It was only a matter of time before someone thought to include a dog in a funeral. Dogs show us the best in ourselves: They are unpretentious, unaffected, and full of vivaciousness and joy. Adding a touch of happiness to an otherwise somber affair is proving to make a difference for grieving families.
Funeral homes using dogs in their services have gotten a great deal of attention lately; in fact, the media has created a new compassionate hero in Lulu, a golden-doodle who is a resident of Ballard Durand Funeral Home in White Plains, NY. And Lulu’s not alone, at least five other funeral homes have tried this unique therapy technique.
Why Does it Work?
Well-adjusted dogs sense when a human being is distressed and usually seek to comfort that person. What better presence in a funeral, where most of the people in attendance are grieving and in need of all the support that they can get.
Although in the presence of family and friends, we have all experienced a slight reluctance to let go completely, mourn fully; many of us are far more comfortable dealing with our grief alone. But a dog’s attention is entirely unfettered by convention, entirely genuine and free of personal agenda—an approach that often has the powerful effect of unleashing deep emotional responses.
While in most cases grief brings people together, it can also create tension and apprehension. Long-forgotten conflicts, new jealousies or surprising agendas can, unfortunately, arise. Yet, as soon as you bring in a dog, that tension shatters. Matthew Fiorillo, Lulu’s owner and owner of Ballard-Durand Funeral Home, noticed this in a different context, but then had the idea to try it out in his own place of business—to great success!
Lulu, and any other well-behaved dog, can do wonders for a tense situation–making people smile and receive affection more openly will do that.
Are They Trained?
Of course any dog performing a service must first be properly trained. Beyond standard training techniques, dogs performing services must first take a Good Canine Citizen test, which then allows them to be a certified service dog. The result? A dog particularly attuned to shifts in feelings and any need for support or attention. Most people don’t even have that kind of training!
What do you think? Do you see a benefit for a service dog to be present at a funeral home or is this too unconventional?