Many people have idea that chaplaincy is specific to a single faith tradition, or to the specific creedal ideas of an individual faith. Modern chaplaincy is no longer tied to specific faiths – in fact, the goal of modern chaplaincy is to meet the individual where they are at, however they identify, in their present hour of need as a representative of the Holy and Sacred Presence, however it is defined by that individual in need.
Whereas before it was simply seen as clergy who were available to perform various rites, rituals and prayers to those unable to attend their house of worship, and was associated with specific religions in institutions, hospitals and the military, modern chaplains have specialized training and can be available not only in those former institutions, but in police and fire departments, as a standard part of Disaster Relief, as well as some businesses, airports and cruise lines! Chaplains undergo additional training in addition to the tradition education of their personal faith traditions, and continue to expand this training through clinical pastoral education, spiritual direction and peer to peer counseling.
Animal Assisted Chaplaincy
Animal Assisted Chaplaincy is the utilization of trained and evaluated teams to assist persons in need in recovering feelings of belonging, unconditional regard, solace and hope. Unlike Animal Assisted Spiritual Direction which utilized a person’s own pets, or animals in the natural world, Animal Assisted Chaplaincy utilizes trained, evaluated legally owned domestic animals only, and only when handled by a person who is likewise trained and evaluated. At the present time all teams must be registered with one of the many national organizations that registers pet therapy volunteers, additionally all dogs must pass a Canine Good Citizenship test from the American Kennel Club. The goal of these teams is to provide sacred presence and unconditional regard in moments of stress, distress or trauma.
Much is often said about our pets providing us with unconditional love – but perhaps the truth is closer to this, they allow us to access feelings of unconditional love. That is the heart of what Animal Assisted Chaplaincy is all about.
Who Benefits from Animal Assisted Chaplaincy?
Anyone who likes animals and is in need of Sacred Presence, Solace or Visiting Companionship. Unlike various other modalities that utilize pets such as Animal Assisted Therapies, Animal Assisted Education and Animal Assisted Crisis and Trauma Response, with Animal Assisted Chaplaincy are no therapeutic goals, no agenda and no pressures. By providing Sacred Presence, these teams assist the person/patient in their own religious and/or spiritual coping and healing strategies. Animal Assisted Chaplaincy can be particularly powerful to those who far from their religious communities, are un-churched, or who self identify as Spiritual but not Religious as well as Humanists and Atheists.
Who can do this?
AS the saying goes, anyone, but not everyone! First you must have a legally owned and domestic pet that wants to do this as much as you do. Then, both ends of the leash need to be trained, evaluated and registered.
At the present time, responsible visiting volunteer AAC is only part of the human/canine teams visiting skills – but as residential animal assisted chaplaincies advance, certainly horses as well as other species may prove themselves willing and adaptable partners in volunteer programs.
Animal Assisted Chaplaincy is a tool for both professional Chaplains, Ministers and lay Chaplains. It does not conflict with any national therapy registration organizations, as it has no registry for itself., but is itself instead an added skill set. However it is NOT simply uncharted therapy or activity visits.
A note of clarification: Chaplaincy is not mission work, although you can argue all is mission work, it is not tied to goals. Likewise chaplaincy is not proselytizing… in that it is more in line with the quote attributed to St. Francis, “ Preach the gospel at all times, if needed, use words” – and since animals have no words……… let the actions of Love to the work.