The animals possess a soul and men must love and feel solidarity with our smaller brethren. All animals are fruit of the creative action of the Holy Spirit and merit respect and they are as near to God as men are.
Attr. Pope St. John Paul II
To the extent that this alleged quotation is a real quotation, it comes from the Holy Father’s Jan. 10, 1990 general audience. paragraph 4. Unfortunately, there is no English translation on the Vatican website, only Italian (presumably the original) and Spanish. Fortunately, I have a friend, Fr. Bryan Jerabek, who knows Italian.
If you know Italian too, you can translate this for yourself:
Altri testi, tuttavia, ammettono che anche gli animali hanno un alito o soffio vitale e che l’hanno ricevuto da Dio. Sotto questo aspetto l’uomo, uscito dalle mani di Dio, appare solidale con tutti gli esseri viventi. Così il Salmo 104 non pone distinzione tra gli uomini e gli animali quando dice, rivolgendosi a Dio creatore: “Tutti da te aspettano che tu dia loro il cibo in tempo opportuno. Tu lo provvedi, essi lo raccolgono” (Sal 104, 27-28). Poi il Salmista aggiunge: “Se togli loro il soffio, muoiono e ritornano nella polvere. Mandi il tuo soffio, sono creati e rinnovati la faccia della terra” (Sal 104, 29-30). L’esistenza delle creature dipende dunque dall’azione del soffio-spirito di Dio, che non solo crea, ma anche conserva e rinnova continuamente la faccia della terra.
And if you need an English translation better than Google Translate can provide, here’s what my friend provided:
Nevertheless, other texts admit that even animals have a breath of life, received from God. Under this aspect, man, having come forth from the hands of God, appears in solidarity with all living beings. Thus Psalm 104 does not make distinctions between men and animals when it says, addressing God the Creator, “They all look to you to give them their food in due season. When you give it to them, they gather it up; when you open your hand, they are filled with good things.” (Psalm 104:27-28). Then the psalmist adds, “when you take away their breath, they die and return to their dust. When you send forth your Spirit, they are created, and you renew the face of the earth.” (Psalm 104:29-30). The existence of creatures thus depends upon the action of the breath-spirit of God, which not only creates, but even conserves and continually renews the face of the earth.
Accurately translated, then, and in context. the Holy Father was making the point that animals too have the breath of life, which can come only from God, and that God sustains all life in existence. But he never said that we must love animals and feel solidarity with them; he said nothing about having respect for them; and above all, he never said anything at all about animals being as close to God as men are.
If you’re thinking, “Well, maybe the Spanish version is different,” well, I do know Spanish, sort of, enough to tell that it’s not significantly different from the Italian text as translated above.
So the alleged quotation started from something that Pope St. John Paul II did say, but it adds to it many things he never said.