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Funeral Director’s Best Friend? Therapy Dogs At Work

by | May 9, 2016 | Funeral Profession

A man hugging his golden retriever dog

Therapy dogs are employed for many reasons. They are used to comfort the terminally ill in hospitals or visit the elderly in nursing homes. They provide assistance with tragedies, such as the Sandy Hook Shooting. Our furry friends also are helping the grieving families in funeral homes.

Therapy dogs are trained dogs that go through a certification program. The program is designed to help dogs recognize stressful situations and offer comfort.

Sounds perfect for a funeral, right? That’s what people are finding out.

How a Therapy Dog Helps the Grieving

Dogs are man’s best friend for a reason. Besides being loveable, they have been shown to improve our mental and physical health.

The American Psychological Association found that pets provide us with an important foundation for emotional support. It’s been shown that the presence of a pet lowers our response to stress. Petting a dog can raise the chemicals in our brain that cause us to feel more calm and relaxed.

Ever wonder why your dog comes up to you when you’re feeling down? Dogs have the ability to detect emotion in humans. A study published in Current Biology found that dogs have a region in their brain, similar to humans, that registers emotional tones in our voices.

Oliver the Therapy Dog

The Associated Press‘ story of Oliver, a Portuguese Water Dog, is a popular example of how dogs benefit a funeral home. Oliver started as a regular therapy dog, visiting schools and nursing homes. His owner, Mark Krause, also owned a funeral home. One day they decided to see how Oliver, trained to comfort people, could comfort families in mourning at the funeral home. It turned out he made a great addition.

In one instance, Oliver helped comfort a little boy who had lost his younger sister. The boy had stopped talking after her death. He eventually opened up to Oliver when he saw the dog.

Oliver helped hundreds of families in his 10-year span as a therapy dog before he passed in 2011.

The AP wrote that “Funeral directors say dogs, especially trained therapy animals, can lighten the often awkward, tense atmosphere at a wake or funeral service, and sometimes seem to know exactly who needs their help.”

Helping Your Health

The benefits of owning a dog aren’t just for those who are mourning.

We know that running a funeral home is no easy task. The psychological benefits of owning a pet can help reduce the stress for you and your staff. Pet ownership also has been shown to increase heart health, and motivate owners to exercise more frequently.

Of course, owning a funeral home dog does (predictably) require some extra work.


After the initial costs of owning a dog, there are certification fees when you want to register your canine companion as a therapy dog. Some organizations even require annual renewal fees to maintain certification.

A therapy dog can be a great addition to some communities, and provide a great source of emotional support to families. But taking on a funeral home pet means taking on extra work. Each funeral home (and director) is different, and it’s important to weigh the pros and cons.


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