©2003 Linda Marks

I met my first soul-mate when I was less than one year old. I fell in love as soon as I saw him. He was steady, loving, and always glad to see me. His name was Mittens and he was a black cocker spaniel who lived next door. My mother has pictures of me sharing special times with Mittens: sitting on the steps at his house with my jacket and winter hat on, playing on the lawn with Mittens on a beautiful summer day, and exchanging loving glances when he and I were about the same size. Great love is sometimes cut short by the rhythms of life. Mittens died when I was two-and-a-half. My heart was broken, but I never forgot the depth of our connection or the warmth of his love.

The term "soul-mate" is most often used to describe a romantic partner, and certainly a human being. Yet, some of our deepest and longest lasting bonds are not with people, but with the cats, dogs, horses, rabbits and other animals we share our lives with--our four legged companions. As our world moves faster, as our lives get busier and more scheduled, and as we have less time to be with family and friends, our four-legged friends are often the most constant source of love and companionship in many people's lives. Our four-legged soul-mates provide emotional and spiritual connection and can serve as our teachers and healers if we are open to them.

In his book The Souls of Animals, Gary Kowalski writes, "To me, animals have all the traits indicative of soul. For soul is not something we can see or measure. We can only observe its outward manifestations: in tears and laughter, in courage and heroism, in generosity and foregiveness. Soul is what's behind the scenes in the tough and tender moments when we are most grippingly alive....Soul is the point at which our lives intersect the timeless, in our love of goodness, our zest for beauty, our passion for truth. Soul is what makes each of our lives a microcosm--not just a meaningless fragment of the universe, but at some level a reflection of the whole." It is no surprise movies like "Seabiscuit" and television shows like "Miracle Pets" capture the hearts and minds of so many people. Our relationships with our four-legged and other animal companions help us feel connected to our own souls.


On July 18th, Tony Cifizzari heard his beagles barking loudly in his backyard. He went outside to investigate the noise, and discovered that a baby wild morning dove had fallen out of its nest and under a pallet where the dogs had gathered. A retired animal control officer, and a lifelong lover of dogs and wolves, Tony had worked with hundreds of animals, but never a bird. He named this baby morning dove Kelly.

"I took her in the house, got her a bird cage, and fed her meal worms. I soaked some bread in water and rolled the soaked wet bread in bird seed. She opened her mouth and I would feed her. I would syringe water onto her beak, so she would get water. She was very receptive," reflects Cifizzari.

"An animal can sense when you have a love for wild creatures, whether they are birds, butterflies or other animals. I deeply appreciate animals, realizing they are one of the gifts God has given us. You need to recognize that there is an emotional and spiritual life for animals. An animal can really tune in to the fact that you recognize that."

Kelly knew that Tony was kind and friendly and started trusting him. She learned to fly onto his shoulder and perch there. One day Tony opened his mouth, and Kelly took a risk, and put her beak in his mouth. This was a "first kiss," for the two of them-- a gesture of mutual love and appreciation. I visited Tony and Kelly, and watched them "kiss" this way again and again. Over time their relationship continues to deepen. "As Kelly grows up, she continues to bond with me," acknowledges Cifizzari. "Every room in this house I go into, she follows me. She wants to be with me. I've captured her heart and she has captured mine. So, the two of us have become companions."

"I never imagined I would be attached and affectionate with a bird," shares Cifizzari. "It's strange, but a great glow. You never know what the next day can bring to you." Tony has also managed to integrate Kelly into his relationship with Onyx, a 9-year old German Shepard. "At first, Onyx was the princess of the house and was reluctant to have an intruder. It is a natural instinct for a dog to want to capture a bird. I told her, "no," and being the obedient dog she is, Onyx understood she was not to hurt Kelly. Onyx and Kelly have come nose to nose. Kelly stands her ground. Onyx is such an obedient dog she would never hurt Kelly. The three of us now get along well and safely. Kelly has landed on Onyx's back. Onyx, Kelly and I lie on the bed together. I leave them in the house alone if I have to go out for a short time. They get along well."


In my nearly twenty years of practice as a therapist, I have had countless clients tell me how they have turned to their four-legged friends for comfort, solace, safety and protection in the hardest of times. One man, who was brutally beaten by his father as a boy, found his lifeline in his pet dog. When the beating was over, the dog would always appear, ready to crawl into the boy's arms. This dog provided the only love, warmth and safety, this man, then boy knew. The dog would snuggle up close and allow the boy the space to cry and express his pain. He would take his dog into his bed and curl up tight, with the dog's head next to his heart

Another woman whose parents were very strict, judgmental and angry, would turn to the natural world for acceptance, comfort and love. She would spend hours outside with the birds and the trees, and befriend all the stray cats that came across her path. She understood the fear and caution the stray cats exhibited upon first meeting her. She too felt fear and caution when she would meet a new person. Somehow the cats recognized her sensitivity and empathy, and felt safe enough to let her pet them and sit by their side.

Most children sleep with stuffed animals at some point in their early lives, a symbol of the safety our fellow creatures provide. Children's stories are rich with imagery of animals befriending children, providing protection,guidance and loving companionship.


More than 10 years ago as I was leading a workshop at Unicorn Books in Arlington, Persephone, the resident cat, provided feline ministry. I was facilitating a woman who was experiencing body memories related to childhood sexual abuse. She felt a tightness in her throat and the strongest urge to throw up. She gagged and she gagged, but she could not throw up. She disconnected from her emotional experience as she felt the intensity of her inner urge.

As this woman was despairing that she just could not reach her deepest feelings, Persephone walked through the door. She proceeded to the corner of the room where the woman was standing, and proceeded to gag repeatedly and throw up. The group stood in awe, recognizing that Persephone had just expressed what the woman could not. She had taken on the healing work this woman was struggling with and worked on this woman's behalf.

In The Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav writes, "Behind every aspect of the health or illness of the body is the energy of the soul. It is the health of the soul that is the true purpose of the human experience." Our four-legged friends attune to the energy of the soul, and sometimes manifest physical illnesses that reflect the healing we need to undertake. I have a friend who suffered from a congenital hip problem which caused chronic pain. His dog developed a similar hip problem, as though his empathy ran as deep as his own body and soul. In a culture so full of fear and unsafety, I find it no suprise that so many cats and dogs die of renal failure. In Chinese medicine, the kidneys are the organ where we process fear.

I was struck by the remarkable parallel between the birthing experience of my recently deceased 17-year-old soul-cat, Querida and my own birthing experience. When Querida's own mother was in labor, she crawled into my bed between my legs, and gave birth to Querida there, as though she was my baby. When Querida went into labor she had a long, difficult 48-hour labor, giving birth to only one kitten. When I went into labor with my son Alexander, now 7, I too had a long difficult 48-hour labor. And as fate had it, I too have just one child. Querida was particularly attentive to me when I was pregnant, sleeping on my heart at night, and always staying close by.


John Dore, a college professor and therapist who lives in Tucson, AZ, does equine therapy with his horse Buddy. "The primary thing about horses," notes John, "Is that they are always in the present moment. They are not dominated by mental categories like we are. Thoughts don't interfere with their presence in the moment. So, that means they are in their feeling body all the time."

Horses can be incredible teachers about fear and overcoming fear. Fear is their primary emotion, so they know a lot about fear. "They are prey animals," continues Dore, "So they have a lot of fear about anything unusual happening in their environment unless they are trained and can trust a human to train them. Humans organize around being predators. Americans organizing around going to war in Iraq is one example. Horses can help humans be present in the moment, in their body. You have to be in your body around horses because of how big they are. You have to be ready to move, to be alert in a different way."

"If you allow it, horses will provide a space for you to be with your feelings. I believe horses are flooded with feelings a lot of the time. Feeling states are physiological. They arise in the body. They flood the body. I don't think horses have emotions. WIth humans, once there is a feeling, the mind comes in and starts to appropriate--to label, express and categorize what is felt. Horses tend to be in a feelingful state all the time. Whe a human is in the context of a horse, their opportunity and ability to go to their feeling state is heightened."

Horses can be good emotional mirrors for humans. If a person is authentic and comfortable in their being, the horse will be that way. In addition to being such good mirrors for working with fear, horses can also mirror back to humans other emotional states. If an angry person goes to a horse, the horse will get angry. If a sad person comes to a horse, the horse will be sad. Horses provide enormous sympathy. There are endless stories of grief in humans and going to a horse for comfort. Dore commented that even a wild stallion will stand with a human and the human can takes it's neck and cry on it.


Seabiscuit is an embodiment of the four-legged soul-mate. John Dore comments, "It is extremely well known in the equine therapy world about the very solid phenomenon of the four-legged attuning to the human's feeling state. Attuning means the horse will share in the same feeling state you are in. It's not empathy or sympathy, the way humans do it. It is more direct, more immediate, not encumbered by thoughtfulness."

In "Seabiscuit," the history of the traumas between boy and horse matched. The loneliness matched. The caring matched. Red and Seabiscuit experienced the soul-mate phenomenon, "you're the one I care about" from boy to horse and horse to boy. At the end of the movie, Red comments, "We healed each other." Their deep connection led to a sense of synchrony when Red rode Seabiscuit.

Horses know well about communion, agrees John Dore. "When you ride them, they will go to the oneness that we are. You become one unit. There is flow. There are no glitches. This is the best of relationship, true communion. It's about the essence of us, the level where there is no difference, no separation. The ego is not involved in that state." I bet old time cowboys well knew the spiritual experience of becoming one with the horse.


Horses and other animals can ultimately be our spiritual teachers. They can augment us, guide us and facilitate us. However, to be open to animals requires the civilized mind to be out of the way. Four-leggeds know heart much better than humans if not interfered with. The same is true for children. The key issue is interference. John Dore comments, "Civilization has been one big moment against the natural flow of the life force coming through."

"Horses can't make it in the way the world is constructed. They can't make it without free range. In the Southwest, there isn't enough grass for them to live on. They have become dependent on human beings." The same is true for cats and dogs. Feral cats and dogs have very difficult lives. The average feral cat lives three years on the streets. Compare this to the 13 - 20 year life cycle of pet cats in your household. Feral dogs fare less well than feral cats. They are truly in need of human companionship and care.

"I learned from a teacher that love is not an issue with horses," comments Dore. "What horses live with is respect. It's a code. They will respect you to varying degrees. The way you respect yourself, the deeper that is, the deeper respect you can give to the other being." In addition to being gregarious and fearful, horses, like many other species are also herd animals. They need to be together. They also need a leader.

"Horses can take over and dominate if they need to," says Dore. "In a herd there is a dominant stallion and usually a dominant mare. It comes down to respect. This mare knows the best places to go, so we follow her. If this stallion is the toughest guy in the crowd, we submit to him." Many four-leggeds organize their societies to look out for the needs of the whole. We humans have a lot to learn from our four-legged soul-mates if only we pay attention with open hearts and minds.

Linda Marks, MSM, has practiced body psychotherapy with individuals, couples and groups for more than twenty years.  She is the founder of the Boston Area Sexuality and Spirituality Network and  is the author of
Healing the War Between the Genders: The Power of the Soul-Centered Relationship (HeartPower Press, 2004) and Living With Vision: Reclaiming the Power of the Heart (Knowledge Systems, Inc, 1989).  She can be reached at LSMHEART@aol.com, www.healingheartpower.com or (617)965-7846.