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What is an animal chaplain?

Updated: Apr 13

What is an animal chaplain and why would you need one?

One of the best volunteer experiences I ever had was with Providence Hospice and Home Care of Snohomish County. I spent time with people (and their loved ones) at the end of their lives —and I felt a lot of peace, love, and compassion.

In hospice care, you have a whole team of support and that includes a chaplain. A chaplain provides non-denominational spiritual care. Spiritual care becomes especially important at end of life, but it is an aspect of our being we could care for more frequently. 

Spiritual care is about being connected to something greater than ourselves or something within ourselves that helps us endure suffering and find joy. It’s about being connected. It’s an antidote to loneliness.

When I worked in rescue, there was a lot of death, dying, illness, and suffering. No matter how hard we humans worked to help the animals, the animals were often alone enduring cruelty before we were able to rescue them and they were often left with medical and emotional needs which were beyond human capacity to heal.

Often, however, the animals did endure. They did heal. How? As an animal chaplain, I’ve learned that animals too are connected to something greater than and within themselves that helps them endure suffering and find joy.

Exploring these ideas lead me to the Compassion Consortium, an interfaith, interspiritual, and interspecies group. I studied with them and became an ordained animal chaplain (the Compassion Consortium supports me as I support you!). 

Animals grieve and we grieve the loss of our animal companions (often terribly —an unrecognized grief). An animal chaplain can help you move through, feel, and process this grief.

Animal chaplains provide support for both animals and humans using the tools of deep listening and caring companionship (you are not alone). 

Animal chaplains can help you:

  • Support newly-adopted animals so they can thrive

  • Encourage stronger human-animal bonds with easy activities you can do right at home

  • Discern end-of-life decisions

  • Create funerals or memorials

  • Process grief after animal loss

  • Advocate for animals in your community when humans wants and wildlife needs conflict

  • Develop resiliency by teaching tools to tackle compassion fatigue and empathetic distress

Shel Graves Animal Consulting is here for all of this —and able to refer you to additional resources as well. Learn more: read this excellent article Animal Chaplains Offer Spiritual Care for Every Species featuring animal chaplain Sarah Bowen in Religion News.

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