as simple as that.

I have never found animals to be wishy washy about that. And for people whose animals I know pretty well, I don’t even charge people for that. It definitely is helpful to get that information, if you have an animal suffering from a terminal illness or if they are old and you don’t know if they are ready to go. They may say, “No, let’s try some other healing modalities,” or they may say, “Yes, I’m really getting a little tired of this, so I am ready.”

Knowing this is hugely comforting for people. You have a good sense of when it is the end for your animals, but it’s helpful to be able to call a communicator and say, “Is it really the end? Am I right on this?”

I think that is an important thing for people to understand, that you can find that out.

For more information about Lena Swanson, Animal Communication and Shamanic Healing, visit

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