Oban in Como ParkI’ve just returned from one of my favorite weekend routines: an early morning walk through the park with my happy, bounding yellow lab, Oban. I live near one of the busiest parks in the state of Minnesota, but at 6:30 on a winter Sunday morning, it’s just the two of us, and, if we’re lucky, a few early-rising creatures. Today a chorus of woodpeckers guided us through a timbered path on the public golf course – the same path where last fall a large grey owl monitored our steps from atop a broken tree limb.

I treasure these walks with Oban for the opposing sense of solitude and companionship I feel with him. In simple ways, he reminds me about commitment and the reciprocity of relationship. I’ll walk along at a steady pace; if he runs ahead too far, he’ll turn around and wait for me to catch up, or if he lags behind, I’ll look back and find him running at me full speed to stay close.

“There is little that separates humans from other sentient beings – we all feel pain, we all feel joy, we all deeply crave to be alive and live freely, and we all share this planet together” - a quote attributed to Gandhi, and one I thought of when I saw a recent New York Times story on the rehabilitation of the dogs abused by former NFL quarterback Michael Vick in his illegal dogfighting ring. The Best Friends Animal Society sanctuary in Utah houses 22 of Vick’s seized pit bulls who, despite suffering horrible abuse at the hands of humans, still seek human contact and affection (watch the accompanying audio slideshow on this).

We’ve talked about doing a program on the human/animal bond and its spiritual resonance (a topic of greater interest to the pet owners on our staff). Our recent re-broadcast of our program with Katy Payne reminded me of this. Since whales and elephants are not our domestic companions, I hope we can address similar themes of intuitive connection and belonging through the animals closer to our daily lives. I have yet to find a guest who would be a good fit for this topic. Any suggestions?

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I would like to recommend the Monks of New Skete (upstate New York). They are known for breeding, and raising, German Shepherds. They have written several books, including a lovely book about the human-aminal connection (I believe it's called "Dog and I"). Years ago, I saw a wonderful documentary about the monks, and their beautiful connection to their German Shepherds.

I'd like to recommend Suzanne Clothier who is a funny wonderful person whose training methods are based on developing a relationship with dogs. Oban's relationship with you on a walk involves mutual checking in - the sign of a relationship. Take a look at her book "Bones Fall from the Sky" which is not a training manual but a discussion and exploration of the animal/human bond.

If you are still looking at comments, I would just like to add to Sandy's comment about Suzanne Clothier and Clothier's book: "Bones Would Rain From the Sky: Deepening Our Relationships With Dogs"---phenomenal writing/thinking/feeling about dogs in our lives and about the ways we impose ourselves into the lives of the dogs with whom we live. In fact, since reading it, when friends' pets have died, I have often shared a brief page and a half excerpt near the end that is absolutely beautiful and meditative and healing. Would love to hear Suzanne and Krista talk.

I'd like to suggest Suzanne Clothier, a funny wonderful woman whose training methods are based on the animal/human bond. You and Oban on your walks demonstate the beginning of that bond in "checking in". Take a look at her book "Bones Would Rain from the Sky: Deepening our Relationships With Dogs".

I have given a lot of thought to the topic of the human animal bond. I have handled five Seeing Eye Dogs, and live with two cats who have just helped me through a bout with mouse phobia. I would like to see a different approach taken if this program is created. I think an "expert," in this field the behaviors and various training techniques out there for domesticated animals and their people. I also think the insights of people who have relationships with different types of domesticated animals would be interesting such as; pets, service animals, canine core dogs, someone who has worked with animals that were resuced from Katrina and returned to their people, etc. There are many people who could fill the spot of the "expert," including the two that have been mentioned in this blog. Also, Karen Pryor, behaviorist and ethologist, www.clickertraining.org, a trainer of a guide dog, the woman who wrote animal angels, someone who works with search and rescue dogs. There is so much misinformation out there about dogs and their relationships to humans. Did you know dogs generally, (not all) don't like hugs, at least the way humans do it? Would you like somebody who is a whole lot bigger than you towering over you and putting your arms around their neck? would be good to hear from, and I think an "expert," could provide insight into the bond a d discussion about how animals think, and how we think they think. My five Seeing Eye Dogs have each been so different and each has tought me so much in different ways about myself. I trust them every day to guide me safely across streets, through traffic, around obsticles and through crowds. At some point, the nexis of training and bonding come together a and things begin to happen that were'nt part of the training, but the dog starts to figure out for itself. that would There is definitely a spiritual componant in this relatioship for me. Dogs read people much better than we read them. I hope you will pursue this idea. open up

Thanks for both these suggestions - great ideas to pursue. I did read one of the Monks' training books when we got Oban. I know that they are highly respected for their understanding of dog behavior and how to create positive and healthy human/dog connections.

My name is Leslie Corin-Ash. I've worked as a medical social worker for the last 30 years. In the course of doing home visits for a Hospice Agency north of Boston I noticed that family pets were taking on caregiving jobs. In one case a cat, remothered a dying woman who had no family. Her her mother had emotionally abandoned her years before and the cat, rescued by the woman, gave her back a sense of being loved and cared for for the first time in over 50 years.

I saw this over and over with dying humans and their companion animals. Always the animals knew what was going on. There was no denial there. Cats would climb into bed with their human and stay there for days at a time. Dogs helped ailing humans get out of bed and into the bathroom.
Their quiet devotion, their patience when their human despaired, became an invaluable gift. Countless times patients told me they could be more honest with their pets than their family members. I came to see this relationship as transcending the ordinary definition of the human-animal bond. In some ways animals are way ahead of us. I believe they do understand about death, they know that they will die but they don't live their lives in nervous anticipation. They just live and love. They have shown so many people another way to exist in the world beyond self-absorption that I have come to think of animals as our teachers more than as our pets.

I have used this to help people who are dying talk about the meaning of their lives. Always this turns to relationships which most every dying person recognizes as the most important thing in their lives. As people reminisce about their life's relationships, the love they've received from animals takes on added meaning. People often say it was the love of their pet that made them fully 'human'.

As a result of these experiences I trained as an animal communicator and now I do it for a living. It is a source of boundless joy for me to help people deepen their relationships with animals. For by so doing, peole inevitably deepen their relationships with each other and with nature at large.
I'm so glad you have a show like this and wish I had heard about you sooner.

Thank you for your good work.

A great source on this theme is Vicki Hearne, who unfortunately died in 2001. But she wrote some stunningly beautiful and ennobling things -- "Adam's Task: Calling Animals By Name" and ''Bandit: Dossier of a Dangerous Dog." I recommend her books very highly.

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I am living with a seeing-eye dog named Nello who is amazing. Nello teaches all of us the meaning of just being and living in the moment in peace and love. Loved the article and your vision. Thanks.

On the scientific side, biologist Rupert Sheldrake documented his studies of dogs and owners in a book called "Dogs That Know When Their Owners Are Coming Home." It's pretty neat information, and his philosophy expands from dogs to everything, and raises a lot of interesting questions.

Hello Colleen! I believe I may have just the guest(s) for you!

My name is Kris Haley and I am the Manager of Multifaith Outreach for Best Friends Animal Society. Last year, Best Friends facilitated a gathering of over 30 faith leaders from more than 20 faith traditions (and 3 countries) which resulted in the creation of, "A Religious Proclamation for Animal Compassion" (which can be viewed at: bestfriends.org/signproc.)

We are now embarking on the second phase of our program during which dedicated volunteers and faith leaders from all over the country will be bringing the message of the Proclamation...kindness and compassion for animals... to faith (and other) organizations from coast to coast.

This is a mission of the soul. As people of faith continue to look to their faith leaders for 'spiritual permission' to acknowledge their animal companions as spiritual beings, we hope to work toward closing that circle to the end that compassion and kindness toward animals is viewed as a core spiritual value.

I would love the opportunity to further discuss this amazing work with you. Any number of the very diverse, 30 proclamation co-authors might be a good fit for your program, as might the leaders of our organization who had the vision and commitment to facilitate their efforts.

I would be delighted to continue the discussion!

Warm regards, Kris

May I suggest you contact Tammy E Grimes who, in Pennsylvania, promotes the idea of UNchaining chained dogs. She has quite a story to tell. You can get her at dogsdeservebetter.org. She can tell a lot about the lack of bond, the hostile ugly non-bond between some owners and their animals.

A year or so ago (my short version of her long story) she unchained a starving, dying, freezing dog. Spent $1000 to bring it to life (for a few happy months) and was convicted of theft! To me she's a hero. Let me open my address book and get her number for you:


On Jan/09/10 Humboldt Co., California had a 6.5 earthquake, in certain parts, around the Humboldt Bay marina the damage was very severe. As a native California, and having lived in active earthquake areas all of my life, this was a very strange one. Among other things, the normal flocks of Aleutian geese, seagulls, pidgeons, sparrows - they all disappeared aprox. 24 hours before the shaking started, and I have not really seen that many return. I have never read nor head any in depth study on this subject, especially regarding birds, cats and dogs (maybe horses, too).

As a I reading below, I would like to mention that here in Arcata, California, the Mad River Community Hospital has a service cat in residence, who is in charge of visiting patients, kitty has a private room on the hospital grounds. Also, I know of a Catholic brother, who gives his homilies with animals on the steps of the sanctuary. My church, in Zapopan, Jal. Mexico was graced with hundreds of swallows inside and out, especially giving meaning to our liturgical celebrations.

When I heard the news that the sea lions had recently vanished from the San Francisco warves it occurred to me that maybe they sensed something having to do with the potential for a big earthquake in the area. I hope I am wrong but would like to know if anyone is investigating this possibility.

I have studied the human animal bond quite a bit am currently at CUNY Hunter Masters program in animal behavior. James Serpell at UPenn is the foremost expert on the subject- and has more spiritual insight than you might think.A lovely man who I spoke qwith extensively at a conference at Green Chimneys in Brewster NY. Green Chimneys works with human animal bond therapies to aid the treat ment of emotionally challenged children- there is a farm and animal rehab as well as a school, and vegetable garden. A geat place.

The other person that might be a nice fit is Linda Tellington Jones who developed Tellington Touch first with horses then companion animals. A hands on healing technique loosely based on Feldekrais priciples- I have see shelter dogs become wonderful companios in a few sessions. Linda has worked all over the world with every kind of animal. She is vibrant intelligent and spiritually focused, The show idea is great- you might also check out the publication AnthroZoos- it is a good resource for human/animal bond research.
Best and better
Leila Gastil

Very recommended for a SOF show would be Norman Phelps. I heard him speak at the "Their Lives Our Voices" convention last year and was immensely impressed at his eloquence and knowledge. His speech was remarkable and you could of heard a pin drop...

Norm Phelps has been an animal rights activist for more than twenty years, working with a number of animal protection organizations. He is the author of The Dominion of Love: Animal Rights According to the Bible, The Great Compassion: Buddhism and Animal Rights, and The Longest Struggle: Animal Advocacy from Pythagoras to PETA, published by Lantern Books.

I think a SOF show with Norm would be an amazing thought provoking event!

As an animal trainer and lover this is the subject most dear to my heart. Growing up with a cold and scientific Mother (who actually really dislikes children) I literally mirrored love through the eyes of our great dane. The household was also very much an athiest household, but full of mythology and anthropology books. I became an animist by the age of six. Thankfully my spiritual interests have broadened since then, but the animals I share my life with are central to my sense the world.

In my almost fifty years I have experienced animals from many perspectives. I was a "natural" with messed up horses and dogs and so made my living that way. I was also a high level dressage trainer and teacher for most of my adult life. I rehabilitated horses with spinal issues and stallions with behavioral problems. In my personal life I did volunteer work with my mastiff, Blanche for violent autistic adults and Alzheimer patients. I've done energy healing work for animals and had them do energy healing for me. My husband is a physicist who works with whale song and ocean acoustics in the most rigid scientific peer review setting and I've helped him with the behavioral aspects of his research, traveling to Antarctica to work with Blue whales and Leopard seals.

Unfortunately I think most animal "experts" have an agenda. Whether it be animal rights, a certain training system, animals as spiritual angels or animals on earth for our ownership and use. It's a subject most certainly fraught with emotional landmines. And I tend to find even the most universally compassionate spiritual path woefully human-centric. We have much to learn from other animals, whether it be being present in our moment, sensitive and aware like a prey animal or generous and selfless while maintaining one's ego as Blanche taught me over and over while working with violent people.

There are a few new ideas that really interest me. The paper, Co-evolution of Humans and Canids: An Alternative View of Dog Domestication: Homo Homini Lupus? Wolfgang M. Schleidt/Michael D. Shalter looks at the idea that human social evolution came about 150,000 years ago because of our observing and then living with social canines. I love the idea that canines may have domesticated us more then we domesticated them. Mark Bekoff speaks to this a bit in his book Animal Justice, but not to the degree in the paper listed above. I wish these guys would write a book!

Made for Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond by Meg Daley Olmert, looks into the animal/ human bond from a biological as well as a historic place. I think this is the finest book to be written on the subject in many years.

In my own personal journey I have found myself with a rare and serious illness that left me partially paralyzed. My stallion ended up being a huge part of my healing and my own spiritual awakening. I've loved and trained him since his birth. After months of chemo and steroids I was weak and ill beyond caring. A dear friend, a Jungian psychologist, convinced me to attempt some Kundalini yoga using Aslan (yes, I named him that when he was three days old) as the energy source. Because of my dressage training I could do this, yoga on a lion. Not only did Aslan heal my body with his golden power, but he opened an etheric world I thought would never exist for me.

Namaste and amen,

Dinny Falkenburg
I could go on (and on and on).

Beautiful piece, Dinny. Did you see Leila Gastil's comments? She's another Lakesider. RR

i believe you could have an amazing show with Irene Lane as your guest.
she would absolutely be able to share what various animals with whom she has worked have told her about many issues of faith, and many other ideas.

How about the relationship between humans and the wild horses and burros of north america. They evolved here on our continent and are now experiencing a holocaust of their kind by the BLM. I have 3 adopted BLM horses and 4 adopted BLM burros. I can suggest resources if this sounds of interest.

Hi Colleen, I saw your request for suggestions and immediately thought of author Jon Katz. He's written about 8 non fiction books about dogs and other domesticated animals. In all of them explores the human/animal connection through his own experiences (He owned a small farm) and the experiences of people he has contact with. His book "The New Work of Dogs" is about how dogs have a new role in our society. He claims that as we become more disconnected from nature and each other, we use dogs to fulfill our emotional needs. His latest book "Soul of a Dog" explores the question of weather animals have souls. He also has a website bedlamfarm.com

I am a 2nd year Masters student in Animal Behavior at CUNY Hunter. I have studied the human animal bond for several years- Two guest suggestions: Dr. James Serpell at UPen is pretty much the foremost expert on this. He heads up the International AnthroZoology Association and is more spiritual than his academic pedigree might suggest. I have met him several times and heard him lecture. He is a lovely British man with both a historical and research body of knowledge and of course good anecdotes.
The other person who has long been involved in this area is Linda Tellington Jones who developed Tellington touch a hands on healing method- based on the principles of Feldenkrais. Her work was first with horses and then companion animals. I have been trained in the companion animal version. I trained mostly with shelter dogs at Best Friends animal Society in Utah and what impressed me most was that unlike other training- Tellington touch restored a dignity and calm sense of self- in space and in relation to the other beings around. Brilliant work, Tellington is practiced all over the world. Either one or both of these people would make a wonderful, insightful-compelling show. And yes- I love "Speaking of Faith", Thank you.

I also forgot to mention, of course, the Monks of New Skete ; they raise German Shepherds and operate a training programme and have written three books of enduring value on training and the special relationship between dogs and people. They are esp interesting because their strategy involves discipline and correction, to which today's positive trainers are opposed. But, their programme has a wait list that is over 3 months long and their dogs sell for 2-3K , on an even longer wait list. They often talk about dogs and spirituality. They'd be awesome on your show.

Lawrence Anthony, who wrote The Elephant Whisperer

Wayne Pacelle of the Human Society of the United States has a new book, The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them which is due to be released on April 5.

we are big supporters of this topic... let us know if we can help...
www.springreinsofhope.com or www.eagala.org

Animals Rock and we have sooo much to learn from them...

We LOVE this idea...
Please let us know if you would include Horses into this topic...
www.springreinsofhope.com or www.eagala.org

Horses are helping humans heal and learn new and more beneficial ways to live.
Horses have stood by man for thousands of years...in the past 200 we have abandoned them in that we dont need their muscle anymore...but we are also reeling away from nature and our natural essence....

Animals have so much to teach us...we humans are not the most evolved species - and the sooner we begin to accept the wisdom that will and can come from listening and respecting on another (all species) the sooner we will be saved from peril... :)

also check out Angel Animal Network...
they have HUGE supply of evidence from real people all over the world...

There's always Monty Roberts. I went to a State Fair near my home to see a horse whisperer work and loved it. He's got the right idea. That's how birds work too. What if you opened it up to a lot of short stories about people relating to animals? I think you'd have a mountain of submissions.

Here in Humboldt Co., California one of our hospitals has a resident cat, he is a professional therapists and has his own room. He visits patients that do not otherwise receive visitors. I am a tutor, Level - I, and my tutee had serious reading issues - 3 years behind -, and has had excellent improvement since reading to her wonderful cat. My father was an only son and growing up in Alaska was difficult - my grandparents had him especially in charge of 7 sled dogs - he is the kindest man I have ever known. After my mom passed-away, one night a strange lady came to the door and I let her in - my Himalaya "Pop Corn", first jumpedin my arms as we were talking, then do a 7 ft leap up on the crystal cabinet, then stared on the lady and then jumped her - which caused her to leave immediately - next day a few of my neighbors came to warn me about a strange lady that was planning to rob my mom's antique collection inside the cabinet...Yes, it is urgent that you do a program on this - there are theologians that are studying animal souls and spiritis...

That is exactly my favorite weekend morning routine!  I thought I was the only one who had it.  ;-)

After that long walk, when both of us are tired, it's heaven to go home, make a nice breakfast, read the paper and have coffee, while my yellow lab, Peaches, sleeps.  (She doesn't tire out easily, so when she is tired, I know I've done well.)  Sometimes she dreams, and I think she's dreaming about what we've seen.

Jennifer Arnold - Through a Dog's Eyes. Jan Fennell - Dog Listener
Both of these books are helping me understand my little dog better.
Also Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better
Friend to Your Pet by John Bradshaw.
What if you had a program with a conversation between people like this, rather than just interview one person?

Jennifer Arnold - Through a Dog's Eyes. Jan Fennell - Dog Listener
Both of these books are helping me understand my little dog better.
Also, someone I heard on NPR (I think it was All Things Considered) is John Bradshaw - Dog Sense: How the New Science of Dog Behavior Can Make You A Better
Friend to Your Pet.
What if you had a program with a conversation between people like this, rather than just interview one person? I would love to hear all of them.
And I will look up Suzanne Clothier now that I have read the recommendations of others!

How about Jon Katz who wrote "The New Work of Dogs"?

When I suggested Jon Katz of Badlam Farm, I should have included horse trainer, Buck Brannaman. If you are not familiar with him, there's a documentary of his work simply titled, "Buck" which demonstrates his deep understanding, his compassion and a clear awareness that, as he works with horses, it's really the human owners who are in need of and receiving healing, just as he healed his own childhood trauma through working with horses. It's one of the most phenomenal and enlightening things I've ever seen with regard to the human/animal relationship.

Linda Bender. She has just written a book about this subject.