Category Archives: Cats

May 31 – Animal Chaplains Repost

Mentioned earlier this week, I’m looking forward to my new helping professional role as an Animal Chaplain. Below is another article which explains how this role is serving people today. (See

Stock photo by Christian Domingues/Pexels


Animal chaplaincy has become a growing profession

Animal chaplains like Rev. Sarah Bowen help clients prepare for and deal with the loss of their pets By Andrea Cooper, Religion Unplugged

 | January 9, 2023

Karen Walsh Gillingham might have felt lonely when she moved to a new home in Mendham, New Jersey. She was single then, with one son soon headed for college and another already there.

But she also had Baxter, a mini golden doodle who loved feeling the breeze out the car window during their rides in the countryside. “It was me and Baxter,” she recalled.

Baxter was by her side for 12 years, through the joy of her remarriage, the births of grandchildren and the pandemic. She was shocked when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer and died in October 2022. A retired nurse, Gillingham had faced many other losses, including the deaths of her best friend and both parents. But losing Baxter still hit hard.

After she wrote about her pain on Instagram, a friend suggested Gillingham talk with an animal chaplain. Gillingham scheduled a virtual conversation with the Rev. Sarah Bowen, an animal chaplain and ordained minister in New York through One Spirit Interfaith Seminary. Bowen is the author of “Sacred Sendoff: An Animal Chaplain’s Advice For Surviving Animal Loss, Making Life Meaningful, & Healing The Planet.”

“It was so comforting to hear somebody who has experience say, ‘It’s OK; it’s normal, and all that grief is just love that has nowhere to go,’” Gillingham said.

Chaplains provide spiritual support in hospitals, hospices, universities, the military and other settings outside of congregations. Animal chaplains focus on relationships or concerns involving animals, from a family struggling with a pet’s illness to a veterinary tech overwhelmed with seeing animals die at work to an activist struggling over the loss of a species or habitat. “Animal chaplaincy for me means that I support all beings regardless of their belief system or species,” Bowen said.

Animal chaplains can help clients prepare for a pet’s passing and run animal loss support groups. They partner with clients to develop rituals, from memorial events to a welcome for a new animal companion. They may also lead “blessing of the animals” services at houses of worship, or comfort families who have lost an animal following a natural disaster.

Never heard of this emerging discipline? You’ve got company.

According to a recent Gallup survey commissioned by Chaplaincy Innovation Lab at Brandeis University, one in four Americans have received support from a chaplain. Yet few respondents mentioned animal chaplaincy. The field “is still in its very early days,” said Michael Skaggs, director of programs for the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab.

The specialty is not the same as therapy. Animal chaplains typically describe their work as “companioning” rather than “counselling.” They listen and help make meaning from a loss or challenging event. Their work addresses the human spirit instead of mental health.

You don’t have to be religious to seek out an animal chaplain. They serve people of any or no religious background, including atheist, agnostic, spiritual but not religious, and pluralistic. In general, “chaplains have to be deeply grounded in their own tradition, whatever it is. They have to know where they stand, who they are,” Skaggs said. “But then, when they come into the encounter with the person, that grounding has to be invisible.”

An animal ministry

Animal chaplaincy began about 30 years ago, coinciding with new research about the human-animal bond and animal cognition, Bowen said. “However, the connection and the questions about animals and humans, and what those relationships look like, go back in every religion and wisdom tradition to the beginning.”

Some denominations address animal concerns in a structured way today. The Episcopal Church in the U.S. has established prayers for animals who are adopted, missing, ill or dead. There is a specific prayer during euthanasia and even one for the suffering of animals during war.

Unitarian Universalism maintains an animal ministry designed to “empower individuals, chapters, and congregations to build justice and compassion for animals.”

It starts from the premise that “when we look into an animal’s eyes and really see that animal, there’s someone else on the other side who is looking back at us — that animals are our companions in creation,” said the Rev. John Gibb Millspaugh, the ministry’s executive director. UUAM encourages congregants “along their own path of compassion and respect for animals.”

Of the 30 UUAM chapters in the U.S., eight have animal chaplains to provide support. Chapters choose their activities based on local interest. Some lead book and film discussions to engage their congregations. They may focus on diet, educating about plant-based meals and encouraging a vegan option at events. Some collect blankets for animals in local shelters or build fences for dogs previously on chains. Others care for wildlife through river cleanups and planting butterfly gardens.

The denomination is currently updating its core documents, which don’t specifically include animals. The most recent draft identifies “all beings” as subjects for concern, care and respect. While not yet approved, the potential change is “a big damn deal,” the Rev. Russell Elleven, who serves as chaplain to UUAM, happily exclaimed.

Interfaith, interspecies

UUAM animal chaplains train with the Association for Veterinary Pastoral Education in Raleigh, North Carolina — one of a few organizations devoted to educating in this niche area. Robert Gierka founded the program after years as a chaplain, first for a hospital and later for North Carolina State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. The virtual program has attracted students from a variety of religious and professional backgrounds in the U.S., the U.K., Australia and South Africa.

People bring different and sometimes contrasting perspectives to the training. One cohort included a large animal veterinarian whose priority was animal welfare to lessen the pain and fear of animals slaughtered for food. Another student was an animal rights rescue worker opposed to the killing of animals for any reason. In those sessions, Gierka “did some pastoral magic with someone who did get kind of offended,” said Karen Duke, the association’s vice president.

Compassion Consortium, an “interfaith, interspiritual, and interspecies” nonprofit based in New York, offers animal chaplaincy training programs from three to nine months. Bowen serves as program director. Learners are diverse, from current and retired pastors and Master of Divinity students to people who practice reiki or other healing arts and want to add to their skills.

Some develop their passion for animals later in life. Bowen, whose degrees include a master’s in religious studies from Chicago Theological Seminary, recognized her calling early. Her dad, a Presbyterian minister, often stopped by a local funeral home with her before taking her to swim lessons. At age six, she used her metal lunchbox to transport “little dead critters to bury them in our backyard and give them funerals.”

She continues that impulse with her “roadkill ministry,” removing dead animals from streets for a proper burial and taking injured ones to wildlife rehabilitation. Her eclectic services also include teaching clients how to meditate with their hyperactive puppies and how to help a grieving pet when another pet in the household has died.

Fees for animal chaplaincy services vary, in part based on the time required. It’s common for practitioners to offer reduced rates for clients of limited means. Some support groups are free or ask for small donations.

The field is poised for growth, advocates believe. While the profession is still novel, “we don’t have nearly as many people doing this work as we’re asked for,” Bowen said.

Skaggs from the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab agrees, given how many people bring their pets to veterinary clinics each day to say goodbye for the last time. Most veterinarians are very sympathetic but don’t have the training to comfort people through their loss, he said. “How wonderful would it be if you schedule an appointment and the vet clinic says, ‘Would you like this person to be present during this process or available to you after?’” Ideally, he said, every clinic would have a chaplain.

Karen Walsh Gillingham would vouch for the profession. Through her conversation with Bowen, she realized her dog Baxter’s death had brought up grief from her previous losses. While Gillingham will always miss Baxter, she has room in her life for more love. She’s planning for a new mini golden doodle to join her family.


Andrea Cooper has written for The New York Times, Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Tablet and other national publications.  Her honours include the Simon Rockower Award from the American Jewish Press Association for coverage of North American Jewish history.

Apr 10 – Man’s Best Therapist

Met a wonderful therapist at the Humane Society US Animal Care Expo last week, Jen Blough; a sister Michigander and animal lover. Her website is and her clinic is called Deepwater Consulting.

Below is one of her blogposts and I highly recommend learning more about Jen, her books and her services.

Man’s Best…Therapist? Exploring the Health Benefits of Animals

When we live with, care for, work with, and protect animals, we often find ourselves forming deep attachments to them. This special connection, known as the human-animal bond, is described by the American Veterinary Medical Association as a “mutual beneficial and dynamic relationship between people and other animals that is influenced by behaviors that are essential to the health and well-being of both.”

Benefits of the Human-Animal Bond

People are forming friendships with all creatures great and small in some rather unlikely places – zoos, hospitals, and even prisons. More than 90 percent of zookeepers, for example, report having a bond with one or more animals in their care. Sharing the company of birds helps older patients in skilled rehab facilities battle loneliness and depression while boosting morale. Providing aquariums full of fish for dementia patients promotes healthy eating habits, sociability, and relaxation. Prison programs are becoming increasingly popular, offering second chances to inmates and animals alike. From dogs and horses that need socialization to injured, sick, or orphaned wildlife, animals all of kinds are receiving comfort and care in the confinements of prison walls, and returning the favor by providing inmates with a purpose.

Research has only begun to uncover the myriad of psychological, physiological, and social benefits from human-animal interactions. Did you know that petting a dog, for instance, has been shown to reduce blood pressure in people – as well as in the pooches? In addition to helping us calm down, our critters can decrease our heart rate and cholesterol levels and boost our immune system. And forget fad diets and magic weight loss pills. When it comes to the battle of the bulge, nothing beats man’s best friend. A study by the National Institutes of Health revealed that those who walked their dogs on a regular basis were more active, less obese, and even more social. Animals promote healing in hospitalized children, aid adults coping with chronic health conditions such as cancer, and bring peace to those near the end of life in hospice care by alleviating anxiety and decreasing discomfort. As you can see, animals have an amazing ability to heal us throughout our lifespans:

  • Pets can help children develop motor skills, self-confidence, and empathy.
  • Children often see their pets as companions, even siblings. In withdrawn or shy children, sometimes a pet is the only companion.
  • Companion animals provide affection.
  • They promote opportunities to exercise, play, and socialize.
  • Pets allow us to love and nurture something – leading to enhanced self-esteem.
  • Companion animals are dependent on us, creating caregiving opportunities.
  • Pets can offer stability and support in difficult situations such as a divorce or move.
  • They can serve as an extension (eyes, ears, or legs) for those with physical impairments.
  • Pets can be a lifeline for people with terminal illnesses.
  • For the elderly especially, pets can provide a sense of purpose.
  • Companion animals provide something humans cannot — unconditional love.

Apr 4 – HSUS Animal Care Expo

I am very fortunate to be investing much of this week at the Animal Care Expo in New Orleans, LA, USA. This 4-day event is an annual opportunity for educators and exhibitors to meet with over 2500 attendees to discuss what is happening to improve animal care, animal rescue and animal re-homing across the globe. Here’s what I did on Day 1:

  • Introduced to the Canine Assessment for Risk of Shelters (CARS) framework to assess a dog’s behavioral response to humans, other dogs, or other domesticated animals. This Learning Lab also included a Bite Assessment. This nearly 5-hour interactive session was excellently presented by Dorothy Baisly, Fernando Dias, Amanda Kowalski and Mara Velez.
  • The Welcome Keynote included the recognition of the 4,000 Beagles rescue program completed last year and the aspiration to do even more this year and years to come. This was followed by an inspirational presentation by Dr. Jyothi Robertson on how her interspecies family members (i.e. cats, dogs and a tortoise) help her (and can help us) look at life and our animal care challenges more courageously and lovingly.
  • Last, but not least, I was one of three animal chaplains staffing an exhibition booth for Compassion Consortium.

More good news to come!

Jill Angelo, Patrick Cole and (Rev) Sarah Bowen (award-winning author for Sacred Sendoffs and a founding director for Compassion Consortium)!

Feb 25 – Two Tramps in Mud Time by Robert Frost

The last stanza of one of Robert Frost’s most famous poems is both support and challenge to my new vocation as an animal chaplain. The stanza goes like this:

“But yield who will to their separation,

my object in living is to unite

my avocation and my vocation

as my two eyes make one in sight.

Only where love and need are one,

and the work is play for mortal stakes,

is the deed ever really done

for Heaven and the future’s sakes.”

Tomorrow, I will receive a certificate of completion for animal chaplain training through Compassion Consortium ( As the program describes:

Animal chaplains provide support for both animals and humans by using ritual, ceremony, and the tools of spiritual companionship. Compassion Consortium’s Animal Chaplaincy Training helps you fulfill your heart’s call to honor and celebrate the lives of all species, including how to companion them through joys and challenges.

This six-month program was offered to:

  • Healers and spiritual directors/mentors who’d like to expand their yoga, coaching, massage, therapy, reiki, veterinary, or spiritual counseling, or wellness practice to support animals and their humans through spiritual practices, rituals, and sacred listening 
  • People interested in diving deeper into the intersection of spirituality and science, such as the empirical evidence for improved health and wellness benefits of human-animal bonds 
  • Staff and volunteers working in animal shelters/sanctuaries, veterinary practices, humane education, or vegan advocacy who are interested in integrating spirituality and wellness into their organization

I’d like to think that I fit in all three categories above. Now that I’ve completed this part of the program, I will continue on for another 3+ months toward ordination in late June.

As Robert Frost referred to his role above, I hope to combine my author and animal shelter roles into one so that I may serve both animal and humans more effectively. Ultimately, my goal is to live up to the Compassion Consortium objective to “honor animal lives and heal human hearts.”

With the support of family & friends, not to mention Heaven and Mother Earth, may it be so.


Feb 19 – Interspecies Companionship – Sarah Bowen

Rev. Sarah Bowen 12-minute video introducing Animal Chaplaincy

It’s a sunny winter day here in MId-America and I’m contemplating the questions Rev Sarah Bowen introduces in the video link above. Questions like:

  1. Do animals have spiritual lives?
  2. How can we survive the loss of a loved one?
  3. What self-care looks like for animal advocates and Earth Warriors?
  4. What are some of the ways we can honor animal lives and heal human hearts?

I was very fortunate to attend the original webinar offered last Spring, 2022, and join the Animal Chaplaincy Training Program, Rev Sarah began last Summer. Barring the Apocalypse occurring this coming week, I’m looking forward to certification next Sunday, Feb 26. After that I hope to continue on for another 3 – 4 months and be ordained as an Interspecies Interspiritual Chaplain (aka Spiritual Care provider).

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you already know of my interest in Animals, Mindfulness and now Animal Chaplaincy. If you’re interested in learning more about these topics please subscribe to this blog AND check out Rev Sarah Bowen’s organization: Compassion Consortium.

Today’s senryu: Interspecies Companionship

breathing in, I feel

life teeming all around me;

breathing out, I smile

Compassion Consortium’s Tenets of Agreement

Jan 28 – Animal Ministry – “Don’t Push the River”

Some people get it, some don’t. Some people need it, some don’t. Below are two more people who have dedicated their lives and their professions to animal ministry: Robert Gierka and Rebecca K. OConnor. See a brief introduction for each below and check out their websites for more information.

Robert Gierka, Ed.D., Founder and President of the Association for Veterinary Pastoral Education and Pet Chaplain®, Raleigh, NC, USA

Despite the ever growing popularity of pet keeping in America, there are still people who are indifferent to the agony of pet loss, who think a dog is just a dog, and if after two weeks you’re still upset about the dog dying you must be experiencing an irrational attachment. Typically, in an uninformed but well-meaning way, they may suggest, “You need to get another dog; that’ll make you feel better.” Culturally, this is still the norm in Western society, and in my lengthy interviews with pet lovers, there’s a tacit awareness that we have to be careful who we share our feelings with. The truth is that many people still misunderstand or deny the deep emotional and spiritual connections people enjoy with companion animals and the intense grief they can experience when those animals are lost.

My path with AVPE and Pet Chaplain® has been long and circuitous, and, though I strongly believe the mere existence of pet chaplaincy bodes well for the public good, especially for those who grieve for animals, I have run into skepticism about my work in some circles. A good friend of mine told me years ago that some people would “get it” and some would not. The also advised, “Don’t push the river, just go where it flows.” I have found this to be sage advice.” from the Robert Gierka bio at

What is Animal Ministry and Why Does It Matter

Animal ministry is actually about people and how we interconnect with the animals around us. Most religions have traditions regarding the spirituality of animals and that intersects with human life in a positive way. Some would argue that in American culture, this reverence for feathered, furred and scaled creatures has disappeared. This is where animal ministries step in.

Interfaith animal chaplains provide a variety of services to their community, including pet loss grief support, memorial services, prayer for animals who are sick or injured, being present at a clinic to comfort the bereaved, and providing support during surgery or euthanasia. Just like other clergy, they try to be there for the cyclical challenges of sharing your life with pets. As we become more and more connected to the animals with whom we share our homes, issues of illness and death become greater matters of the heart. Sometimes we need support and this is where a chaplain is helpful.” from Rebecca K. OConnor at

Jan 27 – Animal Chaplaincy – Rev. Chris Rothbauer

Currently serving as a Unitarian Universalist Minister in Auburn, Alabama, Rev. Chris Rothbauer professes:

“My calling is towards healing of the universe and her human and non-human creatures. Our interconnection to the rest of the universe is not just some lofty intellectual exercise, but a fact of existence. As the late Carl Sagan once remarked, “We are all stardust.” Modern society often alienates us from these interconnections. I feel a deep call to help restore this sense of relationship with the universe and nurture a deep sense of love for human and non-human life alike as well as the universe as a whole.

We live at a time when the universe itself is threatened by the consequences of decades of thoughtless actions that have damaged this one and only planet we call home. At a time when so much is at stake for the future of our planet, I feel a deep calling to heal this damage before it is too late. I am called to participate in the Great Turning, in the words of Joanna Macy, the emerging story of how we might yet reverse the effects of climate change precipitated by an attitude of human supremacy.”

Involved in multiple ministries, Rev. Chris is also a Registered Pet Chaplain who explains:

Animal chaplaincy is not a support for mental health services, but a multi-faith way to explore the spiritual and emotional issues surrounding our connection to our animal friends.

For much more information on animal chaplaincy and Rev. Chris’ approach and services check out his website:

Jan 26 – Animal Chaplaincy – A Rich Vocation?


The professional animal chaplain, aka interspecies, interspiritual, care provider, is not known as a high-paying vocation. In fact, some people performing this community service do so for free. For example:

Here are a couple of comments from an article written about Sid Korpi last August 15, 2022 titled: Animal Ministry Career – What Does a Pet Loss Chaplain Do?

Since she often works for free, Korpi requests free-will offerings for services such as accompanying people and their pets to euthanasia appointments, doing group animal blessings, conducting pet loss support groups, speaking to groups about pet loss, and writing and delivering pet funeral or memorial services.

Work with pets because your heart and soul compels you to, not because you’re hoping to get rich,” she says. “If you’re interested in animal chaplaincy, you must love animals above almost everything else. You must be seeking to live your life on a slightly higher plane of existence. That means the earthly rewards may be few, but the spiritual ones abound.”

Read more about Sid Korpi and this profession at

Today’s vocational senryu: Must We Choose

one or another

or possible to have both

wealth and poverty

Jan 25 – Three Prayers for Three More-Than-Human Companions

“In the beginning, all creatures were hidden treasures – longing to be known, and brought into being. God then exhaled a sigh of compassion, and with that great sigh, the world was created.” Sufi parable, Blessing the Animals, Lynn L. Caruso, p.192

There’s something special about interspecies communication; something that transcends the superficial chatter between members of your own species. I’ve been fortunate to experience three friendships with three more-than-humans who are no longer alive, no longer in this physical realm that I still inhabit.

Below are belated goodbye prayers for each with gratitude to the higher power that brought us together.

Loving Creator, before Lexie, the cat, came to join our lives, you knew her, knew that she longed to be brought into this loving family. Thank you for making us relatives.

Oh, Compassionate One, with your breath you created Etta Pearl, the feisty canine, first came into being. We didn’t know Etta in her prime, but she shared much with us in her final months. Thank you for introducing us.

Eternal Life Force, you created Honey, the beautiful racehorse. Her snort and whinny, her sprints and quick stops were a joy for both of us. Thank you for letting us share her retirement years.

For all three, the opportunity to feed, clean up after, and stare deeply into each other’s eyes, was a treasure that still remains in my memory. I am grateful to have shared part of my life with a part of theirs.


Warm summer sun, shine kindly here;

Warm western wind, blow softly here;

Green sod above, lie light, lie light –

Good-night, dear heart, good-night, good-night.”

Robert Richardson’s “Annette,” adapted by Mark Twain

Blessing the Animals, Lynn L. Caruso, p.193

Jan 24 – Animal Chaplain Blessings

Blessing of the Animals Today!! @ Patch

One spiritual care service of an animal chaplain is to bless or thank a higher power for the non-human companion(s) in our life.

For some great examples see this book edited by Lynn L. Caruso:

A couple of quotes from this beautiful book that caught my attention are:

“There are two means of refuge from the miseries of life: music and cats.” Albert Schweitzer, p.31

“Deep peace of the running wave to you. Deep peace of the flowing air to you. Deep peace of the quiet earth to you. Deep peace of the shining stars to you. Deep peace of the infinite peace to you.” Celtic blessing, attributed to Fiona McLeod, p.163

“May all sentient beings be happy, may all sentient beings be peaceful, may all sentient beings be free from suffering.” Buddhist prayer, p.184

In this spirit, I wish you and your companions, human and non-human, many moments of love and joy today:

Bless you and yours, here

and now, may your love expand

like the universe