Denise LaChance, grief support
Denise is a trusted advisor of not one sparrow's and also moderates our grief support group on Facebook. Denise is a director of Mission Integration and Pastoral Care at a hospital in Los Angeles, where she lives with her dog Mia and cat Jeremy. Pictured is her beloved companion Ben, whom she lost in the Fall of 2009.
Denise is a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary, with a Master of Divinity degree and a concentration in spirituality and spiritual direction. She did her chaplain residency training at UCLA Medical Center, and was ordained by the Vineyard Christian Fellowship of Monrovia. She has also moderated a church-based (human) grief support group in recent years.
Denise's touching story about losing her dog Ben a few years back is available in her introduction to our support group. If you'd like to communicate with her personally about a pet loss or illness, you're welcome to get in touch via Facebook (facebook.com/DeniseLaChance) or email. Below is more of Denise's background and story related to animals ...
my love for "furry ones"
Before I took up full-time study of theology, I pursued a JD degree from UC Berkeley and was an in-house attorney for a large computer company for about 14 years. I enjoyed being a lawyer, but found I was even better suited for that special kind of crisis-oriented spiritual direction known as chaplaincy.
My original Bachelor of Science degree was in Zoology, though as my interests have always been eclectic, I initially majored in Fine Arts, painting and drawing. After college, I actually ended up serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer, as a science & math teacher at a Catholic boys' high school in the Kingdom of Tonga from 1977 to 1978.
Because of a combination of my Air Force upbringing and working as an attorney for a company sometimes jokingly referred to as “I've Been Moved,” I've lived in 7 different states and 2 countries outside the U.S. And because I love to travel, which was a good thing given the requirements of my former job, I've probably visited 25 different countries.
I've cared for animals throughout my life. I remember always being disturbed by violence against people and animals. I used to even rescue flies who were buzzing against screen doors and windows, trying to get out. Later in life I was taught to think of my empathizing with their struggles as anthropomorphizing, which means to attribute human motives or behavior to animals. This was considered a serious fault for a biologist.
There are photographs of me as an infant with a dog named Puddles. Other childhood dogs included Tina the German Shepherd, whom our family left behind in Japan, and a Basset Hound named Clementine.
There was a very special Dachshund I renamed from Heidi to Delta Lady, who saw me through a very challenging time in a girls home in Texas. Delta Lady was killed during my first month of college. Apparently she was barking all day. Rather than telling me that, one of my neighbors let her out of the yard and she was hit by a car. Fortunately, another neighbor was kind enough to take Delta Lady to the vet, but she didn't survive. I didn't have another dog until Ben (whom I wrote about in a different story).
There were cats though: Oreo (who was also killed by a car), Foki (in Tonga) and the best cat of all, Tuli. The word “Tuli” means “follow” or “chase after” in Tongan. This tiny, furry gray kitten who appeared to be about 8 weeks old chased after me when I was jogging one morning in Raleigh, North Carolina, and would not accept being left behind. Tuli was later joined by Francis, who was named after St. Francis of Assissi, but almost had his name changed when he began to hunt birds! (A bell on his collar helped considerably, reducing the need for the name change.) And after Tuli died, Francis was later joined by Clara.
One of the most significant challenges of living and traveling overseas was observing the treatment of animals in cultures where they were seen differently than in our own. I remember reading a National Geographic article about the amazing intelligence of pigs, while living in a country where they were killed by having their throats slit or by being hit over the head (the people there didn't have firearms.) I quietly stopped eating pork. This was another first step toward eating fewer and fewer animals.
At the same time, I remained open to learning from other cultures. I didn't want to be excessively or inappropriately sentimental about animals. I came to understand that not all cultures shared the concept of “pets” or “companion animals.” Some in other countries were baffled at our seemingly arbitrary willingness to kill and eat some animals while being outraged at the idea of killing and eating others. I remember telling my students in Tonga that I would rather that they quickly and humanely kill and eat dogs and cats, rather than treat them as they did when the animals were alive. One way I express my ongoing attempt to be balanced in my understanding of animals is by calling my companion animals my “furry ones” rather than my “children.”
One of the joys of middle age for me has been accepting and embracing parts of myself that I ignored or suppressed, even tried to change, when I was younger. I am no longer embarrassed about caring for animals and their welfare. Now I “anthropomorphize” all I want - or a better way to say it would be that I take their lives, their emotions and their suffering seriously. More importantly, I've become more openly active in advocating for the humane treatment of animals. My family and friends have noticed this on my Facebook page, and have been very understanding.
Happily, I discovered not one sparrow during this part of the journey, and at a time when Ben was mourning the death of his cat Bubba. We connected soon after, and this was the beginning of the not one sparrow Companion Animal Suffering and Loss Grief Support group on Facebook.
My story would be incomplete if I were to leave out one of the important joys of this time in my life, which is being “Aunt Denise.” I am the oldest of six, and we are all scattered around the country, along with our parents and their spouses. Fortunately my youngest sister lives about an hour away, with her husband and their two sons - my nephews, who will soon both be teenagers. While my nephews are busy with sports and school activities, I do get to see them from time to time. My “furry ones” (the ones who travel) are always welcome at their home. My niece in Texas is also about to give birth to her first child around the time of my birthday in August. So I am blessed with a loving extended family, including my parents, siblings and friends. My life is filled with many reasons for contentment and joy.
(written May, 2010)
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