To say that Jim Kraus’s life is enriched by the animals who share his family’s home—a miniature schnauzer named Rufus and an “ill-tempered” Siberian cat named Petey—would be an understatement. In fact, Kraus’s connection to these pets is so meaningful that he has given them each a deep inner life in the pages of his novels.
Kraus’s latest, The Cat That God Sent, is a fictionalized story about Petey, in which the cat decides God has sent him on a mission to redeem a disillusioned young pastor in a rural Pennsylvania town. Last year, Kraus had a bestseller with The Dog That Talked to God (Abingdon Press), in which Rufus’s doppelganger befriends a widow and helps steer her life in a new direction.
The pair of novels has given Kraus, who feels “attuned” to animals, the chance to explore some personality differences between cats and dogs that have implications for what he imagines to be their inner, spiritual lives “Cats work through the problems they face,” he says, “unlike dogs who just run at them head-first. Cats are not that impetuous, and they’re not that sloppy.”
Kraus doesn’t romanticize cats’ personalities, though, calling them “inscrutable” and “aloof” as compared to dogs. But the introverted Kraus can relate to how Petey appears to observe his surroundings in a deeply primal, if slightly distant, way. Petey seems to be thinking coherently behind that expressive and cute face, Kraus says.
“If you put words to those thoughts,” Kraus wondered while observing his feline friend, “what would those words be?” The answer he imagined turned out to be a rather self-important one—that Petey has been ordained by God to make a difference in this small town’s life. Petey, Kraus says with humor in his voice, is “egotistical enough to think God sent him to do this.”
Though he makes no claims of being a theologian, Kraus says he is comfortable writing about animals’ thoughts from a Christian perspective. He believes animals will be present in Heaven, and though they might not have “souls” like human beings do, they do have a relationship with the natural and supernatural worlds that complements our own. “If an animal is loved and cherished, it does have a soul because we impart a lot of that into them,” he said.
Kraus is a veteran of the Christian publishing scene, having spent 20 years as a vice-president at Tyndale House. He’s also published 22 fiction and nonfiction books since 1994, about half of which were done with houses other than Tyndale because of Kraus’s desire to avoid the “odd dynamic of being an author-in-residence.”
His twin passions within the industry shouldn’t surprise anyone, he says. “The publishing world is filled with lots of mundane and boring tasks. Writing is a lot more fun.”