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BRATTLEBORO — Whatever you do, don’t call Nicole Birkholzer Dr. Dolittle, because she doesn’t really talk to the animals ... she listens.

“I want to be called an animal communicator,” she says. “Because I do so much more. I don’t say things like ‘He likes the blue ball over the red one.’ It’s much more about how can you, as a human, connect and be more present? How do you meet your animal where they are?”

Birkholzer was born in Germany. She moved to New York City when she was 23 with 50 English words in her vocabulary and a pocketful of flashcards to learn the language. Within five years, she was working at a fast-paced advertising agency and seemed to be on the fast track to a high-flying career in the good, old U.S. of A.

And while that was truly exciting, she did miss some things about her home country, or more accurately, she missed some things about growing up in her home country.

“As a young girl in Germany, animals were my playmates, my confidantes, and my peers,” she writes on her website. “I felt more like myself in their company than with most human beings.”

While working in New York, she took a volunteer position at a therapeutic riding center on the Upper West Side.

“I was thrilled to be back with my equine companions, and dreamed of devoting my life to their protection and care,” she writes.

Eventually, Birkholzer became the director of the riding center, adding to her resume titles such as advanced therapeutic riding instructor, life, business and executive coach, and advanced Psych-K coach.

“I witnessed the incredible healing power of horses — their ability to calm, soothe and empower nearly everyone who visited the center, from alcoholics and troubled teens, to the blind, deaf and mute,” Birkholzer writes on her website.

But over the years, she realized she was still missing something, that the animals themselves were trying to talk to her as well.

“It took me years to realize that I wasn’t an equine coach who happened to practice mindfulness,” she tells the Reformer. “I was a mindfulness coach who happened to partner with horses, cats, dogs and even goats.”

On a recent morning at the offices of the Reformer, Birkholzer spends some time with a small rescue dog, a dachshund who is out of its mind, darting back and forth on the end of a leash, scooping up pebbles and swallowing them.

“If you were in an area where they do search and rescue, I would suggest you take a workshop ... he could find anything and anyone,” she says. “Or when you take him on a walk, hide something in the bushes and let him find it. He’s very clever.”

Birkholzer spends time stroking the dog and getting its attention, gently cupping its jaws in her hands and looking into its eyes.

“He’s very intense,” she says.

But under her ministrations, the dog quiets down and eventually settles into the grass at her feet.

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“It was when I was working with horses I realized we’re using them more as tools and vehicles, but they’re actual beings,” she continues. “So I switched teams, so to speak, and created an equine wellness expo at UMass for a couple of years.”

This was in 2011, after she adopted Jesse, a 34-year-old Percheron draft horse.

According to a story in the Massachusetts Daily Collegian, the student newspaper at UMass, Birkholzer thought Jesse would have to be euthanized due to severe health problems. But with the efforts of several specialized horse practitioners, Jesse was able to return to full health. Birkholzer was amazed by their abilities to aid in his recovery and went on to learn more about building connections with animals.

Birkholzer lives in Marlboro, where she established Mindful Connections to share her knowledge about horses and other animals and to help people maintain healthy relationships with the animals in their care.

“What I have discovered over the years is that there are five areas and they are the same for all animals: people, the environment, the herd or pack, the home and health,” she says. “Those five areas can create ease or unease. If an animal is showing what appears to be bad behavior, is withdrawn, has digestion problems, it’s really saying ‘Can you please pay attention to me?’”

Animals often exhibit unwelcomed or unhealthy behaviors because they are picking up on some sort of disturbance in the home or among the people they live with, says Birkholzer.

“The animal is just reacting to the conditions around it,” she says. This is especially true of rescue animals that have not had consistency in their lives, have been mistreated or have been caged for a long time, she explained.

“Oftentimes they have been through several foster homes when they find a forever home,” says Birkholzer. “They wonder if the other shoe is going to drop. They may not like to get into the car because every time they do they think they’re going to the next place.”

She said in such an instance, people need to talk to their dogs, communicate to them that this is their home now, to reassure them that everything will be OK.

“Because if you are unsure, your animal will be unsure, too,” she says. “And we’ve been taught to use short commands with animals ... sit, wait, stop, heel, whatever. But it is important for us to talk to our animals. They are so much smarter than we give them credit for. I’ve had this conversation with so many people and they come to me afterwards and say ‘She’s settled. She’s calm now.’ If you are speaking from your heart, you are sending that energy to the animal.”

This is true for the other relationships in our lives, she says, including family and friends.

“I’m going to meet you where you are. I’m open and curious. I’m going to tell you what I love about you,” says Birkholzer.

Birkholzer believes everyone can be a good listener if they just slow down and observe those five areas — people, the environment, the herd or pack, the home and health — in their own life and how it’s affecting themselves and their animals.

“I get these little insights or messages or visual that help me understand what’s happening,” she says. “I believe everybody has this ability. It’s just been domesticated out of you. When you were a kid, there was this tree you might have hung out at, or you had that dog, or you would go to the river and you had relationships with those things. You just trusted your body and your intuition. As an adult, you probably still have hunches but do you listen to them? You have to let yourself to be back in that space of trusting your body and trusting that there is information available to you.”

She likens being a child to being a mason jar with a lid that’s not quite sealed. As we get older, the lid gets tighter and tighter as we get more set in our ways and start discounting things like hunches and “vibes” and auras.

Sometimes you just have to loosen the lid a little bit to understand what you can actually do, and that includes communicating with animals, she says.

“All of the sudden you realize, holy cow, I know more than I was aware of,” says Birkholzer. “If you start trusting and acknowledging that, you will see more and more pieces falling together because you are reclaiming that innate skill. Listen. Be an investigator. Because the animal has a message for you and you’re just ignoring it.”

Bob Audette can be contacted at