Beliefnet

Proceeds from Why We Love Them So go toward funding cancer research to benefit our animal friends.

When my 25-year-old cat, Teddy, passed away, it gave me the opportunity to reflect on the meaning of life, and how love can help people and animals to live well and even under difficult conditions. Teddy died in his sleep, and without pain, one thing for which I felt very grateful as I tried to come to terms with the loss of my friend who had come into my life 18 years before.

The fact that Teddy lived so long, and that I had the opportunity to accompany him through the various stages of his life, is a testimony to the power of God and to the power of love. Teddy was very sick his entire life. One of my mottos derived from my long tenure as a cat-parent is “there’s no such thing as a free cat.” Some friends had given me Teddy (and Flicka, who passed away in 2000, also at the age of 25) to help them reduce their cat population from four to two. I had never had cats, and wanted to, and, it seemed, the price was right.

Little did I know that, within a month, I’d be rushing Teddy off to the animal hospital for emergency surgery on his large intestine! The bill, of course, was staggering. No sooner had he recovered from that than another vet diagnosed him with a chronic immune system deficiency, which left him with bouts of flu-like illness at fairly regular intervals. Over the years, I learned how to care for Teddy at home, how to let him sleep when he needed to, how to feed him when he had lost interest in food.

Throughout these episodes, I credit the power of prayer. Many times I would hold Teddy in my arms, all the while praying for him and letting him feel whatever I could mirror of the Father’s gentle love. Every time, it brought him around. Over time, his health improved, and the bouts of illness were much less frequent and easier to deal with. It was the power of prayer and the power of God’s love that made all the difference. In return, I was the recipient of a million lovely visits, when Teddy would snuggle up into my lap and fall asleep. I learned that love can travel in two directions at the same time.

Looking for life lessons in my long relationship with Teddy is a fairly easy task. Here are a few. Love can conquer the distance between the human world and the animal world. Love bridges gaps. When we feel limited in our ability to love, or feel separated or misunderstood or far away from loved ones, we can know that a simple sending forth of a loving thought or prayer can bridge even the widest of gaps. And at some level, whether we think so or not, an impulse of love comes back in return. Jesus taught us that—he called it the hundredfold. Living a happy and meaningful life does not require always being in the best of health or other outer circumstances. Indeed, adverse circumstances can soften our hearts and bring into our lives those people who are really true friends. They often create our dearest and most cherished memories.

And best of all, God’s healing and protecting love is always there, whether times are good or bad, whether we feel well or feel poorly, whether we are financially secure or shaky. If we refuse to let our adversities harden us, we can let them open us to new wisdom, new understanding and an abundance of love.

I am grateful to Teddy and to all of the animals I have known over the years who have helped me to understand the meaning of life and of God’s powerful love. They have been marvelous ambassadors and communicators of that which is most real and precious in life.

Father Paul Keenan was author of many books and articles and lifelong friend to animals. His final manuscript was a tribute to Teddy, and all beloved pets, called "Why We Love Them So: Surviving the Loss of an Animal Friend." Proceeds from Why We Love Them So go toward funding cancer research to benefit our animal friends.

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