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There for You: Sid Korpi is a new kind of chaplain

October 1st, 2010 By Meredeth Barzen

Animal chaplain Sid Korpi in her special pet vestments with three of her four Westies and one of her two cats.

At animal events all over the Twin Cities, four little white Westies are one woman’s calling card and true calling: Sid Korpi, animal chaplain, at your service. So what does an animal chaplain do, exactly? “Everyone who calls him or herself an animal chaplain may have an individual scope of services that differs from mine,” Sid says. “For instance, many offer animal communication and healing touch or Reiki. My focus is on the animal lovers themselves for the most part. I help people prepare for, cope with and move on after pet loss. I’m sort of a grief counselor for pet owners.”

And how does one become an animal chaplain? Well, for Sid, it came naturally: ”Animal chaplaincy is a new field of endeavor with no legal licensing requirements to allow people to perform blessings and the like,” she says. “I researched organizations offering so-called ‘certification’ in animal chaplaincy and found, in one instance, the whole requirement was to read five pet-loss books and write reports on them… oh, and pay them $300. I had already read 40 such books in researching and writing my own pet loss book, Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss, and I’d been volunteering for rescue organizations for years, so I decided I was amply qualified. I’ve also been a nonsectarian minister/wedding officiant (Nonconformist Nuptials) for nearly a decade, so writing and performing meaningful, spirit-based ceremonies and even eulogies comes naturally to me.”

The job comes with its rewards: “To have people say to me, ‘Your book helped me so much when I lost my dog/cat’ means the world to me. I’ve been able to help people get through their pain so they no longer say, ‘I’ll never have another pet. The pain of losing them is just too great.’ Instead, they recognize that if they allow themselves to grieve fully and move on to celebrating their pet’s life, they can honor their pet’s teachings about living in the moment and loving unconditionally by opening their hearts and their homes to a new animal companion when the time is right.”

But, as with anything that centers around the end of a beloved pet’s life, there are hard parts as well: “What I find most challenging is accompanying pet owners to their pet’s euthanasia appointments. Years ago, I’d never have dreamed I’d have the strength to do such a thing. Simultaneously, though, this is one of the most rewarding things, too. I am profoundly honored to be present at this momentous, peaceful transition, even as I cry my eyes out right alongside the owners. I figure the day I can face the death of any animal and witness their humans’ grief without that deeply affecting me is the day I should get out of the business,” she says.

If your pet is “transitioning,” be sure to check out Sid’s book on the subject, Good Grief: Finding Peace After Pet Loss.

Click here to read her guest blog on Sidewalk Dog. And if you know someone who has lost or is in the process of losing a pet, here are a few ideas for locally made gifts to let them know you care:

* Maggie’s Light pet candles from Nelli designs

* Pet reliquary jewelry by Lisa Havelin

* Memorial stones by Marc Clements of Follow the Muse

* End-of-life photo sessions from Sarah Beth Photography, Lucky Mutt Photography and Patrick Nau Photography

I love the slogan my friend, pet photographer Patrick Nau of Minneapolis, uses regarding having your pet’s portraits taken: “Don’t say, ‘I wish I had,” say, ‘I’m glad I did.'”

The photos below of my three West Highland white terriers were taken as part of an annual fund-raising event through the Photographer’s Guild of St. Paul, Minnesota. If you made a donation to Pet Haven Animal Rescue, your photo session for as many pets as you brought in at one time was free and so was one 8×10 photo. (Of course, they wind up with about 100 more  shots you’d love to purchase beyond that, too. And I did, naturally. One such triptych follows below.)

The point is to celebrate your pet’s life all through his/her life, not just as a memorial after he/she dies.

Now, prepare to enjoy my own personal BRAG BOOK of sorts! Click on any images you want to see full size.

Blanche, Keely and Ambrose 2010

photos by Photographers Guild of St. Paul, MN

Final Farewell Photos

Many pet photographers are starting to offer special deals to owners of elderly or seriously ill pets, allowing them to affordably capture their beloved animal companion’s image before it’s too late. If you do miss out on such a photo session, though, you can still memorialize your pet with a pet portrait drawn or painted by an artist from one of your own snap shots.

I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s felt they’d wasted their money after doing either of these things. Ali Jarvis of the Sidewalk Dog recently lost her dog Luc, and though she was initially unsure if she could emotionally withstand having her terminally ill boy in a photo, she had Sarah Beth Photography take the pictures. She is now beyond grateful that she did it. The photos allow her to stay connected with her sweet boy forever.

Ali Jarvis and Luc on his last day. Photo by Sarah Beth Photography.

Another great photographer in the Twin Cities area is Becky Kalin, Lucky Mutt Photography; see her website for her terrific portfolio.

A pet portrait by Peggy Krizak

Above is a beautiful sample Wisconsin artist Peggy Krizak’s work. Contact her at Peggy Krizak’s Pet Portraits.

A final plug is due pet portrait artist Jessie Marianiello of Stray Dog Arts. Go to her site to see more of her wonderful work. Below is a favorite of mine by her:

Lou the singing dog, by Jessie Marianiello

All of the aforementioned photographers/artists are fellow members (with me) of the Pet PAC, a networking association of Minnesota pet-related businesses. I can vouch for their abilities and integrity!

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