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Never Say, Move On, But Move Forward – Exclusive Interview With Rev Kaleel Sakakeeny

Kaleel (Rev K) is one of the country's few ordained Animal Chaplains, nondenominational Pastoral Counselors and Credentialed Pet Loss and Grief Counselors. His work in the field of Loss and Grief, especially Pet Loss and Grief, has earned him recognition from The Washington Post, People Magazine, New York Times and other media. He is a “thought leader” in the emerging field of the animal-human bond studies, and a practicing therapist.

Rev Kaleel Sakakeeny, Director, Animal Talks Inc a 501 c 3 nonprofit

Tell us about a pivotal moment in your life that brought you to where you are today.

It wasn’t a straight road to get to where I am, that’s for sure. After earning BA, MA and MS degrees and working as a global journalist, and then a Life Coach, I suffered a major loss in my life that drew me toward spiritual and heart-related issues as I tried to heal.

After wandering and feeling very lost, I decided to attend theology school, and in time became an ordained nondenominational pastor in pastoral counseling, and an rdained Animal Chaplain which allowed me to explore the deep bonds between humans and animals.

I quickly realized that this connection to our pets, especially when they pass, triggers all other kinds of unmourned losses in people, losses that often go back years like a broken marriage, the death of a parent. I was truly moved when I saw that our connection with animals and the love between us has remarkable power to heal.

So I took the next obvious step and became a Credentialed (Pet) Loss and Grief Counselor. I continued my pastoral counseling and animal-human mission, notably as the director of Animal Talks, a Boston-based 501 c 3 nonprofit animal charity.

I’m grateful that our global work has received national and international recognition from such media as the Washington Post, People Magazine, the NYT, etc.).

I really do hope for discussions with colleagues about this new kind of work—just as I welcome those seeking companioning on their grief and healing journeys.

It’s an emerging field and we’re learning so much about people, pets, humans and animals

Kaleel, you have an unusual background: you’re an ordained Animal Chaplain, an ordained nondenominational pastor engaged in spiritual counseling and a credentialed (Pet) Loss and Grief Counselor. How do these all work together-and what is an Animal Chaplain anyway?

Great question!

We’ve come a long way since we put the dog in the backyard dog house, and put the cat out for the night. Our animal companions, our pets have been totally incorporated into our lives physically, emotionally, mentally and above all perhaps, spiritually.

They have become real members of the family, sharing our beds, meals, walks and lives in almost every way. So, when someone loses his or her pet to death, has to euthanize them, it’s a life-changing event. The pain is bone marrow deep, neurologically and emotionally. Clients come to me heartbroken, often sobbing. You know what they ask?

“Will I meet my pet again in heaven?”

“Is there a heaven for pets?”

“When will the pain end?”

“Will you pray with me”?

“How long will I grieve?”

“Will my pet forgive me for taking her life?”

So, there are probably a dozen of so ordained animal chaplains in the country. Maybe in the world. Some work in animal shelters providing comfort for the animals. Others work in rescue operations.

I work with the bereaved, those who are struggling to come to terms with “the death in their family” and the total change this brings-and the questions they ask are pastoral, spiritual questions. So, you can also see how relevant they are to my training and background.

What kind of audience do you target your business towards?

We don’t “target” anybody, and we don’t really have an“audience.” Targeting is too aggressive a term for the work we do.

We make ourselves available, I guess you could say. We guide people to where we are, who we are, what we do. And where they want to go!

So, Animal Talks is a refuge, a safe place for the broken-hearted, those who are journeying toward healing and hope. While our work is primarily in the field of pet loss, people come to us with all kinds of losses, relationship losses, job losses, health and so on.

Grief is grief!

And since our society is very grief-avoidant, we become one of the few places with a mission to accept the pain of loss and move toward a new reality.

What is your work inspired by?

Well, throughout history, humans and animals have had a deep relationship. Profound even. Some say Sacred.

Certainly, Native People understood the kinship, as did St. Francis who used the terms “brotherhood and sisterhood” to describe us and the animal kingdom.

Only lately have science, psychology and the spiritual disciplines come to understand how our pets bring out our better selves. How they are the angels of our better selves.

Of great interest is the number of people who come to us wanting to know why they feel the death of their dog or cat or bunny is more painful than the death of their parent or friend.

It’s an interesting question and gets to the heart of our work:

What IS this connection between our pets, our animal friends and us? Why does it have such power to move us?

We think it’s because the animal-human bond is free from the resentments, anger, pettiness, betrayals, judgements that mar our human-to-human relationships.

A parent-child relation is forever fraught with disappointments and misunderstandings.

Likewise a partnership or marriage. This is almost never characteristic of our relationship with our pets! The love is purer, more complete, never judgmental. And so we enjoy this beautiful connection and the freedom it brings. Until it’s gone. And even then, death does not end the love or the relationship.

What is your business name and how do you help your clients?

We are a nonprofit, Animal Talks Inc, and we operate on many fronts. Our website is reassuring and, we think, resource-rich, and I urge anyone with a deep interest in animals and pets to visit it. We have a strong Social Media presence, a seasonal newsletter with a wide circulation, a Podcast, ebooks for sale and workshops.

Mostly though, our work is centered on one-on-one grief/loss counseling. People reach out to us directly or from mental health organizations like Psychology Today, Belongly and others.

Typically, we try to limit our therapy work to three sessions. Why? Because sadness and heartbreak are really not mental health issues. They are matters of the heart—the spirit and the emotions. There is no pill for sadness and nothing needs fixing.

So our work is to be present to the griever, and not to extend therapy beyond the point where it’s measurably helpful.

Another healing modality is our monthly Healing Circle group that meets via zoom. Sometimes nobody shows up. Other times many do. And it’s very helpful for people from all over the country and abroad to witness each other’s struggles and pain and how they reconcile their losses with their lives.

We never say, “move on, but “move forward.”

So, reach out to us whenever you need us. We’re always here.

Thank you for this opportunity.

Follow me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and visit my website for more info!



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