Dogs Comfort The Bereaved in Funeral Homes

Our four-legged friends can help to ease grief

Dogs have been known to comfort us in our greatest times of need. And now, funeral directors across the nation have begun to utilize our furry friends’ sympathetic nature.

Man holding a dog symbolizing comfortTherapy dogs have been commonplace in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice centers and schools for some time now. They offer a comforting presence, that “unconditional love” that many people say describes a dog’s affection and loyalty. It should be no surprise, then, that funeral directors believe therapy dogs could benefit those dealing with the loss of a loved one.

Many stories about these funeral dogs exist. One such tale occurred at Cornerstone Funeral Services in Boring, Oregon. Elizabeth Fournier owns the small family business, and they have an 8-year-old Lhasa Apso named Angel there to help the bereaved cope with their losses.

Jan Thomas, 52, chose Cornerstone to host her sister’s visitation and funeral. (Her sister had died from a long illness.) Most of the family was prepared for her inevitable death. However, Jan’s 18-year-old son, Zachary, took the loss extremely hard. As they arrived at the funeral home, Zachary, who is autistic, was introduced to Angel, and they interacted with each other for almost two hours.

“When Elizabeth told me I could go in with Angel, I did,” Thomas said. “When I went in the room with Angel, I felt more like I was with a friend next door…There is definitely something to the calming effects.”

Many studies have shown the positive effects human-animal relationships can have on people. One study in particular pointed to benefits in both emotional and physiological effects, such as reducing blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety.

Dogs Seem To Know

Anyone who has owned a dog at some point in their life will probably tell you that dogs are very attuned to human emotion. They seem to know when someone is sad, angry, happy, etc.

Portrait of Rocky the Goldendoodle from Bartolomeo and Perotto Funeral Home

Rocky, the Goldendoodle from Bartolomeo and Perotto Funeral Home 
Credit: nextavenue.org

Michael Perotto is the president of Bartolomeo and Perotto Funeral Home in Rochester, N.Y. They have a two-year-old Goldendoodle named Rocky who’s become their therapy dog.

Whenever a family gathers to honor their loved one, “[Rocky] greets every single person,” says Perotto. “Somehow, some way, he can figure out who’s having the hardest time and then he’ll park with that person.”

According to Elizabeth Fournier of Cornerstone, Angel also appears to know when someone needs comforting. She also keeps her distance from people if they don’t seem to be receptive to her presence. After all, it’s possible that not everyone wants to interact with a dog when they’re grieving.

Many times, people will feel uncomfortable discussing the death of a loved one. Perhaps they just aren’t ready to be social when the pain is still so raw. Although it’s not quite the same, interacting with a dog could help to fill that void, and provide some sense of comfort during times of grief.

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