Marti Healy believes God gave man dominion over the creatures of the earth with strings attached: Rule with kindness, love unconditionally and listen for lessons of the heart.

A lifelong animal lover, Healy has discovered a deep spirituality in her relationships with dogs and cats, lessons she explores in her book, “The God-Dog Connection“.

The Aiken, S.C., writer, who self-published the volume in 2003, is preparing a companion workbook that will help Christian churches develop small-group pet ministry programs.

“It’s been a ministry I’ve felt called to,” says Healy, who shares her home with two dogs and two cats.

The 25 lessons in “The God-Dog Connection” are gentle stories about the animals she has cared for, their particular behaviors and what those behaviors say about the human relationship to God.

Healy admires the ability of her cat Sparkey and her now deceased dog Pookey to sit quietly in contemplation, a reminder that we humans need time to contemplate the “still, small voice” of God.

Pookey’s willingness to take a young pup in hand, housebreak him and show him how to dig a hole and bury a bone reminds Healy that Christians must witness to others and teach them the faith.

When Sparkey was missing one evening, Healy thought of the story of the prodigal son, who, despite his failures and wanderings, is greeted with great love upon his return home.

She expects the faith lessons will appeal to all ages, those with animals and those who simply believe that humans must care for four-legged creatures.

“I think we are the only species that has the ability to be responsible,” says Healy.

University of South Carolina religion professor Hal French said humans are drawn to the natural world to express spirituality, recalling that Albert Schweitzer first coined the term “reverence for life” after seeing a herd of hippopotamuses in Africa. That philosophy became Schweitzer’s signature.

“Anything that inspires reverence toward animals, pets, other species is a great thing to see and a great counter-agent to all the news about dogfighting,” says French, also a dog lover.

Before moving to Aiken in 2004, Healy, 62, developed a pet ministry program at her United Methodist church in Zionsville, Ind.