The first funeral that I remember attending was my grandfather’s. He died suddenly during Thanksgiving weekend, and the service was on my 16th birthday. For those of you who have lost anyone, you know how difficult it can be, perhaps even more so when it happens unexpectedly. He was a pet parent, with a small menagerie of cats, horses and dogs on his property near a national park. The dogs, though, were who he was closest with. Those dogs approached my grandmother, my father, aunts and cousins, with what seemed to me to be the realization that everyone there needed them. Sometimes dogs just know.
Funeral directors think the same thing. When Sandy Del Duca was grieving over the loss of her father at the Ballard-Durand funeral home in White Plains, New York, a Goldendoodle named Lulu approached her, ABC News reports.
Dogs are amazingly perceptive, knowing exactly when you need them the most.. Solovyova/iStock/Thinkstock
“That dog looked into my eyes and I was done,” Del Duca told ABC News. “She seemed to know just what I needed. A funeral is a funeral; it’s not a great thing. But that dog gave the service a family atmosphere and made it more of a celebration.”
Lulu isn’t the only funeral home dog to bring some peace to mourners. Mark Krause, Milwaukee-based Krause Funeral Home and Cremation Service president and owner, told ABC News that a dog’s presence changes the atmosphere in a room of mourners.
“In a funeral home, people are typically on edge, uncomfortable. But everyone lights up, everyone has to greet the dog,” he said.
The dog at Krause’s funeral home is a Portuguese Water Dog named Oliver. Oliver was trained as a therapy dog by Krause’s wife, who suggested his services might be needed at the funeral home.
“[In] the 10-plus years we had him, he probably touched a couple thousand families,” Krause told ABC News. He added that the dog seemed to “sense grief and who needed him.” One such family, he said, involved a 7-year-old boy who had stopped talking after his 3-year-old sister died. “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.'”
Maybe Oliver understood, maybe he didn’t, but his presence helped. When the dog died in 2011, 150 people attended his funeral.
While we found no statistics about how many funeral homes staff dogs to bring support to mourners, we’re guessing that many do… and many will more to come.