Flowers, food, and donations often stream in to support families who have lost loved ones. But science — and reports from those who are grief-stricken — is now confirming that a dog might be one of the best methods to console those who are grieving.
“Interaction with therapy animals has been linked to decreased perception of pain, decreased anxiety and stress, less fear and worry, and increased perception of social support. It can also affect some physiological markers of stress, such as lowering blood pressure and cortisol,” says Elisabeth Van Every, communications and outreach specialist for Bellevue, Washington-based Pet Partners, a nonprofit organization focused on animal-assisted therapies.
As a result, select funeral homes across the country have enlisted the help of hounds to help those who have recently lost loved ones with their emotional well-being.
At Williamson Memorial in Franklin, Tennessee, a sheepadoodle has attended visitations, joined families at burial sites, and shared free hugs and cuddles. The team at Macon Funeral Home in Franklin, North Carolina trained a Bernese Mountain Dog to act as their in-house, grief-support dog.
“Dogs provide companionship, a bond, and force people to focus on something outside themselves,” says Stephanie Newman, Ph.D, a psychoanalyst and psychologist in New York City.
There’s often a hurricane of emotions as clients struggle with accepting a loss. That’s where a pup comes in, Van Every says.
“People may be struggling with their feelings while grieving or with whether their expression of grief is ‘appropriate.’ Many find it helpful to cuddle or talk to an animal when they’re grieving, knowing that the animal won’t place any judgment on them for how they feel or how their grief is expressed,” she says.
Plus, it helps them feel less alone, even when they’re not in the mood to talk to or be near other humans. More than half of Americans polled in a National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) survey said they would be interested in a therapy dog attending a memorial or funeral service. Unlike family pets, therapy dogs are trained to tune into a human’s emotional needs — and respond accordingly.
“The presence of a dog in the room can be helpful in itself, causing people to feel more at ease from watching the animal and knowing it’s there. Dogs can provide physical comfort through their presence, affection, and interaction with people, including physical contact through petting or hugging, or providing a change of mood or a respite from heavy moments through playing or doing tricks,” Van Every says.
According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the best therapy dogs are confident yet quiet and calm. They’re trained specifically for therapy tasks and should be able to:
The scientific and anecdotal evidence to support the benefits of therapy dogs has been so strong, in fact, that therapy animals now go far beyond canines. Cats, horses, donkeys, rabbits, guinea pigs, domestic rats, birds, miniature pigs, llamas, and alpacas are all being used to brighten spirits and ease anxiety during stressful times.
“While dogs are by far the most common therapy animals, all of these species have unique gifts in therapy work, and we are always seeking to increase therapy animals of our other species,” Van Every says.
Photo credit: iStock
Search for grief support resources, such as in-person groups, online forums, and phone hotlines, available in your area.
Wellabe offers life and supplemental health insurance plans to help you prepare for good days and bad. We’ll always be here to empower you to be well — well prepared, well protected, and well loved.
Kelly Rayburn, AVP national sales and distribution at Wellabe, and Olga Villaverde, from Lifetime TV’s The Balancing Act, explain the importance of preplanning your funeral. While a difficult subject, advance planning can alleviate financial and emotional burdens for your family members.
More topics at thebalancingact.com
With 10 standardized plans to choose from, comparing Medicare Supplement insurance plans can help you decide which is right for you.
Ease your emotional strain by letting this step-by-step checklist guide you through the funeral planning process.
If you’re weighing senior care options for yourself or a loved one, it’s important to learn what each type offers, which will work best for your situation, and what insurance will cover.
Consider these five things when selecting a senior financial advisor.