Personal spiritual beliefs and love for our companion animals — are these inherently linked? We believe so. Anyone who has looked into the eyes of the dog knows that in there resides a soul, a being of warmth and intelligence. But, how do we effectively communicate, in both life and after death? Anthropologist, Dr. Marilyn Walker, speaks to this issue and the healing bond between companion animals and people.

She says this: "Recent research in quantum physics, in the mind-body connection, and in psycho-immunology is showing that we have a brain in our head but also in our heart. This 'heart-brain' is surely how we communicate with our companion animals, and they with us." You can read more about this by clicking here.

Amelia Kinkade's April 2006 book, The Language of Miracles: A Celebrated Psychic Teaches You to Talk to Animals, is another great resource that author Susan Chernak McElroy says, 'takes on the fields of animal communication and quantum physics, merges them in a delightful and utterly provocative way—and makes it look easy.'

And, our own personal hero, Dr. Allen Schoen says this about the book: "Amelia continues to revolutionalize the controversial arena of animal communication through her insights, wit, and wisdom. Integrating scientific and spiritual perspectives, she guides us through the development of our profound connections with our kindred spirits."

What Animals Can Teach Us About Spirituality: Inspiring Lessons from Wild and Tame Creatures  was written by Diana L. Guerrero in 2003. Do you want to deepen your spiritual connection? Do you want to strengthen your bond with animals? What Animals Can Teach Us about Spirituality will help you unlock the secrets of the animal kingdom, provide intriguing perspectives on the complex relationships between nature and humans, and lead you to a greater awareness of yourself and the world around you.

Respected animal behaviorist and therapist Diana L. Guerrero demonstrates the ways in which animals can teach us about: Bringing Out the Best in Each Other Living in the Now, Moving Beyond Fear, Helping One Another Healing through Life Experiences, Living by Example, Embracing Change Positively Listening to the Unspoken, Unconditional Acceptance, and Making Time to Play. With practical and meaningful advice, Guerrero will help you understand why animals touch the soul, and explore your own answer to the question: "Do animals have souls?"

Whether you believe that dogs have a spiritual core or not, no one will dispute how appealing it is to see our dogs imitating a spiritually loaded behavior such as praying. Of course, our dogs are superb mimics and clearly will imitate behaviors for positive consequences (such as getting a treat, your positive attention, etc.).

Conan, the long-haired Chihuahua below, has quite the following and has become the "Praying Dog" of the internet. We love James Ure's take, from The Buddhist Blog:

I'm sure that this little doggie doesn't understand what he is doing but I'm sure that he feels the peaceful energy surrounding him that helps him feel content, peaceful and calm. He has Buddha nature as any other living entity and is our relative in the large and beautiful family of sentient beings.

It seems less skillful to me to regard animals as less than us and therefore somehow not worthy of our protection and kindness. We must look upon animals with compassion and help them live the best life possible to help reduce their suffering as no sentient beings wants to suffer. And even though we see ourselves as their teachers and guides, they too have much to offer and teach us.

They remind us not to take ourselves too seriously, they teach us how to have unconditional love for others, they remind us of the freedom found in the present moment and to not let anger rule our hearts but to forgive and move on. Animals are the ultimate optimists who teach us a positive attitude brings great happiness and that is o.k. to be submissive at times.

Does a dog have Buddha nature?
By Chiyomi Sumida, Stars and Stripes, April 20, 2008

Dogs are said to be the embodiment of happiness and unconditional love. And if that sounds very Zen-like, well, there’s a pup at a Buddhist temple in Naha, Okinawa, that might just prove the point.

Conan, a long-haired Chihuahua, has mastered how to properly behave and offer prayers in the temple. He’s been offering prayers since he was 5 months old.

During a recent visit to a Zen temple near Shuri Castle, a visitor found Conan sitting up straight on his hind legs, his front paws together and looking up at his master, Joei Yoshikuni, the temple’s 29th-generation priest.

Conan lives with his human family members in Jigen In, a temple of the Rinzai Zen sect, better known as Shuri Kannon Do.

Every day, Conan accompanies Yoshikuni to the temple’s main hall, sitting up in a prayer position while his master reads a sutra in offering morning prayers. “He does it to the rhythm of a sutra I chant,” Yoshikuni said as he cast a gentle look at his furry disciple.

Conan came to the temple in autumn of 2006 as an 8-week-old puppy. Yoshikuni said he had an enlightenment on the puppy’s first New Year’s Day.

“I came up with an idea to teach him, a Buddhist temple dog, the basic worshipping posture,” he said.

Bribing the dog with a treat, Yoshikuni showed him the praying posture. Within a few days, Conan mastered it, he said.

Word about the praying dog quickly spread throughout the island and, eventually, worldwide. As his popularity grew, more people, especially younger people, began visiting the temple.

These days there is an endless stream of visitors to the temple, which stands on a hilltop overlooking the city of Naha.

Yoshikuni said that his temple occasionally offers zazen, or sitting meditation, for Americans.

“It is our pleasure if Americans can get firsthand experience of Japanese culture here at our temple,” he said of the structure that was built in 1618 by King Sho of the Ryukyus.

“Zazen will help you to seek the true self by emptying your self-consciousness and judgmental thinking,” said Yoshikuni’s father, Jogen Yoshikuni, the chief priest.

Sitting straight and pressing your hands together is a posture to symbolize humbling yourself and meditating to see things with your mind’s eye, he said.

The chief priest said he is pleased to see Conan following the teaching — in form, at least.

The younger Yoshikuni, however, wonders what is in Conan’s mind when the seven-pound canine makes the worship posture.

"Probably food,” he laughed. “Because I trained him with a treat, he probably associates the posture with a treat.”

A veterinarian figured the same.

“It could be conditional reflex, called Pavlovian response,” said Hidekazu Ikehara of the Ikehara Animal Hospital in Okinawa City as he examined the images of Conan posted on the Internet. “He must have learned that he will be praised by making the gesture.”

Dogs also watch behaviors of human beings and try to imitate them, especially when they learn that it pleases their owner, he said, noting that the intelligence of an adult dog matches that of a 3-year-old child. Some seeing-eye dogs achieve the level of a 5-year-old human, he added.

“They imitate what human beings do. That is why dogs take on the dispositions of their owners,” Ikehara said.

Conan seems to have perfectly adapted to life in the temple. “Everything he does, he does it with a prayer,” Joei Yoshikuni said. The dog prays before his two meals and before he goes out for a walk three times a day.

Whether he’s motivated only by food or by some canine spiritual calling, probably only dog knows.



Praying in a house of worship, as shown above, or before meals and at bedtime are all situations now depicted with our furry companions. While we are remiss and do not pray before sitting down to a meal, this smart guy in the video sure has the idea. Interestingly, though, there is no food on his plate. But, the dude below clearly has his meal a-waiting.


This bedtime image is one of our favorites, and the original photo as shown below, has definitely gone viral. It has been passed on from friend to friend for quite some time, always classically evoking the desired "Awww!" response.

The boy’s name is Jesse Rodrigues Jr. and the dog's name is Floyd. Jesse’s mom actually took the photograph, and in June 2008, artist Mike Ivey, provided his incredible 'oil on canvas' version.

We you just love the addition of the praying cat (brings up the thought "Cat"echism or Meow Mitzvahs).




Pets Gaining Recognition in Places of Worship
By Maryann Mott for National Geographic News, October 6, 2006

At St. Francis Episcopal Church in Stamford, Connecticut, the pews are filled with some unlikely worshipers. Dogs sit by their owners' sides and cats peer out from carriers during a monthly pet-friendly service.

Barks and purrs—or "prayer noises," as the church calls them—can be heard during the afternoon celebration of Eucharist, in which people receive communion and pets a special blessing. The half-hour service focuses on the special relationships people have with their animals, says Rev. Mark Lingle. "At our church there are a number of people who are single or who have lost a loved one, and their pet is one of their primary relationships," he said.

The church's special service is part of a growing movement among places of worship, some of which not only recognize the human-animal bond but offer pet owners support and services almost unheard of a decade ago. In addition to special blessings or regular church services, these places hold private pet memorials or burials and offer grief counseling to comfort members whose pets have died.

Dealing With Loss
Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Beth Shir Sholom, a progressive reform Jewish synagogue in Santa Monica, California, says that when a pet dies, owners suffer the same grief as they would over the loss of a human.

For years he's made condolence calls or visits with members of his congregation whose pets have died. And after each service he says a prayer for members mourning the loss of an animal or human. "It's something people don't necessarily expect their synagogue to do, which is to recognize how important their animals are in their lives," he said.

An increasing number of churches and synagogues are recognizing the animal-human bond with activities such as pet-friendly services and private memorials.

For example, the congregation at the Beth Shir Sholom temple in Santa Monica, California, holds a "Bark Mitzvah
" each spring during the Jewish holiday of Purim. The annual ritual for pets is a lark, with spoofs of songs and prayers, says Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels. But when it comes time to bless the animals, people take it very seriously.

Rev. Gill Babeu, a Catholic priest at St. Bridget of Ireland in Stamford, Connecticut, says he understands the pain of losing a beloved companion animal. Six months ago he was devastated by the death of his poodle, Louise Frances, and fell into a deep depression.

Even though the church does not condone masses or funerals for pets, Babeu still presides over backyard burials by reciting a simple prayer. When asked if there are dogs in heaven, he replied: "Well, the church says no. But I really believe I'm going to see my little doggie when I get there."

Chaplain Duty
Rob Gierka is a new breed of chaplain. Originally trained to provide pastoral care at hospitals, he now consoles North Carolina pet owners whose animals are sick or dying. Gierka grew up in a houseful of animals and experienced a deep sadness with each one's passing, he says. But no one ever acknowledged his feelings or seemed to care about his pets' deaths.

Today the Baptist chaplain provides clients at a local animal-rehabilitation center with what he didn't have as a child—a shoulder to cry on. The soft-spoken chaplain also oversees private memorial services where he plays guitar and recites a few prayers. And he provides emotional support for owners during euthanasia procedures.

Gierka says he's careful not to impose any religious views on the owners he counsels. But most veterinary hospitals struggle with the issue of religion and pet care and shy away from Gierka's services, which are offered for free, he says. "It's an uphill climb to try to get these large veterinary hospitals to accept pet chaplains," he said. "But I know it was the same uphill battle for chaplains in human hospitals." In the future Gierka would like to see an army of trained pet chaplains around the country.

A Place to Rest
In New Providence, New Jersey, a garden at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church offers animal owners, regardless of their religious affiliation, a final resting place for their pets. Created some 40 years ago, the pet cemetery is believed to be the only one located on church grounds in the United States.

The ashes of more than a hundred faithful companions are buried in the flower-filled garden. No headstones mark the grave sites. Instead a memorial book with photos of all the buried animals is kept in the church. "People's pets become part of their family, and it helps their grieving to have a prayer and a special place to bury them," church rector Margaret Hodgkins said.

As religious leaders begin to recognize the human-animal bond, some Episcopal Church leaders have gone a step further by raising awareness of various animal issues such as cruelty, neglect, and exploitation.

The Episcopal Network for Animal Welfare—launched two years ago—has about 200 members as well as 15 churches that have pledged to be "animal friendly." The churches must hold an animal-blessing service each year, provide pastoral care and prayer for members grieving the loss or illness of a pet, serve vegetarian fare during community meals, and agree not to hold fundraisers that center on the killing of animals, such as pig roasts and lobster boils.

"People get a lot of flak for caring about animals," said Rev. Rebecca Deinsen, a priest in Worthington, Ohio, who helped start the network. "This gives people a sense of support and of community."

Christians' views of animals are slowly changing for the better, says Andrew Linzey, an Anglican priest and author of several books on the subject, including Animal Rights: A Historical Anthology. Historically, Christian theology has been against animals, Linzey says, regarding them as little more than lumps of meat. "It may be that we exploit animals so much precisely because we have such a spiritually impoverished view of their status," Linzey said. "The Christian mind should be [that] we are given life by a generous creator," he said. "And we in turn, in the image of God, must show that generosity to other creatures."


Animals and ReligionJudaism's Perspective
Although various Christian clergy have come out with their individual beliefs attesting to the holiness or redeemable nature of animals, most adhere to the belief that scripture does not offer a definitive answer. Yet, in Judaism, issues related to animal kindness and to the questions of whether animals have souls and whether our beloved companion animals go to heaven are clearly addressed.

CHAI, an organization in Israel, is striving to foster empathy, respect, and responsibility toward all living beings. They are inspiring and empowering people, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian, to recognize the interconnectedness of all life and to make compassionate choices for the good of all. The following True-False Quiz on Judaism and Kindness to Animals comes from their fabulous Curriculum for Children Jewish Humane Education Kit. Let's see how you do!

1. G-d made covenants with animals just as with people.
2. Only humans go to Heaven.
3. Hunting for sport is permissible as long as the animals have a "sporting chance."
4. Rebecca was chosen to be Isaac's wife because she gave water to some thirsty camels.
5. Rabbi Judah suffered from a toothache for thirteen years because he ignored a calf's plea for help, but his health was restored when he prevented his daughter from killing a family of weasels.
6. Any animal that kills a human should be put to death immediately.
7. A person who was a spectator at gladiatorial games was only condemned if the games involved humans.
8. A person who is noble, polite, sensible, learned, and orthodox may be considered righteous even though he or she is cruel to animals.
9. Noah was called righteous because he spent an entire year caring for animals in the Ark.
10. Since humans are given dominion over the animals, we can subordinate all their needs to ours.
11. When an animal is slaughtered for food, the blood of the animal or bird is covered to indicate that killing is a shameful act.
12. Animal sacrifices are considered worthy deeds.
13. It is important to muzzle oxen when they are threshing corn.
14. It is forbidden to tie the legs of a beast or of a bird in a manner that would cause them pain.
15. Although a blessing is said when new clothes are worn, the blessing may not be said if the clothes are made of fur or leather, for you have killed to get them.
16. There is a special blessing only for fruit, vegetables, bread, and wine, but not for meat dishes.
17. Animals are to be fed and watered only after humans have finished eating.
18. Only humans are required to rest on the Sabbath. Animals can work on the Sabbath as long as it is for a non-Jew.
19. The first diet of humans and animals was vegetarian, and one day we will all be vegetarians once again.
20. You should help an animal in distress only if you don't have to violate the Sabbath or interrupt the carrying out of a commandment do so.
21 You are not permitted to wear leather shoes on Yom Kipper because you can't ask for compassion for yourself if you haven't shown it to others.
22. G-d chose Moses and David as leaders of their people because of their compassion for animals.

Now, just click here for the answers and discussion!

Pet Mitzvahs, which began in the 1980s, are now a very popular trend. They accompany the many churches that provide special services to bless congregants' companion animals.

Diana L. Guerrero's book, Blessing of the Animals: A Guide to Prayers & Ceremonies Celebrating Pets & Other Creatures, welcomes all creeds, all breeds, and covers everything from amusing contemporary phenomena—with such chapters as “Rites of Paw-sage: Muzzle Tov,” about “bark” and other mitzvahs—to more serious issues of pet illness, loss, and burial. There are blessings for the furry, feathered, scaled, and finned; prayers for a new pet; fascinating background on the historical roots of critter celebrations (plus information on where to find some of the most popular ones today); tales of muttrimony and other pet nuptials; and advice on hosting a purr-fect party or participating in a pet pageant.

Written by Shari Cohen, Alfie's Bark Mitzvah is a fun book for Jewish youngsters. Brimming with unconditional love, devotion, and a never-ending desire to help others, Alfie is the epitome of all dogs and is a great role model for kids. It seems he's been that way since he was a pup. But today, Alfie is passing from puppyhood to adulthood and, in honor of this most important occasion, Alfie gets to celebrate his Bark Mitzvah with all of his family and friends. Alfie's Bark Mitzvah is beautifully illustrated by Nadia Komorova and, as a bonus, includes a CD of children's songs created especially for the book by the internationally acclaimed Cantor Marcelo Gindlin.

Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels of Santa Monica's progressive Reform Temple, Beth Shir SholomHouse of the Song of Peace, held the first community Bark Mitzvah in the early 1980's. The affair continues to be held in the barking lot, with all four-legged participants receiving a Bark Mitzvah certificate. And, for a small fee, they can even get a commemorative photograph of the event. Rabbi Neil, of course, is a dog lover, being the proud dad of a Bark Mitzvah'd Sheltie and Australian Shepherd.

A Temple Beth Shir Shalom Bark Mitzvah consists of a welcoming blessing for both the humans and the canines, in which the homo sapiens thank G-d for “beautiful acts of creation”—their pets. “We have kippot with chin straps to put on if the owners want and the dogs are amenable,” says Comess-Daniels.


Beth Shir Sholom: 1827 California Ave, Santa Monica, CA
Pet Shabbat: A Summer Bark Mitzvah on August 21, 2009 – 7:30 pm 

All kinds of Pets are welcome to our Pet Shabbat/Bark Mitzvah! Invite your furry (or feathery or scaly) Jewish friends (and their humans!) from the homes of neighbors and families! It’ll be a little bit of a “different” evening, filled with love for our animal family members and lots of fun! Here’s what we need from you:

Please sign up so we know how much supplies and food to provide. $18 per pet received on or by August 14th. $25 per pet from the 15th on.

Fee includes a yarmulke with chin straps, a Bark Mitzvah Certificate and treats! Bark Mitzvah photos are optional for an additional fee of $7. Proceeds to go to Guide Dogs for the Blind and Assistance Dogs International.

Please leash or cage your pet as necessary (remember all the other species around!) Please bring your own “poop bags” to clean up after your pet. Thanks! We can’t wait to meet and give a good scratch to all the Bark Mitzvah candidates!

Email the following info to, Rabbi Neil’s Executive Assistant (and pet whisperer!): Pet Name(s) & Species, Name(s) of Human Owners, Address, Phone, Email.


The Shehecheyanu blessing (Hebrew: "who has given us life") is said. The Rabbi has taken this prayer, which is said to celebrate special occasions, and adapted it to the song, Fiddler on the Roof, which he sings to the Bark Mitzvah boys and girls. Playing his guitar as well, he sings: "May G-d protect and defend you, may He always shield you from fleas.” He also provides a Barchu blessing (the call to prayer in the temple) in which the owners all kneel alongside their dogs.

“We do this event mostly as a lark,” says Comess-Daniels. “But,” he adds, “the reality is that there is this beautiful underlying seriousness to it that everyone brings, recognizing what an important part of our families our animals are. “It’s something that doesn’t quite fall into the traditional realm of Judaism,” he concedes, “but it’s a way to bring the community together.”

"To take a moment to celebrate the animals in our lives that bring so much to us, it's something that absolutely should be celebrated," he says, "and to recognize what an important part of our families they are."

Rachel Zuckerman, author of the 2003 Jewish Daily Forward article, From Member of the Family To Member of the Tribe?, revealed more about Rabbi Neil Comess-Daniels unique perspective:

For Comess-Daniels, Bark Mitzvahs are about the spiritual connection some humans feel for their animals, not about a relationship between their dogs and G-d — regardless of all the linguistic palindrome jokes. (What’s dog spelled backward?)

“I run a fun event,” the rabbi said. “People are bringing their pets into the spiritual parts of their lives and expressing it in a Jewish, communal way.”

To maintain a boundary of sorts, he said, “we perform Bark Mitzvahs around Purim, because it’s a time when we make fun of ourselves, and I felt it was more appropriate to do it in that context.” Comess-Daniels said he wanted to provide a Jewish equivalent to the Catholic ritual in which animals are blessed in the church. “I believe that there is some spark of divinity in all animate and inanimate creatures,” he said, adding “this is not necessarily a relationship [between God and dog]…. I do believe they have the essence of divinity.”

All of Beth Shir Shalom’s Bark Mitzvahs are held in the parking lot, to avoid any “accidents” in the sanctuary. The events are usually oriented toward a family’s youngest members, which might account for some of the sillier aspects of the ritual — howling on behalf of the dog, for example. The ceremony begins with Comess-Daniels reciting the prayer said when seeing beautiful animals and ends with the awarding of a Bark Mitzvah certificate to the dog’s owner — to make it “official,” of course.

“I have a tendency to anthropomorphize animals,” said Comess-Daniels, whose home houses an Australian shepherd and a Shetland sheepdog. He said that on several occasions he has been approached by congregants grieving for their pets. “To tell them that Judaism does not accommodate that would just be cruel. So, why not appropriately embrace our pets in our spiritual outlook on life while they are alive?”


Reporter Diane Herbst provided her own version of a Bark Mitzvah for her dogs, Rudi and Smokey, detailed in the 2009 article, Muzzle Tov! My Dog’s Bark Mitzvah. (We learned that 13-year-old Golden Rudi has just been diagnosed with cancer [8/09], so we love being able to honor this sweet girl here during healthier times.)

Smokey's Bark Mitzvah

The ceremony was brief: a blessing over egg challah and grape juice "wine," a speech about my gratitude for my youngest's presence in my life and all that he's brought, and a swim in the frigid fresh-water creek.

The Bark Mitzvah of two-year-old Smokey or about 13 in doggie years, the bar and bat mitzvah age of Jewish boys and girls continued with a modest reception at his home in New Jersey, with three other dogs and a dozen humans who ate a cake that had "Muzzle Tov Smokey" written across its white frosting by a bakery worker who said "Hey, I like all cultures" when I apologized for my odd request.

As a female Jew who sees her dogs as her children, why not make a Bark Mitzvah? ... The first Bark Mitzvah I threw was in 2004 for my oldest, Rudi, a golden retriever. A modest affair, I ordered doggie yarmulkes and a Tallis (Jewish prayer shawl) and a beautiful $70 doggie/human carrot cake with sugar-free cream cheese frosting. At Party City I found a red dog-shaped piñata which I filled with treats and bobbed from a broom handle as Rudi and her puppy pals tore it open and gorged themselves.


Check out some more fun Bark Mitzvah videos here.


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