Jane Goodall has always believed that animals can communicate with humans -- if the humans are paying attention.
"Look at the tsunami," she said, referring to the December 2004 disaster that killed more than 220,000 people. Most animals in the area found higher ground and survived.
"Animals sensed the vibes and knew something was coming," said Goodall, 71. The best way to communicate with animals, she said, is to watch and listen to them. "Open your mind and don't always think you know better than they do."
In her new Animal Planet special, the scientist renowned for her longtime work with primates attempts to showcase what animals are saying, including killer whales in Patagonia that seek a gentle human touch, dogs that detect cancer and giant pouched rats that uncover landmines.
Goodall's two-hour broadcast also features Bear, the top search-and-rescue dog used at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and spotlights "Reading With Rover," a Seattle program in which children practice reading aloud to dogs.
"Viewers will stop thinking in so many boxes," Goodall said. "In some cases, it will blow their minds away. Those orcas -- why do they come out of the sea and want humans to play with them? The fact that we don't know about it makes it all the more magical."
The special is Goodall's third for Animal Planet, and it's less a traditional documentary than her previous primate programs, "Return to Gombe" and "State of the Great Ape." This time, Goodall is involved in developing the story segments instead of just being interviewed.
"Jane had always talked about how she feels people can appreciate animals if they understand how they communicate with each other and with us," said Eugenie Vink, the network's executive producer. "She grew up reading the 'Dr. Dolittle' stories. We felt she could do something more than just primates."
For the pouched rats segment, Goodall was on location in Tanzania, where the mammals are trained to detect TNT. Because the rats are lightweight, they do not trigger hidden landmines to explode. The animals, harnessed like small dogs, are used to clear minefields in Mozambique.
"I love those rats," Goodall said. "They're so soft and whiskery. I didn't realize they had such bonds with their people, but they absolutely do. When they're done working and their little harnesses are removed, they jump right into their traveling boxes."
Viewers will be slightly bewildered by the rats, Goodall said. "They won't know how to relate. And they are going to be all melted and gooey when they see the children reading to dogs."
Goodall's fondness for dogs is evident when she talks about meeting with Scott Shields, whose golden retriever Bear, now deceased, was the first search dog on the scene of New York's collapsed Twin Towers.
"Bear was there a whole day before any other team was allowed in," she said. For those working at the site, Goodall said, the dogs brought comfort.
"There is something about a dog, I don't care what situation you're in, there is a relaxing of the atmosphere and a softening effect," she said.
Goodall frequently mentions St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals, and said animals "give me succor, my spiritual balance."
She's hoping those who are not so attuned to animals will see her program and look at their dogs and cats in a different way.
Because she travels 300 days a year, Goodall has no pets of her own.
"I can't, can I?" she said. "I do miss having a dog. However, wherever I go, I get my dog fixes. It's lovely. I go to a foreign country where I don't speak a word of the language, and I find a dog and suddenly I can totally communicate."
When Animals Talk
Sunday at 8 p.m. on Animal Planet