05/22/2012 01:10 pm ET Updated Jul 22, 2012

Dogs and Cats on Life's Journey

Has a dog or cat been a genuine part of your life? Both have been companions of mine as body mates and soul mates. God knows, they've waited patiently for me, forgiven my endless shortcomings, cheered me up when I was low, and cut me down to a healthier dimension when I had mistakenly acted as though I were king of the world. They accepted me with unconditional love. Who could ask for more?

Laddie, the first dog in my life, was such a traditional puppy that it's a wonder MGM didn't find him and make him a star. We were inseparable when I was in Middle School in Colorado Springs. When he was killed by a speeding car I felt unable to absorb the news. I wondered if ever again I would feel so vulnerable in a real life situation that tugged at raw human feelings.

Two decades passed before the next pet entered my life. I had grown up, completed my education, gone to work, and realized I had a calling to become an Episcopal priest. Years of seminary study followed, then I was ordained and found myself in Indianapolis in my first parish. Next door to the church was a rectory in which I lived. One morning the weather was ice cold following a snowfall. My car was parked in an alley. As I climbed in I was surprised to hear a faint but somewhat urgent meow emanate from beneath it.

Investigating the source, I found a frightened kitten. When I carried her into the warm and inviting rectory, I had no idea my life had abruptly changed. The rectory instantly had a new occupant and I had a new what shall I call her? Friend? Pet? Companion? This one needed caring and love. She found it. I named her Loretta -- for film star Loretta Young -- and she became an integral part of my life. She adapted well to any given situation.

Gradually I grew accustomed to her waking me by climbing onto my pillow, licking my face and purring until I acquiesced by climbing out of bed. Everybody in the parish knew and welcomed Loretta. But change appeared when I was called to a new church assignment halfway across the country. It was a college chaplaincy. Loretta could not join me. I found her a home with a single elderly woman, a retired schoolteacher who had a dozen cats as pets.

Shortly after arriving at my next post, a new cat appeared providentially in my life. His name was Lucifer. Whereas Loretta in her innocence and charm might have received a description as "day," Lucifer would have needed no further identification than "night." His mystique seemed as carefully woven as the fabric of a myth. Lucifer willfully remained an outsider in an insider situation. The college students in the Episcopal campus center were fascinated by Lucifer because he treated them cavalierly. This only made him (as he instinctively understood) even more remote, complex and interesting.

Lucifer had belonged to a young girl who lived with her family across the street from the student center. When he moved in with us, the girl wrote me a funny, playful poem about Lucifer which she delivered to me with a smile. It read: "My cat is black as night, not one spot of white... He followed me around like a dog always right behind at his cute jog... When Father Boyd came along one day, a very great man if I do say, my cat must have liked him too... Ooh!! What can I do?... Across the street my cat went although he was really not sent.. .Now my cat lives over there... I guess he liked the fulfillment of prayer."

Years passed. I went to different posts in my vocation as an Episcopall priest. One day in Michigan Lucy, a small and adorable dog, casually moved into my life. Let's just say that Lucy became a loving and magnanimous companion on life's journey. Talk about feelings and closeness, communication and sensitivity!

I remember best an evening when it seemed she was gone forever. It happened on my birthday. Lucy had been out in the neighborhood that afternoon. She didn't come home. It seemed heartbreak was on hand. However, just when the situation appeared hopeless, the doorbell rang. A man who was clearly the Good Samaritan stood there,holding Lucy. He'd found her on a highway several miles away. Observing Lucy's home address on her name tag, he'd brought her home. My birthday was saved.

So was I.