Death Café for Pet Lovers and The Bello Project

Guest blog from Pamela Keetch

How did the idea for a Death Café for Pet Lovers come about?
The idea to hold a Death Café for Pet Lovers was born during one of Home Hospice Association’s general Death Café events. A participant asked of her table what their opinion was on grieving the loss of a pet vs grieving the loss of a human loved one.  The reaction around the table could be summed up with one word: judgement. This person was not welcomed to share her feelings about pet loss, and it was noted by the table’s Co-Facilitator that she then “checked out” of the conversation completely.

What is a Death Café for Pet Lovers?
A Death Café for Pet Lovers is an open forum (held virtually during the COVID pandemic), providing a safe and non-judgmental space for pet lovers to talk about dying and death with no agenda or objectives, and keeping in mind that compassion and diplomacy amongst participants is of utmost importance. The Death Café for Pet Lovers builds on the international social movement of Death Cafés.  Originated in the UK in 2010, the goal of a Death Café is to encourage conversation about a reality we all share, but a topic few wish to talk about.  Talking about our experiences and feelings related to the illness and the loss of a beloved pet can be a great way to start the conversation about our own dying and death.  

The importance of pets in our lives
Approximately 13 million people in Canada have dogs, and 14 million have cats - that’s plenty of people who are going to experience pet loss one day. For many people, pets are an integral part of their family, and their relationship with their pet is different than with their human family. As pets are a big part of their daily life and routine, providing both physical and emotional interactions, some people may feel closer to their pets than to the human members of their family.

Opening up the conversation about pet loss
People often feel hesitant or embarrassed to discuss their feelings about their pet’s illness or death with others who may not recognize or acknowledge the depth of the human-pet bond. We bring pet lovers together so that the topic of pet death can be discussed, acknowledged, and normalized through encouraging open discourse and examination.   We are most grateful to the Humane Society Kitchener Waterloo & Stratford Perth for hosting a Death Café for Pet Lovers on August 25 (via Zoom).

The Bello Project
Home Hospice Association appreciates and understands the important role that pets play in our lives – it is a known fact that their unconditional love and companionship greatly improves our physical and mental well-being. The Bello Project, a unique program offered by Home Hospice Association, provides pet care assistance for pets of terminally ill clients at no cost, allowing them to remain together sharing this companionship and love when it is most needed.  Trained and screened volunteers with the support of a volunteer Registered Veterinary Technician Mentor help with pet care activities such as daily exercise and play, feeding, cleaning, trips to the groomer or veterinarian, and temporary overnight care if needed.   If required, assistance can also be provided with the re-homing process for their pet when that point has been reached in the client’s illness journey.  We also recognize the importance for the pet to acknowledge and grieve the death of its owner and facilitate the opportunity whenever possible for the pet to attend the funeral home visitation or service. The Bello Project helps to ease the worry of “what will happen” for the pet parent and “what just happened” for the pet.   

Article by: Pamela Keetch, Chapter Champion HHA-National Capital Region and The Bello Project Program Manager