We mark with light in our memory the few relationships we have had with souls that made our souls wiser,
that spoke what we thought, that told us what we know, that gave us leave to be what we inly were.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson
Once in awhile, when we are extremely blessed, someone comes into our life who sees the world as we see it; who holds deeply in their heart the same values that live deep inside our own heart—someone who day-by-day, quietly and consistently lives those values to honor and serve animals; someone more advanced than us who wants nothing whatsoever to do with being placed on a pedestal for their mastery, but instead holds a natural, kind willingness to teach us with great respect, regard, gentleness and love; someone whose very presence brings us an opportunity to change our life. Jeri was all of this to me.
Jeri left her body to return to the spiritual realm on March 25, 2022 at the age of 86 from non-Covid related pneumonia. She died peacefully surrounded by loving family. Jeri is survived by her beloved dog Celie, her beloved sister Kathleen Stetter of Rosendale, Wisconsin and numerous nieces, nephews, grand nieces and nephews, other family members and good friends. Her little dog Celie has been adopted by her sister’s family and was driven from California to Wisconsin because Jeri was adamant that Celie would not do well on a plane. And so, Celie was chauffeured across country by family and is now loved and adored by her extended family. Celie and Jeri’s great nephew Cyan have already made quite a bond.
Jeri grew up in Oshkosh, Wisconsin but lived most of her life in Oakland, California. She earned a Master’s degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of Wisconsin, a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology in from the University of California, Berkeley, and a PsyD from the California School of Professional Psychology. Jeri spent several decades not only practicing psychotherapy, but also supervising other psychotherapists. She began her animal communication practice in the late 1970’s. For several decades she held private consultations and taught hundreds of workshops in animal communication throughout the continental U.S. and Alaska and Hawaii, Italy, Switzerland, Russia, England and Canada. She founded the International Assisi Animal Institute which offered training and certification in animal communication. Over our many years of conversation, visits and work together, it was clear to me that though Jeri very much enjoyed her psychotherapy work, her life was lived, without a doubt, in service to the animals. In addition to her private practice and teaching, she was a staunch animal welfare and animal rights advocate. She was also a long time vegan motivated by her desire to not cause suffering to any being.
I met Jeri when one of my cats was dying. When it became challenging for me to communicate clearly with my cat because of my own overwhelming anticipatory grief, an acquaintance suggested that I call Jeri Ryan, an animal communicator. I was stunned! I had no idea that there were people who communicated with animals professionally. For many years I believed I could talk with animals only as a result of abuse in my childhood. My cat was my ally and support during those years which fostered a deep trust and closeness with animals and an ability to talk with them. However, I thought I was abnormal having this ability, so I stayed quiet about it with humans for many years. And here was this person, Jeri Ryan, a fellow trained therapist no less, who talked with animals professionally! Her communication work helped me tremendously through that heartbreaking time with my cat. Soon afterward, she attended my cat’s memorial service and our friendship began. I then began to study with her and was blessed to have her as my mentor and friend for many years.
I owe my practice to Jeri. She pushed me, however gently, to begin communicating with animals professionally. I had doubts about being ready but she seemed quite confident about it. One week when she was away studying at one of the dozens and dozens of classes she took about animals and nature, she put my name and number on her outgoing voicemail telling her clients to call me in her absence. I had no idea she had done this so when I started receiving calls from her clients I was flabbergasted—and honored with her trust in me. After that week of working with some of her clients, well, I knew I was ready. Apparently, that was her plan–unorthodox as it was!
To me, Jeri was the personification of St. Francis in her humility, absolute devotion to animals, and a commitment to a life of service. She was never dramatic or self-aggrandizing about her work. She didn’t claim to be an ascended master, a self-appointed guru, the “best” in her field or of having a gift from God that only she possessed. Her bios never described her as world renowned. She was, but that was self-evident. She was a master, yet in a million years would never have bragged about it. Her ego had no need to do so.
While Jeri communicated with tens of thousands of both companion and wild animals, relaying both practical and spiritual messages from them, she never fell into the spiritual bypass trap of denying the real suffering of animals on earth at the hands of humans. Spiritual bypassing, when used in the context of animal issues, involves fabricating spiritual myths to excuse the mistreatment and abuse of animals (think, “Oh it’s OK that the baby gorilla was taken from his family and jungle home and is now in the zoo—that’s his karma, he chose it so he is happy”). Sadly, this denial that animals do not suffer at the hands of humans is common for those who are comfortable only with the cute, fuzzy, feel good and/or the inspiring spiritual aspects of the human-animal relationship. Jeri acknowledged every aspect of our relationship with animals. Robert Augustus Masters defines spiritual bypassing as “The use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with painful feelings.”1 It takes courage to face the pain of what so many animals experience, and to process our own pain from seeing and feeling the animals’ suffering. Jeri had enough courage for one hundred people in this regard. She never closed her eyes or turned her back on the suffering of animals.
Like St. Francis—who freed captive doves in Assisi, released fish back into the water that had been caught and offered to him for food, and negotiated an agreement between the townspeople of Gubbio, Italy and a wolf who was eating “livestock” to save the wolf’s life—2 Jeri never turned away from the trauma and suffering of animals. She remained active in animal welfare and animal rights issues until the end of her life, along with her good friend Eric Mills of Action for Animals.
When Jeri returned from a trip to Assisi, she brought me a small pendant of St. Francis which I still often hold when doing client consultations. Much more importantly, she told me that while in Assisi she quietly connected with St. Francis and he told her, “Please don’t remember me as someone in an elaborate basilica. I did not choose this, or to be called a saint. Remember me as you know me in your heart, serving God by helping the animals and people. Don’t walk directly in my footsteps, make your own, and take with you what you’ve learned from me and others.” The humility of St. Francis was echoed in all of Jeri’s work.
I have so many Jeri stories and thought I would share a few that others might enjoy (and if you have Jeri stories, please feel free to share them in the comments section!):
The first time I visited her house in Oakland I saw this contraption made of wood and screen and had no idea what it was. Jeri said, “It’s a catio I had built for my cats so they can have lots of fresh air and sunshine while remaining safe.” It was fabulous, and built before most of us had ever heard of catios and way before the commercial availability of catio kits today. As usual, Jeri was ahead of her time caring for animals with compassion for their needs.
During a different weekend visit many years ago, we took lots of walks in the city with her dog Ryan. Jeri had taught him well to sit and stay at any crosswalk and to not move until she said it was OK. I took advantage of the long red light times to bend over and kiss Ryan’s soft head and stroke his ears, which he loved me to do while in their home. About halfway through a long walk, Jeri said, “Teresa, Ryan has something he wants to say to you.” So I checked in with Ryan who said, “You know, all those kisses in public are embarrassing! I want other dogs and people to see me as dignified and on alert, not as a baby. Could you wait until we are home?” I apologized profusely and then I was the one embarrassed because it had not occurred to me, as it should have, to ask him if the kisses were OK in public. Ryan was very understanding and Jeri felt it was no big deal, but I was mortified making such a stupid mistake with my teacher’s dog! For years afterwards, it was a joke between us with Jeri asking me if I kissed anyone in public lately.
One of my very favorite Jeri stories is about her “stealing” a Husky dog. Well, legally it would have been called stealing, but morally it was a much needed re-homing of a very underweight dog who had been chained in a front yard for years, with little shade and sometimes no water. It broke Jeri’s heart seeing him like that on her daily walks. The dog told her that he was not allowed inside because his people did not like the shedding of his fur. After several attempts to help this dog via the proper authorities, whose hands were tied because no law was broken, Jeri and a few other people came up with an alternative plan to help him. After a careful and confidential search, they found a person in a different city with Husky experience who was very open to making this dog part of her family. When a date was set to free and transport the dog, Jeri told him it would be very late at night and to please remain very quiet when he saw her so they would not attract attention. On the night of the free-the-Husky adventure, one person was driving the get-away car which was supplied with water, food, treats, flower essences and blankets for the dog. Jeri, adorned in black pants and black hoodie covering her head and part of her face, was armed with bolt cutters for the chain. It all worked. The precious dog stayed quiet, licked Jeri as the chain was being cut and off they went into the car for a two hour drive to the dog’s new home. Jeri stayed the night with the dog at the new home because he was a bit scared and knew and trusted Jeri. By the next day, however, he was adjusting quite well, and was taking in all the love surrounding him and enjoying being allowed to not only stay inside but sleep on a bed, nap on the sofa and roam outside in a fenced back yard—with no more chains, no more confinement. I would not have shared this story while Jeri was still alive in the event the legal issues may offend someone, but now seems like a good time to share it. She and I agree that none of us should take such an action casually, and not before exploring all legal measures to have a dog in such a situation freed or taken care of properly. In my opinion, in this situation, Jeri and her friends were heroes. I still smile when I picture my gentle, soft spoken, non-violent friend dressed in black from head to toe like some cat burglar, carrying bolt cutters to free a dog and running to the get-away car. She and the others saved this dog’s life and made sure he had a new home with dignity, love and great care. Go Jeri go!
During another visit to her Oakland home, I was with her as she tended to her cat who was near her time of transition. She was very old, blind and could barely move, but seemed very content in her cat bed by a window with a screen for fresh air. She immediately began to purr when Jeri came into the room, and her very elderly, dignified little cat face seemed to glow—not with vital health, but with love. Jeri fed her tiny amounts of food from her finger, ever so slowly over and over, all the while talking softly with her. I cried tears of peace watching this tender love in action.
Many years ago when Jeri’s sister and mother were visiting her in Oakland, she brought them down to Carmel for a day. We visited Point Lobos State Natural Reserve together. It was lovely to meet her sister and share our mutual love of nature and wildlife. Jeri’s mother was in a wheelchair at the time, and as I gently pushed her chair on an accessible trail, we had time to chat. One of the tidbits about Jeri that she shared with me was that when Jeri was young, she entered and won a beauty contest—she was Miss Oshkosh in 1961! Jeri was mortified that her mother told me, and as I teased her about it for years she said it was embarrassing to her to have participated in something so “superficial.” I told her that I loved that her young outer beauty had been celebrated just as her inner beauty is loved by so many of us now.
Along with many other things she is doing on the other side, Jeri continues to help animals.
A few weeks after her death, a client asked me if I could communicate with a traumatized dog whose person was killed in Ukraine. I said that of course I would, and then also realized that Jeri might be able to comfort and communicate with this dog for a longer period than I could. So I connected with her and asked, “Are you up for some work?” She got very serious and said, “Of course, point the way.” So Jeri is on the job helping this Ukrainian dog as well as other animals needing support in the war torn country. And something I have just learned from her sister is that their grandmother was from Ukraine.
I am so deeply sad, knowing I will never see Jeri again as she was, but my grief is softened by knowing how well she is. As she described her transition to me in words and images, she showed Francis (St. Francis) embracing her with boundless love and joy, along with a circle of all of her personal family animals and humans around her, and then. . . thousands of animals with whom she had worked came to welcome her home, along with some of their humans as well. She is beaming with all the love around her. She shows herself clearly as whole, free, full, buoyant and just bursting with joy.
The light and love of the beautiful soul who incarnated as Jeri Ryan for 86 years on earth still shines brilliantly over so many of us who are still here. She left a legacy—of not just being one of the early pioneers in animal communication, but also of understanding, acknowledging and sharing the truth of who animals really are at their core, and that they deserve to be, must be, treated accordingly.
Her legacy begs to be applied, to be used in every day life, not just to honor Jeri, but to honor and care for the animals on earth. That’s what legacies are—important things left behind for us, things that have influenced our minds and hearts, urging us to pick up the baton to do our part, to use what has inspired us and what we have been taught. May we carry on with the legacies left to us.
I so miss your presence on earth Jeri.
May your unique and wondrous soul be blessed for all time.
You will remain in my heart, and part of my own soul, always.
And when it is my time to come home,
I look forward to a long embrace
and a grand tour of all you’ve experienced since your arrival.
Keep a seat warm for me. I love you.
For anyone who may wish to send a donation in Jeri’s honor, she has listed the following organizations in her will:
Animal Legal Defense Fund
Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Her sister Kathleen has also suggested that in memory of Jeri, show kindness to an animal or person.
We are visitors to this time, this place.
We are just passing through.
Our purpose here is to observe, to learn, to grow, to love,
and then we return home.
~ Australian aboriginal Proverb
1. Masters, Robert Augustus Spiritual Bypassing. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books 2010
2. Thomas of Celano Francis Trilogy: Life of Saint Francis, The Remembrance of the Desire of a Soul, The Treatise on the Miracles of Saint Francis.Hyde Park, New York: New City Press 2004
Hopcke, Robert H. & Schwartz, Paul A. Little Flowers of St Francis, A New Translation. Boston: New Seeds Books 2006