Dogs are getting jobs at funeral homes now because they are performing their duties excellently.
Lulu, a curly haired goldendoodle, came over to Sandy Del Duca while making arrangements for her father’s funeral. Lulu looked into the eyes of Sandy and seemed to provide the comfort Sandy needed to make the process and funeral itself more of a celebration and family affair.
More and more funeral homes like the Ballard-Durand funeral home are hiring dogs to help comfort mourners. Particularly trained therapy dogs often lighten the tense and awkward moments of a the funeral process.
Whenever a dog joins a group of mourners, “the atmosphere changes,” said Mark Krause, owner and president of Krause Funeral Home and Cremation Service in Milwaukee. “In a funeral home, people are typically on edge, uncomfortable. But everyone lights up, everyone has to greet the dog.”
Krause bought Oliver, a Portuguese water dog, in 2001 to be a family pet. But his wife had Oliver trained to be a therapy dog and he made the usual therapy-dog visits: schools, nursing homes, hospitals.
“Then my wife said, ‘Why can’t he do this in the funeral home?’ and in the 10-plus years we had him, he probably touched a couple thousand families,” Krause said. Oliver seemed to “sense grief and who needed him.”
In one case, a boy about 7 years old had lost his 3-year-old sister and had stopped talking, even to his parents.
“The minute the dog came in, the boy started talking to him about his sister,” Krause said. “This little boy tells the dog, ‘I don’t know why everyone’s so upset, my sister said she’s fine where she is.'”
“I don’t suppose Oliver understood, but he looked at the boy as if he did,” Krause added.
“My purpose was to take a tense, uncomfortable situation and ease the tension a little bit,” he said.
He bought Lulu as a newborn and had her trained for almost a year for a total cost of about $5,000. She wears a blue and white vest that says “Therapy Dog” on one side and “Pet me, I’m friendly” on the other.
When mourners come to the stately funeral home to make arrangements, Fiorillo asks if they’d like to meet Lulu and tells them she’s available — no extra charge — for any wake or funeral. Almost all have accepted.
“It’s not like she’s running around during the wake,” he said. “If Lulu’s getting too much attention, then I might say she’s tired and pull her back.”
Lulu has her own business cards and “sends” thank-you notes to children she’s befriended.