Pet chaplain helps people cope after death of cherished pets

Karen Cohen, a pet chaplain, rescues animals in need and works with the owners of sick and lost pets.

When you lose your family pet, it’s like losing a member of the family. Whether pets die from natural causes, terminal illness, an accident, or if they run away or need to be rehomed, we can experience intense emotions of sadness, and even guilt.

In the case of pets that have become lost or have run away, Rockledge resident Karen Cohen, a pet chaplain, works with owners to find them.

"Did they contact all the shelters within a certain perimeter? Did they make a sign to post? Was the animal chipped? Did they let neighbors know that you’re looking?" Cohen said. "If the pet is never recovered, then we go into the mode that it was killed or someone else took it. Then, we move into the grieving mode. That’s pretty challenging. In some cases, more challenging than animal hospice."

Cohen has been a pet chaplain since 1995 and provides services for a donation.

We also grieve pets that we might need to rehome because we can no longer care for them for a variety of reasons such as relocation, finances or no longer being able to provide care. Finding a friendly home to take in your pets is optimal. If not, Cohen recommends doing your research and taking your pet to a reputable no-kill shelter.

When terminally ill pets are euthanized, the guilt part is the hardest part, according to Cohen. "Many ask, ‘Did I do it too fast, or too late?’" Because pet parents worry that their pet was unduly suffering or could have lived a bit longer.

Quality of life is an important factor when deciding whether a pet should be in animal hospice or euthanized.

"I work with the pet parent and the veterinarian if the animal has a disease that there is no cure for and it will cause death. We keep the animal pain free with minimal side effects and help the pet with its daily living,’’ Cohen said. "When the pain medications aren’t working, the quality of life goes down and we start working and preparing for euthanasia.’’

"It should be done at home or at least at a vet’s office where there is a separate area," she said. "I think by having it done at home, it’s more comfortable for the pet. When you try to take your pet to the vet, you add to their stress level. Second of all, keeping the pet in their surroundings helps keeps them calm. I also think it’s better for the owners because they’re in their own surroundings."

Upon request, Cohen will accompany people to the veterinarian or be with them at home when a pet is being euthanized. She also does memorial services upon request.

"It’s comforting to know that you’re there for your pet and that you love one another. Saying goodbye is important and also knowing that you’re doing the right thing."

For more information, go to