Mar 13 2012

Spiritual Care of Our Pets

“What does that mean, ‘spiritual care?’” the man next to me in the ferry line asked with a small sniff of disdain. We were queued up to board the Block Island ferry the day after New Years and I was tired from my polar bear swim and late night dancing. I glanced at the tag line on my van… “In Home Quality Medical, Surgical and Spiritual Care.” Then I looked at the man’s expectant face. His wife and eight-year-old daughter were leaning over, waiting for my answer, too.

Like one of those flickering flash back movies I saw in my mind pets and pet-parents that I had known over the years. Some of them were happy memories. Many were not. I thought of the movie Patch Adams and his famous line, “I seek to increase the quality of life, not just delay death”… and of how my own pets were handled in past situations before I became a veterinarian.

“Spiritual care,” I replied slowly, “is taking care of the entire pet, its’ heart and soul, not just its’ body. There are times when I can cure a pet with medications, and times I can cure it with surgery. But sometimes,” here I paused and looked at the family closely, now noting the lines of tension on the woman’s face, the tiredness in the man’s eyes and the lack of a smile on the child’s lips, “sometimes I pray with the owners and the pet and pet family are healed spiritually.”

They looked at me blankly. I wished I could explain so much more.

I’m never quite sure what kind of reaction I am going to get when I put my faith on the line. I generally feel a brief queasy sense of fear before sticking my foot out. Yet, despite my fear of ridicule or rejection, I believe strongly that I do need to care for the pet and pet family in a deeper way than traditional, science based medicine and surgery can provide, so I end up sticking it out anyway. And guess what… most people respond with widened eyes, nodding heads, tears in their eyes or simply a big smile.

I am a Cornell University trained veterinarian. I am a surgeon by preference and love emergency care and complex cases. I am a scientist, medical professional and believer of evidence based medicine. I also have faith in a higher spirit that guides me and helps me face the difficulties I encounter every day, and when I meet with a pet-parent facing a difficult trial with their beloved pet, I feel it is part of my duty as their veterinarian to extend that guidance to the family.

Death and disease are daily aspects of my profession. Sadness, loss and pain are constant. But for those families that reach out with me to seek to understand that all trials are also sources of joy and blessings, those difficult times become moments when they draw closer to one another, closer to empathizing with the complete and unconditional love that pets provide, come closer to glorifying the incomprehensible beauty of love and life that we are given.

In the upcoming weeks, I would like to share with you some special stories. These are of people and pets that have been through extraordinary trials and have come through them with clean and beautiful spirits. In our lives, we will endure hardship. In pet-parenthood, we will endure loss. Yet, with a combination of quality medical treatment and honest spiritual care, we can heal.

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