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.
WHAT IS VETERINARY PASTORAL CARE?
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.
WHAT YOU'LL LEARN
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.
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 40 hours of pastoral care in which they provide support to people grieving the loss of a pet. A weekly two-hour 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, with no more than six
participants, 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," and the forum serves as a valuable networking and
communication tool for veterinary pastoral care practitioners who support one
another in their work.
The AVPE training
program is currently provided free of charge. Pastoral care is our passion, and
there is a great need in our society for the services of a pet chaplain. We
don't want financial constraints to stand in the way of someone pursuing this important
Students in the summer 2018 class gave the course a five-out-of-five positive rating.
“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
IS PET CHAPLAIN TRAINING FOR ME?
The AVPE training
program prepares you for community service as a registered 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
If you have a
background working with people in a helping capacity – for example, as a grief
counselor, social worker, psychologist, minister, and 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 augment 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 Robert Gierka, who holds a doctorate in adult education
with a specialization in anthrozoological bereavement from North Carolina State
University in Raleigh, NC.
Dr. Gierka trained and
worked as a chaplain at REX Hospital in Raleigh, NC, in the late 1990s and
subsequently served for nearly two years as hospital chaplain at the North Carolina State University
College of Veterinary Medicine Veterinary Teaching Hospital (CVM/VTH). In this capacity, he provided emotional and spiritual support to hospital clients as well as veterinary 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 with his life partner, Karen Duke, a professional writer and graphic
designer who co-developed the AVPE training program. Dr. Gierka and Ms. Duke have conducted training workshops in pet loss for social workers, 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 dissertation research.
LEARN MORE AND APPLY FOR TRAINING
We teach classes each spring and fall 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
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.
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 © 2019 Association for Veterinary Pastoral Education Inc. All rights
reserved. Pet Chaplain® and Pet Chapel® are registered service