Association for Veterinary Pastoral Education

Train to Become a Registered Pet Chaplain®
Opening at 8:00 AM tomorrow
Header image for the site


Apply now to become a Pet Chaplain® registered care provider and help people who are grieving for animals. We are currently accepting applications. Please read our FAQs before submitting an application; a link is available on this website.

Learn more

Learn more about the Pet Chaplain® training program and what you can expect to learn in the class. We recommend that you read the FAQs prior to applying to the program.

Learn more

Become a Pet Chaplain® registered care provider and you can join the interfaith dialog with fellow chaplains on the Anam Cara discussion forum! The phrase "Anam Cara" is a Gaelic expression meaning "spirit friend," or spiritual companion. The Anam Cara discussion forum...

Read More

A Pet Chaplain® registered care provider is trained to offer interfaith, non-denominational pastoral support and prayers for pets and their people. Whether you have lost a special animal or need prayerful support for a pet who is sick, our chaplains can help. Our registry is small...

Read More
Learn more

A chaplain trained by Pet Chaplain® is registered to conduct veterinary pastoral duties, including conducting a memorial service to honor the life of your special pet, a Blessing of the Animals for your church or community group, and one-on-one support for your loss.

Are you mourning the loss of a pet? Do you need someone to talk with about it? Someone who understands? Someone who mourns the loss of their pet too? The SPCA Pet Loss Support Group in Raleigh, NC, may help. The group meets every 3rd Sunday of the month from 3:30 -...

Read More

Pet Chaplain® Training Program Overview

The Association for Veterinary Pastoral Education (AVPE) is a nonprofit organization that trains individuals and groups in pastoral care to support people who grieve the loss of animals. 

Pastoral care is a proven model of emotional and spiritual support that can be found in all cultures and religious traditions. The AVPE training program is non-denominational. Our trained pet chaplains work with all grieving people and are respectful of all spiritual beliefs and practices, including atheist and agnostic. We believe that bereavement care should mirror the emotional and spiritual needs of the grieving person. 
Veterinary pastoral care is geared specifically to the needs of people struggling with the loss of an animal companion. It's based on a belief in the sacred bond between animals – both human and non-human – and all of God's creation.

In our years working with grieving pet owners, we've found that a pastoral response to human grief – a response based on compassion and a loving respect for others – is powerful, positive and effective. The grief support provided by a trained chaplain uses many of the same tools employed by clinical grief counselors. But a chaplain brings something more to the table: the ability to offer healing prayers when needed and to address a griever’s spiritual questions. Death often leads to a spiritual conversation, and pet owners are sometimes unsure about the status of their animal's soul. Yet, as James Herriot, British surgeon and author of All Creatures Great and Small, observed, “If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.”

Many people grieving the loss of animals are in deep emotional and spiritual need. Pet keeping is growing in the U.S. and the emotional bond between people and their animal companions is often deep and profound. Yet the loss of a pet is sometimes ignored or trivialized in our culture, so grieving pet parents lack social acknowledgement and don’t receive the social status of the "bereaved.” Our grief-care training is focused on the unique needs of people who experience the social isolation and alienation of disenfranchised grief for the loss of a beloved animal companion.  

The eight-week Pet Chaplain training program offers a solid foundation in current academic theory, practical hands-on techniques in pastoral grief-care, and personal self-discovery.   

  • Study the latest theoretical understandings of human grief, the human-animal bond and the unique experience of pet loss. 

  • Gain insight into the historical and social influences on western beliefs about animals in relation to death and spirituality. 

  • Learn practical grief intervention techniques. Our trainers will teach you how to take a calm and confident pastoral lead in potentially stressful and emotional social circumstances. You'll become fluent in the language of pastoral care and learn to listen to a grieving person's story of loss with a new level of insight and compassion.
  • Complete an intensive exercise in self-reflection that will help you develop a strong personal identity as a veterinary pastoral care provider.  

Students are required to log pastoral care hours in which they provide support to people grieving the loss of a pet. A weekly live video conference is held in which participants discuss reading assignments and share their experiences working with grieving pet owners. Class size is very small so you can be sure to get personalized attention.

When you successfully complete the training program, you can choose to add your contact information to the AVPE directory of registered chaplains. You'll also have the opportunity to discover new friendships and the bond of a shared calling with other veterinary pastoral care providers by participating in our Anam Cara online discussion forum. The phrase "Anam Cara" is Gaelic for "spirit friend." The forum serves as a valuable networking and communication tool for veterinary pastoral care practitioners who support one another in their work.

Pastoral care is our passion. There is a great need in our society for Pet Chaplain services.

Students give the Registered Pet Chaplain® course positive ratings. 

“I feel like I have gained the ability to recognize the spiritual suffering that people experience upon losing their beloved pet. I learned to put myself inside the skin of others and to suffer side by side with grieving pet parents.” 
– Rachel Geller, EdD, Cat Behavior Counselor and Certified Humane Education Specialist

"I thought the training was fantastic. Very comprehensive materials presented by a knowledgeable professional with years of experience in this field. I would highly recommend this course for anyone who is interested in pursuing pet chaplaincy!"
– Kelly Slaybaugh, Seminary Student

The AVPE training program prepares you for community service as a registered Pet Chaplain in a variety of contexts, such as veterinary practices, animal hospice organizations, animal rescues and shelters, and other animal-focused settings; churches and other religious organizations; pet loss support groups; social work/counseling practices; and with private clients.

If you have a background working with people in a helping capacity – for example, as a counselor, social worker, psychologist, minister, or human-hospital chaplain – the training will augment your skills by giving you knowledge and insight into the human-animal bond and the unique experience of pet loss.

If you have a background working with animals – for example, as a veterinarian or veterinary technician, animal behaviorist, therapy-animal handler, or animal hospice or rescue worker – the training will deepen your skills by giving you knowledge and practice in grief care, active-listening techniques and crisis intervention.

The course is also suitable for laypeople who simply have an interest in the field. Work experience in a spiritual capacity or with animals is not required.      

AVPE and Pet Chaplain® were founded in 2006 by Dr. Robert Gierka, who specializes in anthrozoological bereavement.

Dr. Gierka trained and worked as a chaplain at University of North Carolina REX Healthcare in Raleigh, NC, in the late 1990s and subsequently served as hospital chaplain at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine Veterinary Teaching Hospital (CVM/VTH). In his capacity as veterinary hospital chaplain, Gierka provided emotional and spiritual support to hospital clients as well as veterinary faculty, staff and students.   

In 2006, Dr. Gierka launched the Pet Loss Support Group program at the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in Raleigh, NC. He continues to facilitate the group. He and his life partner, Karen Duke, a professional writer and graphic designer developed the AVPE training program. Dr. Gierka and Ms. Duke conduct training workshops in pet loss for social workers, clergy, psychologists, veterinarians and veterinary staff.

News stories about Dr. Gierka’s work as a pet chaplain have appeared on National Public Radio, UNC Public Television and in National Geographic and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Dr. Gierka and Ms. Duke are currently working on a book about pet loss based on the Dr. Gierka's pastoral experience and dissertation research.

We teach online classes during each spring and fall academic session. Applications are accepted on a rolling basis. Submit your application prior to the session that you would like to attend. We will admit students until the cohort fills. Any applicants not accepted will be held as alternates and notified when there is an opening in the current session. Applicants not admitted to the current session are encouraged to reapply in the next session.

Before applying, please read our Frequently Asked Questions to ensure you fully understand the requirements of the program and the application process. Applications are carefully reviewed to ensure a high-quality, engaged cohort. When you're ready to apply, please visit the Pet Chaplain website and submit the application form.
Thank you.

Dr. Rob Gierka
Founder and Program Director
Pet Chaplain® and Association for Veterinary Pastoral Education
Disclaimer: Chaplains supply the Association for Veterinary Pastoral Education (AVPE) with information about their education, professional experience and character. The AVPE reviews, but does not routinely verify information supplied by chaplains for posting on the AVPE web site. The AVPE conducts cursory reference checks on chaplains. The AVPE recommends that parties contact chaplains directly to review their qualifications with them.

Copyright © 2020 Association for Veterinary Pastoral Education Inc. All rights reserved. Pet Chaplain® and Pet Chapel® are registered service marks.              

Contact Us


Call now
  • (919) 213-0707


Get directions
2233 The Circle
Raleigh, NC 27608

Business Hours

Mon:8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Tue:8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Wed:8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Thu:8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Fri:8:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Get quote
Message sent. We'll get back to you soon.