For thousands of years, Eastern religions have embraced the idea of reincarnation for human souls but can animals reincarnate too?
Growing numbers of spiritual philosophers and animal communicators believe so. Now Hollywood has jumped on the bandwagon with the latest weepy blockbuster A Dog's Purpose.
The film, based on the novel by W. Bruce Cameron, stars Dennis Quaid and follows the experiences of a dog who reincarnates five times. Each time the pooch is reborn into a different dog breed and the story follows his life and death (be prepared for tears...)
Following the film's hype, I was curious to find out what other people thought of dog's reincarnating and with my own pooch Tilly, a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel snoozing by my feet, I did a quick internet search. I found hundreds of links to people talking about their experiences and "My dog was my husband in a former life" has to be my favourite online post.
My own interest in pet reincarnation began when I read Your Pets' Past Lives & How They Can Heal You by Madeleine Walker. Madeleine is an animal communicator, and healer, and believes that not only do our pets reincarnate in this life but that we share past lives with them too.
I quite liked the idea of me as a Victorian lady and Tilly as my pampered pooch and I booked a telephone reading with Madeleine, from Taunton, Somerset, who's a former veterinary nurse.
Madeleine explains how it works: "I use a photo and hair sample of the animal for distance readings, tuning into the animal's energy, but I also do face-to-face bookings.
"During a reading the animals communicate with me telepathically and show me video clips from their past lives in my mind. They also convey the emotional or physical issues attached to that incarnation."
Dogs were human in former life
Madeleine believes we all travel in soul families and we can choose to have many lifetimes together in different guises. She tells me that some animals reincarnate as humans and vice versa.
I consider myself to be open-minded but if something sounds bonkers then it's not for me. Yet I feel deeply connected to Tilly and I'm quite excited to find out if there's a spiritual reason.
Madeleine starts by revealing that Tilly, who is nearly 11, is chatty and regal. That's not a surprise, she's a quick-thinking dog who likes to be treated like a princess; there's no dirty bedding or walking through puddles for her.
Madeleine explains the images she's picking up from Tilly using a photo and hair sample. They're not what I was expecting.
Tilly's life in Egypt
"Tilly's showing me a life in Egypt where you were a male scribe under her tutelage," says Madeleine. "It was 3,000 years ago, your job was to write down esoteric knowledge to record the ancient teachings for future reference and for posterity."
What the...? Ancient Egypt? Tilly the boss? But I keep schtum and see what else Madeleine picks up.
"Your work was destroyed by corrupt priests who had moved away from the spiritual path. You were devastated. The energy that Tilly is conveying, from your soul from that lifetime, is one of disempowerment and despair."
Madeleine adds: "Tilly says you have great potential. Your job in this life is to share the truth with as many people as possible."
As I listen, I look at my dog snuggling beside me on the sofa. Can this be true? Tilly opens her eyes and stares at me as if urging me to take it all in.
Madeleine continues: "Your dog is saying that she also came into your life to help heal your heart chakra. In this life, your heart chakra was damaged by trauma. I feel it's connected to your father."
I'm stunned. My father died when I was 11. One of my strongest memories is crying at his funeral, it felt like my heart was breaking.
Healing my heart
We all have seven chakra points that work together to keep us spiritually strong. Did I shut down my heart chakra when my father died? Is Tilly really giving her this information?
Madeleine explains that often animals come into our life because of a past life connection. She adds: "Tilly is here to help open your heart chakra. Plus, her unconditional love for you helped to heal your past life trauma."
I feel tearful because whenever I hold my dog close, or look into her eyes, I feel my heart expand. It's a fact, Tilly's love did heal my broken heart and next time I stare into her eyes, I'll remember that I'm looking into the soul of an ancient and wise being.