Our society does not value the lives of our companion animals the same way it values the lives of our human relatives. When a human family member dies, there is often a memorial service or celebration of life attended by relatives, friends, and neighbors. A minister, rabbi, or priest officiates. There is typically an article about the deceased person’s life in the obituary section of the newspaper or online. Members of the deceased’s immediate family are thought of as “bereaved.” People send flowers or sympathy cards or make a donation to the deceased person’s favorite charity. An employer usually allows paid time off for bereavement. When a person loses a beloved animal companion, it is very rare for these rituals of mourning to be observed. The absence of these comforting practices can leave the surviving family members terribly alone in their grief.
Fortunately, change is occurring, although it is very slow. For members of BBUUC, these losses matter and can be named during the part of our service for sharing joys and concerns. Similarly, the Episcopal Church has adopted a Liturgy for the Burial of a Beloved Pet. Some members of the Jewish faith use A Burial Service for an Animal Companion. The change even reached the Vatican when a young boy mourning the death of his dog asked Pope Francis whether his dog had gone to heaven. Francis replied, “One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”
The Unitarian Universalist Association is a leader in this change. The Unitarian Universalist Animal Ministry trains and certifies Animal Chaplains, who are available to minister to humans suffering the loss of a companion animal. BBUUC offers an Animal Grief Support Group the first and third Wednesdays of every month at our church building, from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. Whether a loss was recent, years ago, or anticipated, all are welcome. Unitarian Universalist Animal Chaplain Elizabeth DeCoux facilitates the group.