The Rev. Paul Borthistle with his border collie, Skye. (Christy Borthistle photo)

I have learned much from my canine companion Skye, an eight year old border collie. She came to us as a rescue dog at four months of age, and has enriched the lives of our family in ways that go far beyond her conscious intent. Perhaps the greatest learning comes through the non-verbal interaction that requires deeper ways of relating. She is loving, mischievous, intelligent, demanding, and a wonderful companion.

When my mother was diagnosed with terminal cancer she told one of the members of my family that she looking forward to seeing all her dogs in heaven. He responded, “heresy, there would be no dogs in heaven. She said nothing, but bought him a dog.

After mom died he was heard to say, “It wouldn’t be heaven if there were no dogs!

In The Spirituality of Pets, the latest of the Northstone “Spirituality of series, James Taylor explores our long standing relationship with the animals we call our pets. This is the first of this series that deals with something animate. The earlier books are on wine, mazes and labyrinths, gardens, and art.

Through the stories of relationship with animals, Taylor is able to go deeper into his own spirituality. He says, “They may or may not have spirituality themselves  by the way, I do think that many animals experience elements of awe and wonder, just as we do  but certainly their association with us affects our spirituality.

Throughout the book Taylor tells the stories of special pets, particularly dogs who have taught him lessons about life. One of the particular features of most pets is that their life span is shorter than ours, and so we journey with them through the stages of their lives.

Lessons we need to learn are telescoped into a much shorter time frame. During this time we witness how an animal responds to love and pain in ways that teach us to slow down and see with different eyes. In the end their death is often a model of how we must prepare to die.

A common criticism of having pets is that they take resources that are needed elsewhere. Taylor makes the case that pets are gateways through which we learn justice, compassion, and responsibility. He quotes Charles F. Doran, “Folks will know how large your soul is, by the way you treat a dog!"

Taylor ends with the legacy of Brick, an Irish Setter. When Brick died, he mourned and catalogued the life lessons that Brick had taught him. Lessons such as “going is more important than getting there and many more which I won’t spoil by giving away.

This is a good read and a great gift for animal lovers, and those who may need to learn to love animals. As Skye watched me read, I sensed she was in full approval.