July 08, 2002 12:00 PM

Pop the Alligator was depressed. It seems his keeper at Gatorland in Orlando had switched his diet from red meat to chicken—hardly an incentive to haul himself out of the swamp at feeding time. And how do we know all this? Sonya Fitzpatrick, the host of Animal Planet’s The Pet Psychic, says she “talked” with Pop telepathically, a gift the native Brit says she has had since her childhood in a rural village in Northamptonshire. “He was the sweetest soul,” she says of Pop. Now that he’s back on red meat, the gator races to dinner.

Just another success story for Fitzpatrick, 62, whose other patients on The Pet Psychic (one of the cable channel’s highest-rated series) have included a golden retriever with a fear of abandonment, a monkey traumatized by an abusive deliveryman and an elderly sheep with arthritis. “I’ve seen our animals change for the better,” says the sheep’s caretaker, Terry Cummings. “Sonya seems to be the real thing.”

Or just real calculating, says magician-turned-professional skeptic James Randi. “She’s essentially playing a game of 20 questions with the [pet owner],” says Randi. “People who believe in what she does are naive.”

Fitzpatrick began her psychic career in 1994 after, she says, a visitation from Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals (“He told me I would be doing God’s work”). She shrugs off naysayers. “It doesn’t bother me one hoot,” says the onetime fashion model, who shares a home in The Woodlands, Texas, with her husband of 20 years, Denis, 70, a retired British food broker, and their seven dogs and four cats. And she draws the line at trying to read the minds of humans. “I don’t want to get into all their junk,” says Fitzpatrick, who has three children from a previous marriage. “Animals are so much easier and so much nicer than people, don’t you agree?”

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