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Helping Beyond the Clinic Walls

As RVTs, we have compassion and huge hearts for all animals - big and small. It is amazing to find something you are truly passionate about and turn it into a career. We are a part of a caring profession and want to give back to our community, but with frequently changing work schedules, and busy personal lives, it can be difficult to plan for and meet the time commitment needed for many volunteer activities. When looking for volunteer opportunities that utilize our RVT skills, we may also find that there are limited options available in our region.

You may ask yourself - how is it possible to have extra time in your day-to-day life to volunteer? Collectively we’ve asked ourselves that same question – how to juggle our demanding career, a personal life, and volunteering all at the same time. Volunteering as an RVT has historically meant having to travel to remote areas where our expertise hasn’t been readily available (e.g., remote spay/neuter clinics), doing a “one time” volunteer shift, or doing more of the type of activities that we do in our daily work environment. Like others in our demanding profession, we’ve tried various volunteer avenues, but they can be difficult to fit within our work schedules and lifestyle.

After seeing social media posts and a volunteer opportunity listed on the OAVT website, we each learned that Home Hospice Association (HHA) was looking for RVTs to mentor and support their Bello Project volunteers. Upon further investigation it became clear that this was a volunteer experience that accommodated the ways in which we as RVTs need to be able to volunteer. For example, Susan (a Bello Project RVT Mentor) says “The Bello Project requires volunteers to take online training that I could complete easily around my busy work schedule.” This program seemed like the perfect fit, giving opportunities to use our expertise and skills to help in our communities based on the time we have available.

The Bello Project provides volunteer-based in-home pet care assistance for people with a life-limiting illness, allowing them to keep their beloved pets with them during the time when that love and companionship is most needed. Tracey Robertson of Home Hospice Association states: “When developing The Bello Project, we immediately recognized the importance of providing quality care to our clients’ pets and trustworthy, knowledgeable training and support to our pet care volunteers. The depth of knowledge, skills, and professionalism provided by OAVT accreditation makes RVTs the perfect mentor for our volunteers. We knew that to be successful in this endeavor we needed to understand what an RVT would need in a volunteer opportunity and developed the RVT Mentorship program with this in mind. Our RVT Mentors provide our organization, our volunteers and our clients with trust and confidence because of their dedication and commitment to a high standard of care.”

Volunteering with The Bello Project allows us to work with others who share a common interest and connects us together as we work towards a common goal. We have found exciting volunteer roles that provide us with a rewarding experience and enjoy sharing our animal care knowledge and experience with others through the following projects.

Bello Project Volunteer Training:

A key component of Bello Project volunteer training, in-person training sessions are conducted by RVT Mentors to reinforce and demonstrate the pet care concepts introduced during the online training. During this time when social distancing has restricted face-to-face events, we are re-designing the in-person training component to be delivered online. Susan and Ana, members of the Training Development Team share their stories:

“I discovered the Bello Project and Home Hospice Association when I was looking into a new volunteering venture. Initially, I was captivated by this opportunity as it allowed me to utilize my knowledge and my compassion as an RVT and gave me the opportunity to share this outside of my work environment.

Once I started the online training to become an RVT Mentor to the volunteers, I learned how wonderful HHA truly is. My role in conducting the in-person training event for new Bello Project volunteers was a very rewarding experience. I enjoyed extending my animal care knowledge to others and I look forward to hosting more in the future.” Susan

I discovered The Bello Project from a post a friend had shared on Facebook. I was familiar with the traditional modes of volunteering as an RVT, however wanted to explore a new avenue where I could focus more on education in the community. With my role with The Bello Project volunteer training, I get to enjoy teaching and educating as I believe that this is the foundation for further understanding the wonder of pets. This volunteer effort has been flexible to fit my schedule and I have felt a sense of fulfillment when I get to teach something new and it has helped me further appreciate and understand how powerful the human-animal bond is. I’ve developed a new understanding regarding the end-of-life journey while working with The Bello Project – it has opened my eyes in terms of hospice care in our community as well as the group effort it takes in order to ensure this is a smooth transition.” Ana

Death Café for Pet Lovers events:

Building on the international social movement of Death Cafes, this event brings pet lovers together (virtually during COVID) so that the topic of pet death, and its “validity” can be discussed, acknowledged, and normalized through open conversation and discussion. Laura and Stacy are Death Café for Pet Lovers facilitators.

”I have been an RV for over 15 years and have tried many different avenues to volunteer my time but found most involved distance travel or fostering, none of which fit well with my lifestyle. I discovered that Home Hospice Association was looking for RVTs to mentor and support their in-home pet care volunteers. This seemed like the perfect fit for me as I would be able to educate pet owners as well as help care for their pets. Unfortunately, Covid hit and in-home visits were suspended. But out of darkness comes light and I was brought to my current volunteer role of facilitator for the Death Cafe for Pet Lovers. This is such a unique concept that works to normalize death by encouraging open and honest discussion. I have always taken pride in being able to support and discuss feelings of loss and grief with clients without judgment and this role gave me the platform to do so. Our current online model makes it easily accessible for almost anyone! I really enjoy the feeling I get when I see someone laugh and smile over the fond memory of a pet that they may not have otherwise gotten to share.” Laura

“I came across the Bello Project while looking for other opportunities for continuing education and volunteering. As I have always had an interest in palliative care and end of life discussions in my career as an RVT, this seemed like a great fit. The information and training provided through the Compassionate Caregiving training modules helped me immensely when navigating this previously unknown territory of hospice care for my grandmother. My mother has always encouraged me to volunteer, like her, I find it lifts my spirits and helps make me more community minded. I think it is so important to help others, and this program has allowed me to do that both within the community I live, and in a larger area as well.

I have taken on a different role with The Bello Project than initially anticipated – helping to plan and facilitate the Death Café for Pet Lovers. I have always held a special place in my heart for palliative and end of life care of our animals, and find that we don’t discuss dying, death and euthanasia as often as we should – or WHEN we should. I have focused a lot of my CE towards this subject matter. Working in the Death Café helps to demystify and take away the stigma about dying and euthanasia in our animals – we should have these discussions as soon as an animal has been diagnosed with a terminal illness or whenever quality of life questions are asked. In doing so, we can only hope to both provide the client with the information they need and the time to process this information, and to provide our pets with what they deserve – a “good death” (the very meaning of the word euthanasia). People come to the Death Café for Pet Lovers for so many reasons, each of them are unique, and each leaves with a different experience, a different outlook, and hopefully some new insight into something we all deal with at some point – both as pet owners, and as human beings.” Stacy

Many Faces of Compassion:

Offered as a series of virtual workshops, Many Faces of Compassion is an educational event for family and volunteer caregivers.

Stacy indicates “I am currently working on a presentation for the Many Faces of Compassion entitled “When Compassion Comes on Four Legs”. My workshop will look at the special relationship that animals play in the lives of the dying, how vital these relationships are to both the animal and the client, and how animals grieve the loss of their owner and friend. Working at a non-profit myself, I know how important it is to support those who support you. I am very proud to help out with this initiative that recognizes all the good work caregivers and volunteers give to those who need them in the community.”

Jaimie shares her story; ”The Bello Project found me just at the right time in my life. I was longing to find a volunteer organization that spoke to me; that I could help out in my community and feel passionate about. One of our clinic clients, Pam Keetch, did a presentation to us about The Bello Project. Immediately I connected to the group, their beliefs and the passion they have to help the community. Hearing there was a need for RVT mentors in the Ottawa area to train volunteers, I felt it was such a good fit for me. My initial interest was to help the Bello Project build a large enough volunteer group that I could mentor. My training would help the volunteers understand animal behaviour, provide hands-on-training seminars, and general knowledge so they felt comfortable caring for pets of the dying in their homes. With the limitations of close interactions in the past months The Bello Project put focus on other areas, in particular, self-care and peer support for RVTs. I look forward to seeing where the Bello Project takes us in the coming year. Fingers crossed we can get out in the community to help others safely soon.”

Self-care for Compassion Fatigue and Burnout Workshops:

Mental and physical health must be high priorities to be able to continue in our chosen career field that deals with so much burnout and compassion fatigue. It's important to “put on our oxygen mask first” before helping others. Statistics tell us that one way to feel better is to get active, and volunteering is one of the best ways to do so while helping others. Through our work with The Bello Project, HHA has learned more about the stresses faced by RVTs and has created a monthly open peer support forum for us to “drop in to”. We’re also working on a self-care presentation for RVTs, and hope to present it at a future OAVT conference or as an online webinar.

Jaimie says “As technicians we do not get any education on self-care, burnout or compassion fatigue in college. Having a safe space to talk about the battles we face in the veterinary profession is very important for a technician’s wellbeing. I myself took part in one of the open forums, not just as a Bello Project member, but as an RVT in need of discussing my mental health. I hope to continue to put self-care as an important focus of the project.”

Helping “outside the clinic walls” in ways that allow us to use our training, experience and expertise as RVTs in rewarding and non-traditional ways is exciting – it helps us help others while learning new skills or exploring other areas of interest pertaining to the human/animal bond. Volunteering allows us to share our love for animals and our compassion. It’s great to have found opportunities to share this compassion and our knowledge and experience to help others in ways that fit in with our careers and busy lives.

As Stacy puts it - “That is the great thing about volunteering – they see your talents and passions and find out how to best foster and utilize them within their organization. I could choose to help out in an entirely different field, but my skills as an RVT and patient advocate are something that I am particularly proud of, and I’m happy to have found a place where I can utilize a different skillset within my area of interest.”

Written By:

Laura Donovan, RVT

Jaimie Hall, RVT

Susan Hatcher, RVT

Stacy Murphy, RVT

Ana Weaver, RVT

To learn more about the Bello Project:

We welcome RVTs to join our monthly Open Peer Support Forums:

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