Even as a small child, I adored looking at pictures of St. Francis and the animals. His simple stories and beautiful prayers were so truthful and moving.
Now, I feel more strongly about the environment and the natural world each day, and I completely connect with Francis' understanding of creation. How precious animals are!
I had been told that Catholic teaching insisted upon telling children that their puppies and kitties weren't going to go to heaven (followed by a rap on the knuckles for good measure). I think this has to have been Catholic School hooey, because I found this description of how to explain these concepts to children. Bottom line? Because animals are part of God's creation, they will be there in heaven.
I suppose my favorite story about St. Francis was how he preached to the birds. I had no wonderment whatsoever about this; it seemed natural to me that he would want to speak to the birds and that they would listen. These spiritual stories are a close match for stories of Buddha and the animals. Many other spiritual traditions also revere animals and teach respect for the natural world.
The interesting thing about writing about animals or "creatures" is that it's necessary in many ways to "anthropomorphize" them, no matter how much one might wish not to do so. One way to work against this is to closely observe the animals to which we are close, or to observe animals in nature. Because we must use human language in writing stories, there will always be some "anthropomorphizing." However, the traits we give animal characters do not have to correspond with obvious human ones as seen in many fables. This has been one of the most interesting aspects of my current fantasy books; how these nonhuman characters are genuine, distinct individuals and not "animal-shaped people." For this, I think, I can thank my early exposure to St. Francis, who taught this kind of respect from the very beginning.