Macy Burke clearly remembers the day that Bunni joined her family. The six-year-old dog was sassy and full of life.
“After about a month, we all developed an unbreakable bond with her,” said Burke. “She loved to play outside, go for car rides and go for walks.”
The feisty dog also had a habit of picking on animals much larger than her, such as deer, and was trampled many times, losing an eye in one such dispute.
It never stopped her from enjoying life.
But just after her 14th birthday, Burke and her family could see that their beloved dog was struggling. Her hips were bothering her and she was starting to lose her hearing.
When the decision was made to have the elderly dog euthanized, Burke turned to a family friend, Karin Blythe, who runs Halo Aftercare & Pet Cremation in Armstrong.
“She was my baby — the thought of putting her down was very difficult,” said Burke.
An appointment was made for Jan. 29, 2016 at Armstrong Veterinary Clinic.
“I spent every last moment with her — I even gave her some red velvet cake,” said Burke. “Bev from the clinic was absolutely amazing in handling our situation. Karin met us there and she made this experience a lot less painful than I had anticipated.
“I was reassured knowing that Bunni would be cared for and surrounded with love through every step of her afterlife. Thank you ever so much, Karin — I will never be able to fully express my gratitude and appreciation for such a wonderful and heartfelt experience.”
The idea for a pet cremation and aftercare business began when Blythe needed final care for her much-loved cat. At the time, the opportunity to be with her pet at the end wasn’t available.
“I felt there were probably other pet families who would be comforted by having the option to stay with their pet as well,” she said. “For many people, witnessing the cremation process helps to give a sense of closure.”
Blythe and her husband, Chris, share their Armstrong home with two large dogs, Baxter and Murphy; cats Thomas and Sadie; and some “adorable” French bantam chickens. She has felt a deep connection to animals since childhood.
“I always preferred to play dress-up with my cat, and ride with my bunny in my bike basket instead of playing with toys,” said Blythe. “During my teen years, my dog Tammy was my best friend and companion wherever I went. Over the past 25 or more years, we’ve been fortunate to share our lives with many more pets. Some came to us as unwanted pets or strays, some of them have been chosen, but all of them have found a special place in our hearts and memories.”
Blythe said in their short lives, pets give so much — their friendship, unselfish love and total loyalty.
“There comes a time when we must give back to them — their peace, their freedom and their dignity. It’s the most difficult, but most loving final decision we can make for them,” she said. “We wanted to allow the opportunity for pet families to participate in the final goodbye as much or as little as they feel comfortable with.
“Our hope is that we provide pet families with the support they need to find peace, and the confidence that their cherished pet has been cared for in the most loving way possible.”
Halo is a member of Pet Loss Professionals Alliance (PLPA), a group of pet-loss care providers who are working to foster a high level of ethics and training within the cremation business.
“They ensure that members are held to the same high standards and ethics as human crematoriums and funeral homes. PLPA provides educational resources and training for industry members, which keeps our qualifications and skills current,” said Blythe.
Halo offers a variety of services, from private cremation to witnessed cremation. Additional options can include a keepsake plaster pawprint and a published obituary in the newspaper.
Blythe understands how difficult it is to say goodbye to a beloved pet and so the company offers a final farewell at a private viewing and visitation. A comfortable quiet room is available at the facility to accommodate family and friends who would like to share a meaningful goodbye to their faithful companion. Families are welcome to stay during the cremation process.
“We are proud to offer the most compassionate and professional cremation services available,” said Blythe. “Whether you are planning ahead or your needs are immediate, we are here to support and guide you through the difficult process of honouring and remembering your pet.”
She said the greatest reward in doing this type of work is knowing that in some small way, she has contributed in making a very difficult time a little easier for pet families.
“For some of them, this is the first time that they’ve had to deal with death, and it can be overwhelming to try to make arrangements when they are feeling such heartbreak,” said Blythe. “We try to assist families so that all of their questions and concerns are addressed, and they can feel confident that they have made the right choices for their pet, as well as for themselves.
“We have met so many good people through the business, and all are animal lovers like ourselves.”
In addition to its many services, Halo provides a link through its web site to brochures on grief that can be downloaded and printed. This literature includes information on euthanasia, how to help children as well as pet siblings deal with grief, when to get a new pet, and other information that can be helpful during this difficult time.
As well, a “Memory Lane” page is where anyone who has lost a pet can post a free tribute and picture of their pet. The “Memorials” page offers ideas on ways to remember and celebrate your pets. Blythe said some people choose to scatter or bury their pet’s ashes in a place that is special to them, such as a garden where their pet liked to sleep, or maybe a trail where they hiked together. Others decide to keep their pet’s ashes in a box, urn or pendant.
Blythe said when a pet owner chooses communal cremation, the pet is cremated with other loved pets.
“In this case, the ashes are not returned but are spread on our peaceful acreage overlooking the beautiful Spallumcheen Valley, completing the circle of life,” she said.
In the event that a pet dies at home, the family can have Halo pick the pet up at home, or they are welcome to bring their pet directly to the site. If the pet is at a veterinary clinic, the clinic can call Halo to make arrangements.
“Every situation is unique, and the way each person finds comfort differs greatly,” said Blythe. “Our job is to ensure that every pet family’s wishes are fulfilled, and they can find comfort in knowing that their pet has been looked after in a caring and dignified way.”
For Naoko Hoshi, saying goodbye to her beloved cat, Mumsie, was difficult and she was glad to have Blythe’s support on her pet’s final journey.
“Mumsie sadly passed away November 29, 2015, but not before living an incredibly full and rich life,” said Hoshi. “She was one of three cats to be abandoned at O’Keefe Ranch more than 10 years ago. Two of them were pregnant at the time and one of them was Mumsie.”
Ken Mather was ranch manager at the time and he and his family took in the cats, which included Mumsie and her pregnant sister, Bonita.
The kittens were given to good homes on Mother’s Day that year and eventually, Mumsie came to live with Hoshi.
“She was called Mumsie because she would nurse Bonita’s kittens as well as her own,” said Hoshi. “She loved warm laps, loved all human beings, and loved the outdoors.”
While Hoshi loves animals, most members of her family do not, but Mumsie won them over almost immediately.
“My grumpy brother, who is allergic to cats, would let her sit on his lap every night, and my even grumpier father would clean her fur with a damp cloth,” she said.
For everyone who had experienced Mumsie’s love and companionship, it was a sad day when she died. Hoshi said her family is unwilling to welcome a new cat into their home because Mumsie was so special to them and because of the pain of losing her.
“The Japanese traditionally cremate their loved ones so my mother was adamant about cremation,” said Hoshi. “Thanks to the support and compassion of Halo Pet Cremation, I was not only able to grant my mother’s wishes in a timely manner but able to spread Mumsie’s ashes in our yard, a place she had spent many warm afternoons exploring and enjoying in the last months of her life. She was a very special cat and I am very lucky to have had her in my life.”
As someone who loves animals, Blythe said it is always difficult to see a family suffering heartache after the death of a cherished pet.
“Our goal is to provide them with the compassion and support that will help to make the process a little easier,” she said. “Sometimes it’s the little details that can help to ease the anxiety that many people feel when making final arrangements for their pet, and we strive to accommodate all special requests.”
For more information, see Halo’s Facebook page or go to www.halopet.ca