Funeral homes are going to the dogs – and that may be a good thing.
Trending in the industry is the use of therapy dogs to help comfort and calm the grieving at funeral homes. “Comfort companions” such as Lulu, a goldendoodle who “works” at Ballard-Durand funeral home in White Plains, N.Y., is a one of an increasing number of dogs brought in by funeral homes to comfort mourners.
“She has an uncanny knack for visiting the people she feels might need her. It does put people at ease and makes people smile when they don’t feel like smiling,” Ballard-Durand CEO Matthew Fiorillo explained to People magazine.
Mark Krause, owner and president of Krause Funeral Home and Cremation Service in Milwaukee, had a Portuguese water dog named Oliver, a family dog trained as a therapy dog, who helped comfort guests at his funeral home for most of the dog’s life.
Krause recounted a story to the Associated Press about a boy, about 7 years old, who had lost his 3-year-old sister. The boy had simply stopped talking.
“The minute the dog came in, the boy started talking to him about his sister,” Krause told the AP. “This little boy tells the dog, ‘I don’t know why everyone’s so upset, my sister said she’s fine where she is.’”
Oliver died in 2011 and was honored with his own obituary and funeral that drew 150 mourners – many of them with their pets. Krause told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at the time of Oliver’s death: “If any dog deserves a funeral, it’s Oliver. He was a good boy.” During his years as a therapy dog at the funeral home, Oliver worked 1,000 funerals or more, Krause said.
Therapy dogs differ from service dogs in that service dogs are trained to perform specific tasks for disabled individuals, while therapy dogs are brought into settings to comfort people, according to the American Kennel Club. Therapy dogs don’t have special access to public places that service dogs have.
A therapy dog is an asset in a funeral home, according to Therapy Dogs International, because “they bring unconditional love and help to lighten a mournful atmosphere while bringing peace to individuals during an upsetting time.”
According to TDI, the effects of simply stroking a dog can be incredibly comforting for the bereaved, and their unwavering companionship helps people through a difficult time. Gayle Armes, owner of the Armes-Hunt funeral homes in Fairmount and Marion, Indiana, told the AP that his funeral dog, a golden retriever named Judd, gives mourners “something else to focus on.”
“The ones who need it, they tend to go over to him, maybe kneel and love on him and he loves on them,” Armes said.
Some people believe dogs are good at comforting humans because they are able to empathize.
In one study, researchers at University of London Goldsmiths College exposed 18 pet dogs to conditions in which either the dog’s owner or an unfamiliar person hummed, pretended to cry or carried out a casual conversation.
They found that more dogs looked at, approached and touched the humans as they were crying and most of them responded in a manner “consistent with empathic concern and comfort-offering.” The researchers concluded that behavior suggests that “domestic dogs express empathic behaviour when confronted with humans in distress.”
Other studies have suggested that petting dogs lowers stress and decreases blood pressure.
While there are no official statistics on how many funeral homes in the US have therapy dogs in service, a spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association, told the AP recently that “We hear from members that more and more of them are bringing animals into funeral homes, be it a dog or a cat, whether it’s a certified therapy dog or just an extremely well-behaved family pet.”
What do you think? Should funeral homes offer therapy pets with their other services?
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Phaneuf Funeral Homes and Crematorium has served the public since 1906. We are the largest provider of funeral services in the state, and we operate three full-service funeral homes, two crematories, two non-denominational chapels, and a cremation society. To request a free brochure and planning guide, click here.