One of the Rev. Delana Taylor McNac’s favorite family snapshots shows her as a 2-year-old sleeping on her big dog Rip.
“Rip was my babysitter, my best friend, my sidekick,” she recalled. The English setter was the first of many pets — ranging from cows and chickens to the more common dogs, cats and hamsters.
It was no wonder that McNac became a veterinarian, eventually working in a busy private practice.
However, 20 years ago at age 31, she started experiencing professional burnout. She decided to redirect her education toward becoming a veterinary pathologist.
But then she had a spiritual awakening.
A member of the Cherokee Nation, McNac had recently joined Dallas Indian United Methodist Church in Texas. It was her first experience with a Native American congregation. She felt called to the ordained ministry.
Today, she is combining her two passions — ministering to animals and ministering to the dying.
Faithful to the end
A committed animal lover, McNac knows a beloved pet can be a tremendous comfort in life and in death.
“Terminally ill people are often abandoned over time by friends and family who struggle with their own mortality, grief or inability to cope,” McNac said. As they grapple with the responsibility and burden of providing comfort as well as dealing with their own grief, caregivers sometimes become emotionally unavailable to the patient.
The Rev. Delana Taylor McNac poses with her dog, Black Jack. McNac, a veterinarian-turned- hospice chaplain, works with terminally ill people through Pet Peace of Mind. UMNS photos courtesy of Delana Taylor McNac.
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But pets are faithful, no matter what.
“Pets are the ultimate source of unconditional love and faithfulness,” McNac said. “They provide routine in the midst of the unreality of the end-of-life journey and may sometimes be the comic relief needed during the challenges and struggles patients and caregivers share.
“Hospice patients realize that they only have today to count on and they need to make the most of each day. A faithful pet shows them how to do just that, by sharing the little things, such as simple companionship.”
‘Unconditional love and acceptance’
Four years ago, McNac got involved with Pet Peace of Mind, affiliated with Banfield Charitable Trust, because she saw a need to help patients and pets stay together.
She manages the program nationally. It is a rewarding — and sometimes challenging — ministry.
“The challenge is twofold,” she said. The first is educating hospice staff to include pets as family members and to make them aware of the Pet Peace of Mind program and the need for it in hospice care.
The second challenge is to let patients and caregivers know there is help with keeping a pet in the home before they make the choice to give them up or relinquish them to a shelter.
“We help hospices network with pet-care businesses and services in their communities for this purpose,” McNac said, “as well as mobilizing volunteers to assist in finding suitable homes for patients’ pets.” Often, patients already have determined who will take their pet prior to coming to hospice.
Jack and Daisy are examples of patients and pets served by the Pet Peace of Mind program.
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In her blog, McNac wrote about Mr. J. who suffered from a serious breathing ailment that required oxygen 24/7. “A big, gruff, teddy bear of a man,” she said, “his loyal companion was a tiny, gray-faced Pomeranian named Gracie.”
McNac asked Mr. J. what Gracie meant to him at this time in his life.
"She is my life," he answered. “She’s my alarm clock; she’s my doorbell; she’s my companion. She makes me get up. We have a routine. I don't know what I would do without her.”
McNac believes pets exhibit the attributes of God that people need most when they approach the end of their life’s journey. Like God, pets offer love and even forgiveness.
“How an individual responds is up to them,” she said. “They can receive compassion and then extend compassion to others, or choose not to do so. We have the choice to respond to God’s love and grace in the same way.”
*Dunlap-Berg is internal content editor for United Methodist Communications.
News media contact: Barbara Dunlap-Berg, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5489 or email@example.com.