The Birth of Animal Blessings
For as long as I can remember my deepest passion has been animals. All animals. My memories as a small child are rife with examples. I regularly brought stray dogs home to wherever our family currently called home (my dad was a career United States Air Force fighter pilot, and we moved from one base housing unit to another every two years).
And there weren’t just kittens.
When we lived in Las Vegas, I recall finding a brown bag of newborn kittens in an oleander bush while walking to J.E. Manch Elementary School. Upon arrival, I headed straight to the nurse’s office, assuming she would know just what to do. She did. She called my mom and asked her to be please come get them. My mom - a nurse and social worker by trade - picked them up and then taught me to bottle feed them until we could adopt each of them to good homes.
My passion continued into high school.
In 1976, the year of our country’s bicentennial celebration and just after my twelfth birthday, my dad got reassigned, and our family left the United States and moved to Madrid, Spain. My parents - attempting to ensure my younger brother and I had the opportunity to fully experience Spanish culture - occasionally took my brother and me to bullfights. I couldn’t bring myself to cheer for the bullfighter. Instead, I identified with and cheered for the suffering bull.
Fast forward seven years to the University of Florida.
College in the early ’80’s still meant selecting a major with an eye on maximizing one’s potential to land a good job. Business school - dull as it sounds to me even today - met this narrowly-focused criteria. Thankfully, I needed several electives to round out my graduation requirements, and a course entitled Contemporary Moral Issues fit the bill. In particular, I was drawn to the morality (or immorality, as I believed then and still do today) of the death penalty.
Little did I know then, but one of the topics about which we spent just one week would alter the trajectory of my life forever: Animal Rights.
One of our assigned readings was Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation. As an aside, my son is now a senior in college studying acting. He, too, needed additional credit hours outside his major and enrolled in a similar course last fall, the reading list of which included the same text. Singer, a philosopher, connected the dots for me between my deep empathy for all living beings and how I, in turn, lived my life without giving thought to deeper issues such as how did this animal on my plate get there and, more importantly, should it even be there in the first place?
At age 19, I became a vegetarian.
My first job with “good potential” was with First American Bank as a management trainee in the Washington DC area in 1986. There was a small store on my walk back to my apartment near the Dupont Circle area that carried nothing but magazines and newspapers from around the world including a UK publication entitled The Animals’ Agenda.
Within a week, I found myself stuffing envelopes at the Farm Animal Reform Movement, an organization devoted to farm animal protection issues. When I received word from the law school aptitude test folks my test scores (I had taken graduate school exams just in case) would expire soon, I dove into finding a law school at which I could study animal law.
There were none.
Instead, I found Notre Dame Law School, the catalog of which emphasized its social justice foundation. I wrote an essay about factory farming and my desire to use my legal degree to make the world a better place for all sentient beings with an emphasis on non-humans.
In particular, I aspired to become a lobbyist.
While in law school, I had the opportunity to return to FARM, and upon graduation I had the opportunity to work in-house in the DC offices of PETA (to assist prosecutors throughout the country in prosecuting fur ranchers for using genital electrocution to kill chinchillas) and the Animal Legal Defense Fund (to assist the lead attorney in a federal animal protection case on which she was working at the time).
I returned to West Michigan upon completion of my internships and began working in a traditional-type law firm. I was able to continue my animal protection work and also had the opportunity to engage in lobbying at both local (to ensure humane shelter euthanasia protocol) and and state (to defeat an effort to add mourning doves to list of game species for hunting) levels.
After several years, it became clear to me the judicial system was not ultimately effective in transforming hearts. Someone once said, “You cannot legislate morality.” That person was right. The legislative system was also not effective.
I believed perhaps appealing to folks’ faith traditions-the Golden Rule being a universally-sought ideal across the board - might be the answer and enrolled in seminary.
During my seminary years, I was invited to officiate Blessings of the Animals in both religious and secular settings. I also volunteered at a local hospital as night chaplain and discovered my call to serve those grieving / mourning the loss or impending loss of a loved one.
Still wanting to use my skills to better the lives of animals in the community, I reached out to a local humane society to see if it was in need of another Board member. The Director of Education instead suggested I start a Companion Animal Loss Grief Support Group.
That was seven years ago.
Since then, I completed Hospice of Michigan’s volunteer training, several courses with the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Colorado and am now collaborating with veterinarians in the West Michigan area. I not only facilitate a monthly support group but also speak at conferences and staff meetings about grief and self-care for those involved in the hard work of giving voice to those who cannot advocate for themselves.
I officiate Blessings of the Animals regularly throughout West Michigan in both religious and secular places. And I continue to advocate through law and legislation on behalf of all animals in our midst.
From all of these experiences, Animal Blessings was birthed.
To honor the sacred worth of all animals. That is my mission and dream for our world.