I am currently nursing a post-surgical beagle and finding it to be much more all-consuming than I had anticipated.
I knew I’d have to carefully help him around. I knew I’d have to do med management and find creative ways to get him to drink water (serve him warm, diluted chicken broth, as it turns out). I knew I’d have to SACRIFICE MY GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP and move downstairs to an inflatable mattress because the bedroom is up 13 steps and he’s not doing that until late October, and he’ll cry and bark all night if I abandon him. I’ve tried.
What I did not consider was that he would need constant supervision for the first few days as he figures out how to maneuver himself around on his little foam mattress pallet, and that he would need to have his cone put on and taken off multiple times a day, and that he would still want to check every rustling sound in the kitchen because it MIGHT BE A FOOD SITUATION.
He is my love and my darling and my dear, and he and the cat are my Guardians of the Galaxy, the A Team, the Cute Squad, Love and Beauty incarnate. The cat is Beauty, the dog is Love, although occasionally they switch. But I tell you what: I ain’t never putting this poor hound through something this major again. As I always say, animals don’t have a bucket list. Same goes for the kitty. I love her a million trillion hearts but I wouldn’t dream of causing her to endure something as upsetting as this.
This led me to wonder how much ministry you do around animals and pets (or, for the more earnest, “animal companions”).
I remember in seminary I took an Ethics class and we were talking about pastoral care and boundaries therein, and one seminarian arrogantly bragged that he coldly rejected the request to visit a member of his parish whose dog was dying. “Give me a break,” he said, or something like that, and I said, “Give you what break? What the hell is wrong with you? If people want to have pastoral support for their loss of a pet, you get your butt over there!” I immediately judged him to be a terrible person and unfit for the ministry. I did. I don’t care. It’s one thing to say, “I declined to visit the home of parishioners whose dog was dying because I had too much going on and I felt that they would be fine with a phone call or a visit at a later time,” but this guy was straight up contemptuous about the parishioners’ relationship with “just a dog.”
This was not cultural. I know that the American pet thing is crazy to a lot of people around the globe and I understand how some may struggle with understanding why and how Americans can spend so much money and energy on domesticated animals, but this was an American. Frankly, if you’re not into animals, that’s fine, but if you’re going to be a pastor you better learn to respect the very real love that people feel for their pets!
Someone called the church once and asked me to do a private blessing for her recently adopted dog. She prefaced her request by saying, “I know you will think this is ridiculous, but…” I said, “Try me.” She explained what she wanted and why, and I said to her, “I dunno. It sounds like a very sweet and respectful ritual you have in mind and actually not ridiculous. I’d be happy to do it.”
I did not wear a robe or stole. I think there’s a time when you’re representing the Church and a time when you’re designing and performing a creative ritual that is spiritual but not religious. By that I mean that you are providing something personal and not institutional– not legitimized by any community of faith — although certainly not harmful or disgraceful. We bring our full pastoral gravitas and affection to these rituals, I think, to honor love and to serve as bridges between the unchurched and traditional religious practice and sacrament. And also because dogs are awesome.
(I know this post is in desperate need of editing but I’m too tired to care. I’ve been nursing a beagle for the past 48 hours, people).
We do a Blessing of the Animals service at my church on St. Francis Sunday (or thereabouts), and I do vest for that because we are blessing the critters within the context of the worship of a covenanted community.
One of my colleagues has an animal chaplaincy and a quick Google search revealed a number of animal chaplaincy mentions. How about you, pigeons?
I’m interested in what you have to say! Meanwhile, let me get this pooch out to do his potty business.
P.S. That picture of me is a thousand years old!