Alva Review-Courier -

By NAOMI KLINGE
Columbia Missourian 

Grief therapy dog comforts people at Missouri funeral home

 


TROY, Mo. (AP) — After only four hours of sleep, Melissa Moran was exhausted by the time she reached the funeral home to make arrangements for her mother's service.

To Moran's surprise, a grief therapy dog was waiting for her and her family at the door.

Yeti, a 2-year-old goldendoodle, sat quietly while Moran made the arrangements and offered support when needed.

"When we would get kind of emotional, the dog would come right on over and sit down, just to say, 'Hi, I'm here,'" Moran told the Columbia Missourian . "The dog seemed very concerned about our emotions."

Recently, funeral homes around the country have added therapy dogs as a comfort to grieving families. Jamie Keim-Thurman, Yeti's owner and the funeral director of Kemper-Millard-Keim Family Funeral Chapels in Troy and Hawk Point, Missouri, said she expects the trend to grow.

Although the National Funeral Directors Association does not keep a record of funeral homes with therapy dogs, the association has seen an increase the past few years. A survey taken to gauge interest in grief therapy dogs indicated more than half of participants would like to interact with one at a funeral or memorial service, according to the association.

Parker-Millard Funeral Service and Crematory in Columbia recently purchased a labradoodle that is training to become a therapy dog. The labradoodle, Lizzy, should be seen around the funeral home within nine to 12 months, according to a representative of the funeral service.

Keim-Thurman said her staff has never treated Yeti as just an ordinary dog.

"She is part of the team," she said.

Families grieving a loved one are able to speak more openly around an animal, Keim-Thurman said.

"Statistics show that their blood levels are down, their stress is down whenever an animal's present, so they're able to describe their loved ones better," she said. "I could always feel that I was able to write more of a colorful picture of an individual's life with the animal being there because the family was at ease."

Having a therapy dog at the funeral home allows Keim-Thurman to bring this level of support to all families, and Yeti happily accompanies her practically everywhere.

"She's excited whenever we go into the chapel in the mornings," Keim-Thurman said. "She comes flying in like she owns the place."

Whenever families walk through the front door, she said, they often meet Yeti first: "She always greets them with a wagging tail, and you can see the excitement in her eyes."

Melissa Moran said Yeti was well-behaved during her interactions with the staff at the funeral chapel in Troy. The dog has been carefully trained to wait for a sign before making a move.

"She knew we were upset, and she was like, 'OK, I'm here for you if you need me,'" Moran said. "It helps when you are doing something you are dreading."

Moran said she worked at a funeral home herself a decade ago, and a dog would have been beneficial, especially with children.

"They could have something to hold onto and love during something so hard," she said.

Keim-Thurman recalled a man who found obvious comfort in the dog after he had lost his wife of more than 60 years.

"Whenever Miss Yeti came in, she actually placed her head in his lap, and you could see the sense of almost relief come across his face," Keim-Thurman said. "He was able tell us stories about when they first met, and he wasn't as distraught as he was in the beginning."

Yeti is able to identify the ones grieving the most, she said. During the funeral service the man's wife, Yeti spent all her time with the immediate family rather than the friends and distant relatives.

"We didn't cue her to do that," Keim-Thurman said. "She just knew."

Yeti turned 2 years old this month, and Keim-Thurman said she has been in training since she picked her up at 8 weeks. Keim-Thurman was in a 4-H dog program when she was younger, giving her the skills to train a puppy. WestInn Kennels, a nearby facility that offers training classes, also has provided tips.

"It seems like it's pretty easy, but it's actually a lot of work," Keim-Thurman said.

To be certified and registered as a therapy dog, Yeti went through about 16 months of preparation, passing the S.T.A.R Puppy and Canine Good Citizen programs run by the American Kennel Club. She learned to work with strangers, including children and people in wheelchairs.

Both Yeti and her owner also have been through the required training to pass the Therapy Dog International Test.

As a grief therapy dog, Yeti has certain privileges. She is allowed in nursing homes, schools, hospices and funeral homes, but since she is not a service dog who assists owners with daily activities, she cannot enter most supermarkets and restaurants.

In addition to funeral services and arrangements, Yeti also attends veterans meetings, senior fairs and other events around Missouri.

Some people will even stop by to get a daily dog fix, her owner said with a smile.

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Information from: Columbia Missourian, http://www.columbiamissourian.com

 

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