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Vet Gazette

Oregon State University College of Veterinary Medicine eNewsletter

Veterinary Chaplain Volunteers at VTH

January 16th, 2014

ReneeRenee Windsor-White is a friendly woman with silver hair and a kind face. She has a soothing voice and a thoughtful way of expressing herself; all qualities of the ideal veterinary chaplain, which is her role at the OSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Windsor-White grew up on a farm in central Illinois where her family raised corn, soybeans, cattle and pigs. “I was around animals from the get go. I loved the horses and even liked the livestock, except for a rooster that chased us,” she says. “I wanted to be a veterinarian in grade school then decided I couldn’t do it because I didn’t like to see animals suffer. I couldn’t get past that enough to focus on being able to help them.”

After retiring last year from her job as Assistant to the President of Linn-Benton Community College, Windsor-White began looking for another vocation. “I knew I couldn’t completely retire because I’m a workaholic,” she says. She knew she wanted to do something more fulfilling and asked herself, “What do I love and what am I good at?” The answer: “I love animals and I’m good at working with people. “

With a degree in religion, Windsor-White has fifteen years of experience in ministry and it occurred to her that she could put that to use in a veterinary hospital setting, much like the chaplains at human hospitals. She decided to be a veterinary chaplain. “I thought I created this job,” she laughs. “I thought I would be the first veterinary chaplain on the face of the earth, but I was not.”

Windsor-White is now a Certified Veterinary Chaplain and volunteers at the VTH three afternoons a week: Monday, Thursday, and Friday. The small animal hospital has a sign that says ‘Veterinary Chaplain on site’ but Windsor-White often just introduces herself to people in the waiting room. “I say, ‘Hi, I am Renee and I am the veterinary chaplain’ and I get varying responses; one person said, ‘I’m pretty sure my dog is an agnostic’,” she laughs.  Often, clients with seriously ill or injured pets have a long day of waiting; she is happy to keep them company. “I tell them I am there if they need anything or if they just need someone to talk to.”

She has also had some very meaningful connections with VTH clients. On her very first day, when she was just getting a tour and orientation, veterinary oncologist Dr. Shay Bracha said he had a client that might want to talk to her: A young, disabled man who was at the VTH with his service dog and his mother. The dog was in chemotherapy but the prognosis was not very good. The young man knew his dog was going to die in the near future and he really wanted to arrange a memorial service ahead of time. “I talked to him for an hour,” says Windsor-White, “and offered to do a memorial service for the dog. About six months later, when the dog died, my church agreed to let us hold the service there. The young man’s family, Dr. Bracha and Anita [Bracha], Krystal Harris [oncology resident], many students, and staff from the hospital came,” she says. “That was very cool. I think it really helped him.”

One of the ways that Windsor-White feels she helps people is by acknowledging the strong bond they feel with their pets. “So many people hear ‘it’s only a dog’; they get that from people who haven’t experienced the animal-human bond to the degree others of us have,” she says. “Early on I had an experience with a young man whose black lab became very ill very quickly and he had to make the decision to euthanize him; he was catholic and asked me, ‘Do you think the church will condemn me for killing the dog?’ There is so much guilt that comes with the decision [to euthanize]. There is no other experience you can compare it to. You can’t talk to your dog or your cat and ask ‘How bad is the pain? Do you want me to do this now?’ To help people understand and deal with that is important.”

Windsor-White  offers grief support groups for people who have lost a pet. Current or past clients of the VTH can contact her through her website:  Interfaith Veterinary Ministry. “I’m happy to talk to anybody, any time,” she says. “My tagline is ‘My heart is with the animals, my ministry is with the people who love them’.”

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