“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.
Definition of time– the continued sequence of existence and events that occurs in an apparently irreversible succession from the past, through the present, into the future (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Time)
Thich Nhat Hanhspeaks of relative and ultimate truth which elaborates on a moment of time and eternity:
“When we look at the ocean, we see that each wave has a beginning and an end. A wave can be compared with other waves, and we can call it more or less beautiful, higher or lower, longer lasting or less long lasting. But if we look more deeply, we see that a wave is made of water. While living the life of a wave, it also lives the life of water. It would be sad if the wave did not know that it is water. It would think, “Someday, I will have to die. This period of time is my life span, and when I arrive at the shore, I will return to nonbeing.” These notions will cause the wave fear and anguish. We have to help it remove the notions of self, person, living being, and life span if we want the wave to be free and happy.
A wave can be recognized by signs—high or low, beginning or ending, beautiful or ugly. But in the world of the water, there are no signs. In the world of relative truth, the wave feels happy as she swells, and she feels sad when she falls. She may think, “I am high,” or “I am low,” and develop a superiority or inferiority complex. But when the wave touches her true nature—which is water—all her complexes will cease, and she will transcend birth and death.
We become arrogant when things go well, and we are afraid of falling, or being low or inadequate. But these are relative ideas, and when they end, a feeling of completeness and satisfaction arises. Liberation is the ability to go from the world of signs to the world of true nature. We need the relative world of the wave [emphasis mine], but we also need to touch the water, the ground of our being, to have real peace and joy [and this is what so many contemporary people lack]. We shouldn’t allow relative truth to imprison us and keep us from touching absolute truth. Looking deeply into relative truth, we penetrate the absolute. Relative and absolute truths inter-embrace. Both truths, relative and absolute, have a value.” from Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching (Broadway Books: 1998), 124-125.
If I had to label my spiritual path, Zen Christian comes close to describing it. This Summer I’m scheduled to be “ordained,” first as an Interspecies, Interspiritual Animal Chaplain through Compassion Consortium and later as a lay brother in the Order of Interbeing, Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village Tradition.
Below are two quotes which explain how I see my Zen Christian practice today.
“We enter the path of practice through the door of knowledge, perhaps from a Dharma talk or a book. We continue along the path, and our suffering lessens, little by little. But at some point, all of our concepts and ideas must yield to our actual experience. Words and ideas are only useful if they are put into practice. When we stop discussing things and begin to realize the teachings in our own life, a moment comes when we realize that our life is the path, and we no longer rely merely on the forms of practice. Our action becomes ‘non-action,’ and our practice becomes ‘non-practice.‘” from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh (c) Broadway Books, p.122
“Thích Nhất Hạnh was a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist who lived in southwest France where he was in exile for many years. Born Nguyễn Xuân Bảo, Thích Nhất Hạnh joined a Zen monastery at the age of 16 and studied Buddhism as a novitiate. Upon his ordination as a monk in 1949, he assumed the Dharma name Thích Nhất Hạnh. Thích is an honorary family name used by all Vietnamese monks and nuns, meaning that they are part of the Shakya (Shakyamuni Buddha) clan. He was often considered the most influential living figure in the lineage of Lâm Tế (Vietnamese Rinzai) Thiền, and perhaps also in Zen Buddhism as a whole.” https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/209574.The_Heart_of_the_Buddha_s_Teaching
There are good days, and then there are bad days. Days that exhaust you and make you feel at your lowest. Where you beat yourself up and let scars scar. On those days, I crave my yellows to remind myself that I am a yellow too.
What’s yellow, you are thinking?
(This was one of the terms that I learned from my YouTube dictionary as a hashtag.)
Ideally yellow is a person you love, you label it as the person being your yellow. It’s inspired by the “Yellow” song by Coldplay.
“I swam across
I jumped across for you
Oh, what a thing to do
‘Cause you were all yellow”
But the word has so many layers. Maybe today I’m in one of those writing and introspective moods that I am here to put my chaotic thoughts into paper.
My first thought was why did they insinuate it with the colour yellow ??
Is it because it symbolises sunshine? Or warmth or a mixture of both.
Google had no answer and I realised it was open to interpretation.
So for the time being the definition for me right now for yellow is you. You are my yellow.
Because the impact that my yellows had on my life is significant because they made me a better person to be in a better place. So I want to thank them in my way, ie, by writing.
The yellows in my life, the friendships we have, are like vibrant colours that add beauty and purpose to my existence. They are like the indelible stains on my life, stains a reminder of things that I am grateful and lucky to have.
Among the kaleidoscope of friendships, I am blessed to have a friend who embodies being my yellow.
So today, it’s a yellow day, a celebration of being yellow, for having a yellow and the profound impact.
The light of positivity
You, my yellow, is a light of positivity, a bundle of joy even when you don’t feel like that. You have ounces of optimism inside you, even when you think you are pessimistic, it shines through you. You help me to find my silver lining and pull me out of my shadows. On the days I beat myself up, you remind me that the sun will rise tomorrow again and with it, new opportunities will come for you and you will find your spark again.
The warmth of my empathy.
You, my yellow, have an abundance of empathy. You have an innate ability to understand and share in my joys and sorrows, you being my safe space. Your compassion and no- judgement attitude has bought me comfort and also taught me to be there for others when in need.
The energy of adventure
On so many days, I would be just snuck inside my blanket reading, if it wasn’t for you. Your adventurous spirit is honestly contagious and I m not complaining. Exploring uncharted territories, trying out new hobbies, and your zest for life, you have motivated me to step out of my comfort zone.
The glow of support
Support is such a small word but it means the world to people. You bring that glow to my life, my support system.
How can someone provide such unwavering support? You believe in me, even when I don’t, you remind me to stop doing swot analysis and Focus on strengths and opportunities and work on my weaknesses while not being a threat to myself.
You help me to reach new heights and you are my cheerleader. Yes I do vision you wearing short skirts and carrying pompoms and dancing for me .
The beauty of authenticity.
You are unapologetically authentic, and effortlessly flawless in my eyes. And , no one can take that away from you. In the world of Barbie dolls , I am in awe of the person that you are that sometimes ,i feel like you are A AI clone impersonating human like behaviour , that it scares me . But on most days i m grateful , grateful to see your authentic raw real self. I like honest people. And you top my list .
Why am I writing this? To celebrate your uniqueness. In a world that encourages conformity, you remind me to let my true colours shine.
You have your flaws too and I sometimes am fueled to murder you but you illuminate my soul. You have taught me more lessons than my school textbooks. You are my sunshine. So today let me be yours. I hope I brighten your day because, in the dictionary of life, I m very fortunate to have you as my yellow, my friend and I hopefully will love you forever.
So, my fellow human being. You are yellow too !! At least my yellow because you bring joy to my life.
What motivated me to write this?
This week has been chaotic for me, I am still adjusting and somehow, I didn’t find time to write.
Because of so many changes, I have been overwhelmed and I started to overthink
And someone had to remind me that I m a yellow in their life
Sometimes the simplest things said in the simple ways open up your heart in so many ways
So this is an attempt to do that.
A simple writeup of telling me that you are yellow to me to lift you on days you beat yourself up !!
I will always be there for you through my writings.
Eagerly looking forward to a special day and then life intervened; plans upended. So, now what?
Today’s senryu: Let Me Not Despair
life sucks then I’ll die
or let go and practice love
let me not despair
Reality has a way of “robbing our joy” but we don’t have to surrender to pessimism. Here are four references that informed the senryu above:
First is the continuation of Matthew Fox’ message on how to “move from pessimism to creativity“
“Where true self-love is meager, our love of the world will be meager. “Love others as you love yourself,” advised Jesus. But if our love of self is shallow, the love we put into the world will be also. And the world is so strong in its various misdirected loves that our weak and shallow love will be easily drowned in the energies of that world.” from Rank and Rich on Moving from Pessimism to Creativity, Daily Meditations with Matthew Fox, May 26, 2023 (https://dailymeditationswithmatthewfox.org/2023/05/26/rank-and-rich-on-moving-from-pessimism-to-creativity/)
Second is an Al Jazeera video on how advertising sells us through low self-esteem.