October 2004--When we asked Beliefnet readers to tell us about their pets' impact on their spiritual lives, we didn't expect the flood of inspiring-and unusual-stories we got. Throughout October, the month when many religious traditions honor animals, Beliefnet will feature our readers' extraordinary stories of how pets bless their lives. See this week's amazing crop.

Healing the Heart's "Nicks and Scratches"
My darling Jake, who is a combination of Boxer, Pit Bull and Ridgeback, iswarm, sweet, powerful beyond belief, and is one of the greatest teachers Ihave ever had. ...having this dog, the first dog of my life, has healed all the tiny nicks andscratches on my heart that I've passed over in order to heal what I'vethought of as "more serious" wounds.(This pic was taken at Winter Solstice a couple of years ago. He hatedwearing the halo so we took it off right after taking the pic.) --Reya M.

Nero, the Yoga Pug
My two-year-old pug Nero is with me virtually all the time. ...it is in the early morning that he is my spiritual companion. My day begins with yoga and meditation. I begin with asana, and he joins in the fun, offering toys for me to tug on or toss while holding a pose. When meditation time comes, he quiets, and curls into a little ball in my lap, being still until I close my practice. His mindfulness, joy in being alive, and unjudgmental heart are reminders to me each day of what is important in this life. --Judi E.

God, St. Francis, and Chai the Cat
Here's my cat Chai, a Lilac Point Siamese. Chai was undernourished, hit, and not taken care of in his old home. ...He has shown me how any creature, given enough love, can blossom and become a real joy. And I get back more than I give-he's an endless source of enjoyment for me-and love. If, as they say, God is Love, then Chai's transformation is a glorious example of that love! I'm including a traditional blessing/prayer to St. Francis, my biggest spiritual inspiration and hero:
Good St. Francis, you loved all of God's creatures. To you they were your brothers and sisters. Help us follow your example of treating every living thing with kindness. St. Francis, Patron Saint of Animals, please watch over my pet and keep my companion safe and healthy.
--Mary R.

Balder, the Bible Dog

This is Balder, an eight-year-old neutered female Jack Russell Terrier. She sits beside me when I read my prayer book, my sacred study materials, when I pray, and when I am silent listening for God's word to me. Often the sound I hear most clearly is her steady breathing, which comforts me.
Heavenly Father, I thank you for sending Balder to me to remind me that I am at my best when I look outside of my own needs. You bless me through the constant affection she shows me. Protect her, Lord, even when she digs up the back lawn looking for moles. Protect the birds, squirrels and bunnies from her. Please incline my neighbors' ears to ignore her barks. I am watching out for her, God, just as you are watching out for me. Amen.
--Anita L.

"They Love Me When I Ignore Them"
Jock, a Yorkshire Terrier, and Lucy, a Chihuahua, have taught me the true meaning of unconditional love. This is the same kind of love that Jesus has for us. They love me when I'm mad, sad, up or down. They love me when I ignore them or get cross with them. They still love me when I don't talk to them or pet them. That is the way our Father is; He loves us no matter what. --Flo W.

"A Whole World We Would Never Have Known"
My husband and I adopted Faith from a tough Jersey City shelter (Faith was the name the pound gave her). Neither of us believes in a conventional higher power, but there is no question that Faith has linked us to a whole world we would never have known without her-from a homeless man who keeps his dog, Foxy, better than he keeps himself, to David, the bread delivery guy who gives Faith Italian rolls, to people who fear our dog because of the way she looks-until Faith kisses them. Faith befriends, regardless of party affiliation or income-and so I do, too, a little more. She has made our hearts big-which is what I believe a spiritual path is supposed to do. --Martha G.

"She Immerses Herself in Today"Poupon, a Gray Tabby, is a constant companion. She has taught me so much about life; especially in how to handle stress-she sleeps! ...She does not stress about tommorrow or yesterday, she immerses herself in today, this hour, this minute. She embodies the notion of being in the present. --Beth M.