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Jim Key spells the name of celebrity greyhound, St. Elmo, on stage. In the background are names of politicians, which Jim would retrieve at the request of audience members.

Like many of you, our dogs are like our children and it’s truly a privilege to share our lives with these remarkable individuals.

Sometimes I’m surprised how much our dog knows. We’ve not actually tried to teach him a lot of tricks, but when he’s laying around, it seems he always has one eye on us as he listens to every word and watches every move we make. I believe for all that he does not understand, he is learning to interpret our voice intonations and habits in order to somewhat figure out what’s going on.

Anatole France is quoted as saying, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” Speaking of our beloved companions, I want to share a story about an amazing pet that for over the last 100 years has been declared as one of the most intelligent animals ever known. It’s not a dog, dolphin, elephant or a monkey, but rather a horse named Beautiful Jim Key. It’s a fascinating and true account of the deep love between a compassionate man and a perceptive stallion and how this relationship revealed that animals are much more clever than was ever imagined.

In the late 1800s, a former slave and self-taught veterinarian named Dr. William Key had the idea of breeding two extraordinary horses with the hopes of producing a super racehorse. Well, the Arabian-Hamiltonian colt was quite a specimen alright, but he turned out to be super-intelligent instead of a champion athlete.

At birth, the colt was very weak and sickly, and his mother passed away shortly thereafter, which added to the opinions that Mr. Key should euthanize him, but instead a strong bond was formed between them. It’s documented how the wobbly young colt insisted to spend every minute with William, and so he was brought into the house as a member of the family where he lived and slept.

William named the horse Jim on his birth papers along with his own last name, and the “Beautiful” was added later. Right away Mrs. Key noticed that Jim was very attentive and developing human-like behavior so she started asking him questions to which he would nod yes or no. After observing Jim’s desire to communicate, William the “horse whisperer” was eager to see just how much Jim could learn.

William was a gentle and kind man and slowly started teaching Jim the alphabet where he quickly responded by spelling words, understanding math problems and eventually advanced to sentences and Bible verses.

William introduced Jim to local fairs where they astounded large crowds with Jim’s ability to spell words by putting letters on a rack in the correct order. In 1897, Jim performed in the Tennessee Centennial Exposition as thousands witnessed his incredible abilities including President William McKinley, who was quoted as saying, “This is certainly the most astonishing and entertaining exhibition I have ever seen.”

Performing all over the country including the World’s Fair in 1904, it was said that Jim was the most famous celebrity of this era. With over a million supporters of the Jim Key Band of Mercy, which ignited the animal rights movement, Jim passed away in 1912 and on his grave displays the popular slogan “Be kind to animals” as a lasting tribute to God’s spectacular creation.

Billy Holland writes a weekly column for HD Media. Visit billyhollandministries.com.