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Companions and instructors  

13 May 2016

Dominic Walker reads reflections on the lessons to be learnt from pets’ behaviour


Two Dogs and a Parrot: What our animal friends can teach us about life
Joan Chittister
SPCK £12.99
Church Times Bookshop £11.70

AS IT says on the cover, this is a book about two dogs and a parrot. They are a lively Irish setter, a laid-back golden retriever, and an attention-seeking Caique parrot who successively shared a home with the author, Joan Chittister, an American Benedictine. She uses various accounts of their behaviour and personalities to show that animals can teach us a great deal about what it is to be truly alive.

I have appreciated the writings of Chittister, who has written and lectured extensively on Christian spirituality and the monastic life; so I was surprised to find her writing about animal companions, although I was certainly not disappointed. I think librarians may be puzzled about whether to classify this book under theology, psychology, spirituality, or animal behaviour because it contains aspects of each.

Sister Joan sets the scene by examining the two creation stories in Genesis and claiming that the earlier of the two accounts where God invites Adam to name the animals is significant because naming is an act of relationship, not dominance. Animals could survive without us, but we could not survive without them. They exist in their own right, but we also exist together, and the bond that can develop between us and the animals for which we care should be mutually beneficial and enrich our spiritual lives.

The various antics of the two dogs and a parrot are amusingly described, and lead the author to reflect on how humans behave, and how we also have our own needs and vulnerabilities. Animal companions have their own unique personalities, and demonstrate love and fear, excitement, and play. With reflection, we can discover through our animals how to become more fully human.

This is an enjoyable and very readable book that will resonate with those whose lives have been enriched by animals. The reflections are thought-provoking, spiritual, and humbling.


The Rt Revd Dominic Walker OGS is a former Bishop of Monmouth.

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