Lab director of programs in Religion Unplugged

Lab Director of Programs Michael Skaggs was recently interviewed for a story on Religion Unplugged covering the burgeoning field of animal chaplaincy. Also interviewed was Lab webinar guest Rev. Sarah Bowen, author of Sacred Sendoffs. Read “Animal Chaplaincy Has Become A Growing Profession” by Andrea Cooper in full here. An excerpt follows:

Never heard of this emerging discipline? You’ve got company.

According to a recent Gallup survey commissioned by Chaplaincy Innovation Lab at Brandeis University, 1 in 4 Americans have received support from a chaplain. Yet few respondents mentioned animal chaplaincy. The field “is still in its very early days,” said Michael Skaggs, director of programs for the Chaplaincy Innovation Lab.

The specialty is not the same as therapy. Animal chaplains typically describe their work as “companioning” rather than “counseling.” They listen and help make meaning from a loss or challenging event. Their work addresses the human spirit instead of mental health.

You don’t have to be religious to seek out an animal chaplain. They serve people of any or no religious background, including atheist, agnostic, spiritual but not religious, and pluralistic. In general, “chaplains have to be deeply grounded in their own tradition, whatever it is. They have to know where they stand, who they are,” Skaggs said. “But then, when they come into the encounter with the person, that grounding has to be invisible.”