By: Sharon Callahan

     We are not the only beings motivated by feelings of compassion and concern for others. Altruism is widespread among animals. Animals have the same innate caring impulses that humans have. They nurture their friends and family members, cooperate for the common good, sympathize with others in distress and perform amazing acts of heroism. There are animals ,who do not exhibit these qualities, just as there are human beings who do not ; for altruism and service are the instinctive response of an open heart. Many creatures, human and nonhuman, have closed their hearts in reaction to fear and suffering. In essence, though, all being s come to serve.

     Animals are here as part of a Sacred Ministry. They serve collectively and individually, not only the spiritual evolution of their own species, but that of humanity. To any sensitive person, the service of domestic animals can be observed in the ways in which their lives compliment and support our own. In addition to functioning as our companions and protectors, domestic animals live as examples of universal virtues that we seek to perfect within our own beings: beauty, humility, serenity, sacrifice, devotion, patience, presence and unconditional love. Wild animals, simply by virtue of their presence, have the ability to uplift and transform the human spirit, thus being service to the blossoming of the human soul.

     It has often been argued that animals do not have free will, and thus are incapable of true service. Having communicated telepathically with animals since childhood, I can only say that this is not my experience, or theirs. Animals are quite capable of acts of will. Companion animals and many wild animals consciously choose their particular healing mission on earth before they ever take physical form. Their incarnational choices weave intimately throughout time with our own, in the Sacred Dance of Life. In my work, I am constantly presented with examples of the ministry of animals that are as great as any acts of human altruism. There is a small orange cat I know of who kept a vigil on a dying child's bed, refusing to leave even to eat. Long into the night, after the adults had grown tired and gone to bed, the little cat stood like a sentinel near the child's pillow. Each time the child awoke, her gaze was met by an ever present pair of lovely golden eyes and she was never alone or frightened. When tossed outdoors, the kitten threw herself repeatedly at the child's window in attempts to get back inside. So great was her service that she took the child's illness into her own tiny body and later died of the same cancer. But of all this, human eyes saw no more than a little orange kitten sleeping on a child's bed.

     For those in need of more spectacular examples of the Ministry of Animals we have the story of a dolphin who guided ships through a dangerous, rocky channel off the coast of New Zealand. For twenty seven years he guided every boat that came by. Ship captains would wait at the mouth of the channel for him to guide them safely through the strong currents. Before the dolphin's arrival, hundreds of ships had been wrecked in the turbulent waters, but not one during the span of his service. Even after being shot by a drunken seaman, the dolphin recovered and resumed guiding the ships all except the one from which he was wounded.

     Another well documented story is told of a woman who fell from a sailing ship in the Indian Ocean and was carried at the surface of the water for two days by a giant sea turtle. When she was finally rescued, it was determined that the turtle had carried her safely over three hundred miles of open sea. This story is all the more remarkable if one considers that sea turtles do not ordinarily travel on the surface of the water, but hundreds of feet beneath.

     Among their own, animals often serve one another. Dolphins come to the aid of whales giving birth by acting as attendants to keep predators away. ` Sea urns have been known to cooperate in rescue efforts when their brothers are hurt by supporting the wings of the injured bird and carrying it safely out to sea. Chimpanzees lead hungry companions to trees with ripened fruit, and some birds will feed and care for blind brothers. These kinds of acts occur frequently, but random enough that they cannot be dismissed as instinct, though can we consider the " instinct" to help as inferior? Often such acts of altruism are dismissed as isolated incidents, but it is not so. Animals are constantly performing unrecognized acts of service and sacrifice as part of their Sacred Ministry. Among domestic animals, these protective acts involve the absorbing or deflecting of negative energies that would otherwise impact their beloved people. As with the little orange cat, these protective acts often extend to the absorbing of diseases such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis, emotional disorders and many others. Domestic animals set for themselves very particular tasks. When not appreciated, or feeling that they have no real purpose in our lives, animals often become sick and sometimes die, for they have come for only one reason, to serve.

     For many years I had the privilege of witnessing the training of seeing eye dogs. It is difficult not to be moved to tears by the example of these magnificent creatures whose entire lives exemplify the ultimate in loyalty and service to humans. There are animals who assist people in wheelchairs, dogs for the deaf who let their people know when the doorbell or telephone rings, and dogs who work with police, fire departments and emergency rescue services throughout the world.

     Many humane organizations have programs that take animals into nursing homes and hospitals. The open hearts of these animals, their presence, innocence and acceptance, shine the light of love in some very dark corners of the world. One elderly man in a nursing home was in a vacant trance. He was approached by a female German shepherd dog who gently licked his hand. When the man didn't respond to the dog's advances, she didn't give up, but slid her nose and head under his hand and gave him a gentle nudge. He responded by stroking her head and speaking softly to her, the first words he had uttered in over a year. In my own heart, I am particularly touched by those hundreds of thousands of animals who serve humankind unnoticed, such as the dog or cat whose companionship is the only available to an elderly person, the rabbit in a laboratory cage, the hawk whose heavenward flight catches the eye at that very moment of inner darkness. Are these not acts of service, sacrifice and love? Reflecting on the topic of service , I cannot help but think of Blackie, a swaybacked horse who was retired to a field near my childhood home after a long and difficult life of turning a milling wheel. His back had been broken, but not his spirit. Classes of schoolchildren visited Blackie and a daily stream of commuters grew accustomed to his presence as they passed by him each morning. For nearly a decade, he stood as a living monument to animals who work in service to humans. So accustomed was Blackie to his life of service, that until the day he died, he wore large circles in the grass in his pasture. Blackie was my introduction to the Sacred Ministry of Animals, and my desire to work with them blossomed from that time forward.

     In my own life animals have performed innumerable acts of service. Whether the enduring devotion of my childhood dog, the ministrations of my little cat Shoji during a long illness, or the bald eagle who passed so low over my head that my body was filled with an electric charge that jumped started my life at a particularly dull moment, I have no doubt as to the conscious service that each of these animals performed and I am deeply grateful. When I think of altruism, service and unconditional love, I think of animals.