When we think about our spirituality, we generally don’t include our household pets. However humans have been living with animals in one way or another since the dawn of time. Including our pets in our spirituality is one way to have a complete household. SPIRITUAL COMPANIONS looks at animals and humans, showing us what these creatures might have to teach us and what they can bring to our spiritual practice
What is Pet Spirituality?
Pet spirituality challenges us to see past the mundane tasks of pet keeping. It combines our spiritual knowledge with what our pets offer to us to form the perfect partnership. The perfect partnership with our pets allows us to interact with them on the spiritual, emotional and physical levels.
Recent scientific studies have shown that fish feel pain, and scientists have known for years that chimpanzees use tools. Although this represents just two of the many animal species, it serves to open a door. Because animals do not communicate the way that humans do, mainly through the use of speech, it doesn’t mean that animals do not have emotions or think in similar ways. Just as it would be difficult to understand the emotions and thought processes of someone who speaks a different language, it is difficult to recognize these signs in our pets. However, with observation, people of different cultures learn to communicate, just as people learn to communicate with animals.
In addition, strong emotions transcend the species barrier. Pain, grief, fear, and joy express themselves on the faces of our fellow humans and our pets.
Once we learn to recognize emotions in our animal companions, then we can take our responsibilities a step farther and treat all animals as children of the Goddess. Not only do pet owners educate themselves about the physical aspects of pet care; they also educate themselves about their chosen spiritual path. For pagans, this means learning the pantheon of gods and goddesses that one chooses or doesn’t choose to worship. This instruction includes learning about animal totems and animal familiars. Anything that might be related to our spirituality becomes ours to learn.
I cannot look at my cats without thinking of the Egyptian goddess Bast, who always looks so regal in her carvings and pictures. When my cats look at me haughtily as I move them from their place on the couch or bed, I’m reminded of the cat-eyed stare of Bast.
My horse frolicking in the fields reminds me of the Celtic goddess Epona. I see in my horse the joy of living in the moment, and as she races across the pasture, the power of being a sovereign creature. The nightmares that Epona is said to bring materialize in the form of a horse’s threatening kick or pulled-back ears.
In addition, animal spirituality means learning what animals mean as totems or spirit guides. The inquisitiveness of a ferret brings different interpretations than does the showy plumage of a parrot. When we encounter animals during dreams or meditations, the experience offers us a chance to learn more about these creatures. By combining this knowledge with the mundane pet sharing our lives, we bring richness to the relationship that is unparalleled.
Pets have emotional needs too. Every companion animal deserves the right to live in an environment without fear or abuse. Creating a safe haven for our pets caters to their emotional needs. When our pets feel safe, they are then able to cater to our emotional needs.
A pet without fear in its environment acts differently than one living with abuse. Everyone has seen a dog cowering behind its master or some piece of furniture, and our hearts have gone out to the creature.
Our pets, living in a safe environment, are free to be themselves. Birds will chirp and warble happily, even squawk, because it is part of their nature. Cats will play with catnip mice or curl up in the sun for a nap. Just as it is important for people to be allowed to be themselves, it is the same with our pets. We may not know what thoughts go through their minds at any given moment, but by not ensuring their emotional needs are met, we hamper their development and their lives. In doing so, we stifle our own spiritual growth.
Our pets return this love and care by ensuring our emotional needs are met. How many times have we felt sad about something, and our pets curled up beside us to offer quiet comfort? Once when I was sick, my parrot stayed on the side of his cage closest to me, and constantly talked to me. Of course it could have been the captive audience, or it could have been that he sensed that something wasn’t right and wanted to try and fix it. His antics cheered me, and I’m sure, helped speed me back to health.
Pet spirituality combines all aspects of pet care: spiritual, emotional, and physical. It may appear that the physical aspects of pet care are obvious. Clean food, fresh water, and a clean place for elimination are the basic elements of physical pet care. The specifics on each of the items may vary from species to species, but the general information remains the same.
However, many people forget or neglect the physical aspects of pet care. Constantly forgetting to clean out the cat’s litter box, or not realizing that the bird’s food dish is filled with seed hulls, jeopardizes the care of the companion animal. Such things like cool, fresh water being available in the summertime seem obvious, yet it is amazing how many people actually forget.
It takes time to properly care in all aspects for our companion animals. Pet spirituality isn’t something that can be done in just a minute or two a day. It takes a concerted effort to ensure that we take the best care of our pets. However, the results are more than worthwhile.
Also, it isn’t difficult to incorporate pet spirituality into our lives. The pet industry already exists in the United States and across the world. This industry, devoted to making the most of our time with our pets, can be a starting place for pet spirituality. And what a starting place it is.