Four-footed ambassadors attend hearings
Prayers urged for loss of companion animals[Episcopal News Service -- Anaheim, California] Two of the most engaging visitors to July 11 hearings on proposals for developing prayers for the life and loss of companion animals didn't speak a word. They just wagged their tails.
Service dogs Emily, soon to become companion to a disabled veteran, and Kona, who assists her owner plus shepherds her own ministry – Dogs for God – attended the Prayer Book, Liturgy and Music committee meeting, where eight people testified to the need for liturgical resources to minister to those whose companion animals die. They described such resources as pastoral as well as tools for evangelism and fostering stewardship of creation.
Sue Grisham, co-founder of the Episcopal Network for Animal Welfare, urged the committee also to recommend developing prayers for those with sick or dying animals or considering euthanasia for a pet.
"This is not a feel-good resolution for those of us who love dogs and cats," said the Rev. Lee Shaw (Utah), proposer of one of the resolutions. "This is not a soft, furry resolution to be disposed of."
Rather, he said, it responds to a pastoral need, particularly in ministering to children, for whom an animal's loss often is "their first real experience with death," and for elders, for whom a pet "may be the last relationship this person has on earth."
The Rev. Bradley Wirth (Montana) described how, when his childhood dog Topper died and later when his 87-year-old mother's dog Lindy died, "the church was silent."
"It's not because the church was mean-spirited, uncaring or callous," he said. "It was because the church had not trained priests to be there."
Creating such liturgical resources also reflects a concern for the stewardship of creation, Lee said. "This shows our profound response for this rather lively part of God's creation."
"It is a key element of the theology of the sacredness of creation that is a part of the ubuntu convention," agreed the Rev. Stephen Keplinger (Utah), adding, "A once-a-year animal blessing is just not cutting it."
It's also an issue of ministry, Shaw said. "For some people … these are four-footed furry ministers of God's good news."
That's precisely what Kona does, said the Rev. Lisa Golden, chair of the Los Angeles Diocesan Program Group on Disability. She described how the Belgian shepherd helped her recover from a disabling illness and now helps her serve others through the diocese's Dogs for God program, which teaches disability awareness. "I cannot tell you the ministry avenues that Kona has opened up to me," she said, joking, "I'm her chauffeur."
Likewise, Emily, a black Labrador, is part of a program at St. Francis Episcopal Church, Fair Oaks, Calif., that trains and places service dogs with veterans. Some veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder help train the dogs, said Deacon Aileen Aidnik, assistant training program director. "The healing that takes place in those classes [is] beyond anything I can describe."
"These are members of our families. It's not just an animal," she said, reminding listeners of the people who remained in dangerous circumstances after Hurricane Katrina rather than abandon their pets.» Respond to this article