“Silver-screen and singing legend Doris Day recorded more than 650 songs and starred in nearly 40 films, but PETA will always remember her for her most important role: animal champion. … Day personally rescued, fostered, and found loving homes for hundreds of animals, earning her the affectionate nickname “The Dog Catcher of Beverly Hills.”
Recognizing the need to stop animal homelessness at its source, she founded the Doris Day Pet Foundation in 1978, which later became the Doris Day Animal Foundation, a nonprofit organization that has saved countless animals’ lives by providing grants for spaying and neutering as well as funding humane education in schools and helping senior citizens pay for their animal companions’ food and veterinary care.
In 1987, she formed the Doris Day Animal League (DDAL) to lobby for humane legislation…. In recognition of her work for animals, former President George W. Bush honored Day with the Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States.”
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 https://broadview.org/animal-chaplains/)
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.
“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.
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.
Walked four beautiful girls, one at a time, downtown St. Louis yesterday. All available for adoption through Stray Rescue of St. Louis. Hard to imagine that they haven’t been adopted already. I can certainly vouch for each one as prime candidates for best fur friends forever: BFFF!
Animals are God’s creatures, not human property, nor utilities, nor resources, nor commodities, but precious beings in God’s sight. … Christians whose eyes are fixed on the awfulness of crucifixion are in a special position to understand the awfulness of innocent suffering. The Cross of Christ is God’s absolute identification with the weak, the powerless, and the vulnerable, but most of all with unprotected, undefended, innocent suffering.
Bringing your new rescue dog home for the first night is exciting and heartwarming, but where should she sleep? You want your new family member to feel welcome and safe, so sleeping arrangements can be an important part of helping your new dog with this big transition to her new home.
Dogs who have lived in a shelter setting may have abandonment and anxiety issues. Dogs are pack animals and very social. So, even if you plan for your dog to eventually sleep in a separate room or place, allow her to sleep close to your bed for the first night if possible. Make sure she has a comfy bed with sufficient cushion and blankets especially if it is chilly. If your new dog is a puppy or if you are unsure about how housebroken your adult dog is, you may want to put newspaper down around her bed. You might also consider a crate until you have a better sense of your new dog’s behavior.
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 https://www.animalwelfarewellness.com/ 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.
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)!