REVIEW: Sacred Sendoffs: An Animal Chaplain’s Advice… by Sarah A. Bowen

Reviewed by Rachael J. Hughes

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The book cover for Sacred Sendoffs shows a colorful illustration of domestic and wild animals, including zebras, a tiger, horses and dogsSarah A. Bowen’s Sacred Sendoffs: An Animal Chaplain’s Advice for Surviving Animal Loss, Making Life Meaningful, and Healing the Planet (Monkfish Book Publishing, 2022) is a meaningful look at the life and death of our animal friends. The book explores the relationship between humans and other mammals, including those we consider pets. It also goes into the historical and philosophical contexts of those relationships. The book is written from Bowen’s perspective as an animal chaplain. If you are unfamiliar with the role, it is someone who provides spiritual and religious support — most notably when a pet passes on, but also for welcoming ceremonies and other blessings.

What could be a sad read is balanced by the humorous anecdotes that Bowen carefully threads throughout her book. She also does a good job describing and defining the etymology of her position and that of the animals, from people all the way to the smallest microbe.

She writes at length about wildlife and zoo confines, as well as about farm animals. Each mini essay looks objectively at the matters at hand. One definite selling point to her book is her positive outlook and objectivity. Even when you know her stance about a subject, she is not staunch to the point of offending others. For example, in the segment, “Should We Reconsider Eating Meat?” she talks more about the coalitions and groups that are non-meat eaters, and their stance on the matters, and she does so very fairly.

Bowen addresses “villains” in the section on “Farmed and Corporate Animals.” Just who are these villains? It depends. She discusses a time when she visited a cattle farm and was able to see both sides of the story—she is a vegetarian and an animal lover.  But she discovered that the farmers she was conversing with, too, loved the animals, but were able to simultaneously able to see them as a source of income and food. It made her revisit her views on those who torment and kill animals versus those who see it as a business, but still look fondly after those animals with an expiration date.

The only drawback I found in reading her work is that sometimes I would get caught up in the science of certain issues, when my premonition for choosing the book had me thinking it would be more of a spiritual healing guide for losing animals. She does cover the importance of dealing with loss — from burial to celebration of life, to post-grief circumstances—recognizing grief experienced when we lose beloved creatures.

In the section “Witnessing Wild Losses,” for example, Bowen suggests a ritual for wishing the soul well. She recounts that her husband puts his hand over his heart and engages in a moment of silence in order to honor the fallen animal’s life. Likewise, in the title chapter, “Sacred Sendoffs,” she recounts helping a stray cross over to the other side with a blessing. The vet staff liked the sentiment so much, they asked if they could affix the blessing to other, similar situations. Gladly, Bowen agreed. The sendoff is as follows: “Dear Little One, please know that you have been loved by the Universe. You have been loved by the ones that found you and the ones who have tried to heal you. From here, we wish you a most auspicious next lifetime. May you be free from pain. May you be free from fear. May you now experience a sacred sendoff. Amen.”

Sacred Sendoffs is a well-written and thorough examination of any and all topics related to the mortality of animals we love and know—and even those we may love but have never known. Bowen is a champion of the animal world, and this is definitely a worthy read for those of us who care deeply about our fellow creatures.

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Rachael J. Hughes

Staff Reviewer

Rachael J. Hughes is a writer and educator in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania. She is the author of Us Girls: My Life Without a Uterus, and a part-time professor of writing and communications at Alvernia University. She earned her MA/MFA in Creative Writing from Wilkes University. She is “stuck in the 90s,” and has an obsessive love of Pearl Jam. She loves poetry, true narratives, locally roasted coffee, and cats. She currently writes and resides in a partially earth-sheltered house with her husband and four cats. The cats helped her write this work.

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