When the time came for Hansa, a yoga instructor, to put down her 12-year-old dog, Shiva, she called on some friends to ask them to remember her and Shiva in prayer.

What she got instead was an immediate pastoral visit, a circle of support to be with her and Shiva while the dog was euthanized, help with taking care of the cremation arrangements, and the promise of a memorial service whenever she's ready for that. "What mattered to them was that I got taken care of during the time of transition," said Hansa, 51. "When their animals are dying, people need someone to be there for them," said the Rev. S. Tucker, senior minister at the Oasis Center for Spiritual Living, an interdenominational church near Denver that affirms all religious faiths.

That's why Tucker launched the church's Animal Kinship Ministry, to spiritually anchor pet owners going through a difficult period, and to support pets and their caregivers in prayer. Team members from the church are trained to recognize just how deep the bond between a pet and its caregiver can be, and how to hold a prayer vigil when a pet is lost, ill or in surgery. They also will be present to support the human while the pet is dying.

It's a situation that often requires trained pastoral response, Tucker said. "Friends will cry with you, but they may not be able to be strong for you," she said. "As a spiritual counselor, I try to help put some spiritual light on the subject. I'm bringing comfort in a way that doesn't get down in the dirt with people. I'm not there to climb in the hole and cry. I'm there to lift them up, help them deal with the decisions they need to make."

It's a service offered to all, regardless of whether they are members of her church, Tucker said. Non-members are asked to pay a small fee--$40 or less--to help pay expenses, she said. "Many people out there do not have a church, and I don't know of many other churches that offer this kind of support," she said. "I know when my last dog died, I was working at a church, and even there the attitude was 'get over it, we have work to do.' "

So when Hansa called, Tucker and her husband, the Rev. Lynn Tucker, immediately came to be with her. "They had a very calming effect, just being present in the room, not intrusive in anything I was doing," said Dr. Jan Fascinelli, the veterinarian who euthanized Shiva. "They were just so supportive of what Hansa and I needed to do, and of the dog. At the end, when we were getting ready to euthanize Shiva, they said the most beautiful prayer, honoring his life and the depth of the relationship those two shared. It brought me to tears. I just felt they helped bring a lot of closure and peace to that situation. Shiva just passed so easily."

Hansa said she appreciated having someone there who didn't try to fix the situation, but allowed her to feel the pain without minimizing her grief. She said she'll have the Tuckers back to do a memorial service for the dog _ but not just yet. "I haven't decided what that will look like yet," she said. "I may wait until spring, and use his ashes as an offering for the new."

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