United in grief, pet owners sharing loss at Belfast service
There were emotional scenes at Belfast Castle last night as heartbroken animal lovers came together to mourn their lost companions in the first pet bereavement service to be held in Northern Ireland.
Organised by former vet Olivia Kennedy of animal rescue charity Lucy's Trust and Amanda Large of Toby's Trust, the moving service featured songs, poems and poignant accounts of the love and loss of beloved animals and cherished companions.
The celebrant at the service - which took place on World Pet Remembrance Day - was Rachel Smith who normally officiates at humanist funerals.
"We're here tonight to honour all the pets that have died. They are family members, and often in this society we don't acknowledge how important they are to people. Whether you've lost your partner, your dog or your cat, the grief and loss is yours, and it's real," she said.
Olivia said that when a beloved pet dies, people are just expected to brush it off as if it was unimportant.
"I worked as a vet, and one morning I had to put my little dog Lucy to sleep," she said.
"I was 30, she was 16. I had spent half my life with her.
"I went to work the next day and although my colleagues all knew, and said they were sorry for my loss, that was it.
"There was no time off, no compassionate leave - you just have to get on with it.
"But by just getting on with it you're pushing that grief so far down that eventually it's going to come out," she said.
"We're hoping this service will help people with their grief."
Olivia said she also wanted the service to remember all the animals who never even had a name, just a number. "This service is for all of them too."
Belfast woman Anne Montgomery was still grieving for her cat, Jasper, who died 18 months ago, aged 14.
"He was my best friend," she said.
"He had diabetes for the last 10 years of his life. I injected him twice every day and when he died it was like losing a child. I still haven't got over it."
When co-organiser Amanda's Shih Tzu dog Toby died of cancer in 2017, aged 17, "it was probably one of the hardest things I've ever had to go through", she said.
"I had lost a son in 2010, and I would liken losing Toby to the death of my son. It affected me exactly the same way - if anything it was actually worse because I ultimately had to get Toby put to sleep. So there was guilt there as well.
"I miss him every single day," she added.
Belfast man Daniel Barclay was at the service in memory of his 15 year old Labrador, Dre.
"He was a family member. The grief I feel for him is the same as the grief I felt for my grandmother and my grandfather," he said.
"It was hard to watch Dre getting older. Arthritis took him in the end.
"It started slowing him up until one day we came home and he couldn't get up off the floor. I knew that that was it.
"To keep him going any longer would have been for me, not for him.
"It was a hard call, but we had to do what was right for him."
Jean Dykes from Jordanstown said she had been rescuing cats all her life. She wanted to remember all the animals that had died through cruelty and neglect.
"Some awful things are happening - in the present climate I mourn those poor animals who were abused, starved or beaten to death," she said.
Dogs Aid will host another remembrance service in Dublin Unitarian Church on June 23, beginning at 3pm.