Just recently I heard about a dog that lost its leg dragging his human from the path of a train. Another person lovingly tells the story of how her cat warned her of a blazing kitchen fire, saving both her home and her life. Another confides that, having experienced the brutality of war, now only the presence of his shaggy dog at night helps him feel safe enough to sleep.
I once worked in a convalescent hospital that kept sweet, tiny dwarf goats in a pen along the ambulatory path where patients walked with their attendants and families. It was a favorite destination and meeting place. Sometimes, on really hard days—perhaps after a death or the departure of a beloved patient or nurse—these funny, lovely creatures were brought right inside and allowed to run the halls briefly, cutting the tension and lifting the sadness. Dogs are now trained specifically to bring comfort, calm, and, yes, healing to people in hospitals and rehabs and their own homes. Many riding stables are run on models specifically designed to help damaged or impaired children and teens learn to form responsible, caring relationships with these large, gentle and responsive beings.
For many of us, regardless of our health and age, the animals in our lives—dogs, cats, gerbils, deer, and birds, domestic and wild—rescue, comfort, and heal us daily. They lift our moods, enliven our spirits, and befriend our loneliness. I know I am personally sustained by God, this temple, my family, as well as the wacky dog chasing its tail next to me even as I write (no kidding, he’s just hysterical) and the fuzzy goslings learning how to eat bugs, waiting for me at my door.
Our animal companions are especially good for our spirits when we are sad or low, feeling distant from God and other humans. This poem by Saint John of the Cross, the mystic who experienced and developed the theology of the Darkness of the Soul, expresses it beautifully:
A Rabbit Noticed My Condition
I was sad one day and went for a walk;
I sat in a field.
A rabbit noticed my condition and
It often does not take more than that to help at
To just be close to creatures who
are so full of knowing,
so full of love,
that they don’t
They just gaze with