Funeral homes help grieving families with four-legged friends

The loss of a loved one can cause unimaginable grief. Now funeral homes across the country are hiring a new kind of worker to console and comfort families. They are canine companions who provide healing to the grieving as they say their final goodbye.

FREDERICK, MD (WUSA) - Countless studies show that pets can give emotional support and a few funeral homes have taken notice of that benefit. They are using dogs to help console and comfort families and friends through their loss.  

Funeral Director Courtney Stauffer shares how her company's grief therapy dog, Raven, is impacting lives.

"I put on suit coat. We're walking out the door and she knows, 'Oh, today is a work day!' She's probably more excited to come to work than anyone," Stauffer said.

Raven works five days a week, from 9 a.m to 5 p.m., at the family owned Stauffer Funeral Home in Frederick, Maryland.

"Raven is probably the most requested staff member that we have!" said Funeral Director Kelly Zimmer.  

"I read a little bit about comfort dogs," Stauffer said.

The National Funeral Home Directors Association does not keep data on the number of comfort dogs. But, the organization believes the use of grief therapy dogs is a growing trend.

"I contacted a place that bred goldendoodles," Stauffer said. "I told them I wanted a black one, and of course, it was hard to find.  A couple of months later they called and said we have a little girl."

A local trainer put Raven through the paces to prepare her the job.  

"She trained us a lot on the basic commands. Raven did go and stay with her for 20 days, and did intense therapy training, and she does have all of her certifications," she said.

Three-year-old Raven has been a grief therapy dog for two and half years.

"You know, no one wants to come to a funeral home. So, if you can ease that a little bit, especially with children, you can make that a little easier," Stauffer said.

Raven comforts 7-year-old Madison through her grandfather's funeral.

Her grandmother Jane Cartwright said, "The fact that it's helping her, makes me feel good 'cause it's hard enough. And, for a child, especially, if it's their first experience, and someone very close to them, it can be really hard to handle.  And, I want to make it as easy as possible."

"I think she knows people who need comfort," Stauffer said. "She took to a little girl whose mom passed away.  And, Raven stayed by the girl's side during the whole viewing. We get lots of cards and we get to hear back from the families."

She reads a couple of the cards. "Raven was a true comfort in our time of sorrow."  

"We can't say enough about Raven. The comfort and love she provided for my grandchildren was priceless."   

And last, "Raven was a joy and pure comfort for us." 

"When we hear those types of things and we get the feedback, you know that we're doing the right thing.  And, we know that Raven is doing her job here at the funeral home," Stauffer said. "It's just nice to see that, you know, we are making a difference and Raven's making a difference."

Raven, by the way, is named after Baltimore's football team.  

And Stauffer said she has gained quite a reputation as more and more funeral directors consider getting their own grief therapy dog.  

© 2017 WUSA-TV


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