Donna Rae Yuritic, who spends time as a chaplain for animals, hangs out with Honey (left) and Chico at a dog park in Scottsdale. Yuritic estimates there are 50 animal chaplains in the U.S. and Canada.
MESA – When one of Donna Rae Yuritic’s dogs died, she conducted a funeral that was attended by 25 mourners: 20 people and five dogs.
The Scottsdale woman is a trained and certified animal chaplain whose ministry serves “fish to fowl, hamsters to horses, cats, dogs and exotic animals,” according to her business card.
She will bless animals, perform last rites, conduct animal memorial services and be on hand with families when the vet determines euthanasia is the best option for a very sick pet.
Yuritic travels with an emergency bag that contains such items as holy water, toys to calm a stressed dog and different candles appropriate for rites for animals’ companions who might be Christian, Jewish or of other faiths.
The bag has prayer cloths that can be laid over a dog that has been put down.
Her Compassion for Creatures Animal Ministry provides “spiritual support for animals and their families.”
She estimates there are 50 animal chaplains in the U.S. and Canada.
Yuritic winces when people call themselves “owners” of animals because it suggests possession or control. Such creatures, she believes, are human companions – with souls.
“It is my personal belief that animals do not need any special graces or help from us to get to heaven,” she said.
Ron and Marilyn Ogden were heartsick when Lady Blue, a Queensland healer, died just days before her seventh birthday.
“She was just everything to me,” Ron Ogden said. “I went kind of berserk. My wife and I never ate for four days. I even asked God to take my life because I wanted to join her.”
Marilyn ordered Ron to see a doctor.
An inactive Mormon, Ron said he realized he needed a church to help them.
“I sat down and I went absolutely through the Yellow Pages” looking for churches and talking to staff on “how they felt about animals having souls,” he said. But no one’s response was suitable.
Then at a veterinary office, he found a pamphlet from Compassion for Creatures. Ogden called Yuritic, who was traveling as part of her main job as a tennis professional.
He shared his grief. They reconnected when Yuritic returned to the area, and the chaplain wrote a prayer for Lady Blue.
“We love Donna,” said Ogden, who lives in Glendale. “I get tears when I talk about her. Donna has been my spiritual mentor and has helped us out in so many ways that she is the most wonderful person that I have run across in my life.”
As a result, the Ogdens have embraced Religious Science and are active at New Vision Spiritual Growth Center in Scottsdale, where Ron, like Yuritic, is involved in the Animal Kinship Ministry that meets the third Sunday of each month.
Yuritic has taught and played tennis for more than 30 years in the U.S. and Europe and is the pro at Village Racquet and Health Club in Phoenix.
Out of her compassion for rescue animals, she became involved in New Vision’s Animal Kinship Ministry.
When a program called Chaplain of the Pets Program was offered at the church through Chapel of the Fields in California, Yuritic enrolled in the nine-month program and was certified.
Her next step is to complete some courses, write a paper and take tests, and then she will become an ordained chaplain. She must have an altar in her home and must have observed an animal euthanasia.
Yuritic has done animal blessings at WestWorld of Scottsdale and has conducted children’s events in which each child put the name of a pet on a white card with a helium balloon “and released it to heaven.”
With stickers and metallic signs on her van, Yuritic seeks to make her ministry known.
People commonly inquire, then say how much they wished they had had her services when their pets died.
She finds herself answering many questions about animals’ souls and helping people get comfortable with what is appropriate either when a pet dies unexpectedly or after a decline in health.
The pet industry has been thriving she said, as people spend freely for the comfort and reciprocal love of animals. It is exemplified in pet hotels, dog-sitters, dog walkers, portraits painted of one’s pets, biodegradable caskets, memorial services and elaborate urns to hold pet ashes, she said.
Even with the downturn in the economy, most people continue to indulge their animals, Yuritic said.
Yet, she said, there has been a disturbing trend of people abandoning their homes in the mortgage meltdown and leaving their pets behind.
“I know of a Doberman-shepherd mix that was left in a locked Chandler backyard with six puppies,” she said.
“She was nursing but she had no food or water.”
Many are uninformed about what can be done with a pet’s body after death, and veterinarians need to better educate clients, she said.
It’s illegal to bury dogs and cats in one’s backyard, but it commonly happens, she said.
One can pay for cremation and take possession of remains. Metropolitan Phoenix has a limited number of pet cemeteries, including one in Sun Lakes.
“If you leave your animal’s body (at a veterinarian) and you do not claim the body, the body is taken to the dump,” she said.
Yuritic offers prayers and blessings by phone, email or other means – and this time of the year, she offers pet prayers for holiday gifts.