Funeral Therapy Dogs Provide Furry Comfort to Mourners

funeral therapy dogs

If you’ve ever lost a loved one, you know how very difficult those first few weeks can be. If you had pets at the time, they were probably a major source of comfort for you as you grieved, their fur absorbing plenty of your tears.

To help mourners cope, the state of Texas got its first certified funeral therapy dog in 2017. Kermit, a Border Collie mix, was trained in how to deal with grieving people. (Based on my experience with my own dogs, I’m guessing minimal training is necessary.)

Kermit belongs to Melissa Unfred, who works for Affordable Burial and Cremation Service in Austin. She used to take Kermit to work with her before he became certified, and she noticed his demeanor changed when he was inside the business.

“A lot of people have been really surprised that he’s not hyper,” Unfred told KVUE. “You see that as a hand will go out to pet him, it’s like an immediate sigh of relief.”

Kermit can instinctively determine who’s suffering the most. “He’s something of a chameleon — he can kind of sense the energy in the room,” Unfred told KVUE. “Sometimes I will start to go upstairs and Kermit isn’t behind me. He ended up staying behind … He just moves himself into the position where he’s closest to the primary griever.”

In New York, a Goldendoodle named Lulu has been comforting mourners at Ballard-Durand Funeral & Cremation Services for the past few years.

Just like Kermit, Lulu has “an uncanny knack for knowing who needs her,” Matthew Fiorillo, president of the funeral home, told TODAY. “She’ll park herself right next to an older person to let them pet her one minute and the next she’s prancing around with kids. It’s been really impressive to watch.”

Humans need to touch, Fiorillo said. “Even just petting her can be a subtle distraction from the tremendous amount of grief people are going through,” he told TODAY.

Vinny, another Goldendoodle, is currently training to become a funeral therapy dog at the Kuhn Funeral Home in West Reading, Pa.

“Death is hard for all of us,” Michael Kuhn, the funeral home’s president, told WFMZ. “Death is sometimes, I think, even harder at younger ages, so to have sort of a distraction and a loving creature next to you, I think that’s going to serve really well.”

Kuhn told WFMZ the idea of having a funeral therapy dog on the premises “kind of immediately resonated with me. It just makes a lot of sense.”

It really does make sense. Just as therapy dogs comforting hospital patients have become commonplace nowadays, more and more funeral homes across the country are adding therapy dogs to their staffs. As Kermit, Lulu and Vinny have proven, funeral therapy dogs truly help make the process of mourning a little less painful.

If you think your compassionate pet has the makings of a great therapy dog, check out these tips for how to go about making it happen.

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Photo: henriethaan

Laura Goldman

I am a freelance writer and lifelong dog lover. For five years, I was a staff writer for i Love Dogs. When that site shut down, I started this blog...because I STILL Love Dogs!