MAUMEE, Ohio (AP) – Funeral homes go out of their way to help grieving families.
Someone welcoming you at the door. The soothing voice of a calm and polite funeral director. All these can be helpful. Maison-Dardenne-Walker Funeral Home in Maumee is trying to take that care to the next step.
Now when you walk in, Zoey comes prancing toward you looking to offer some puppy love.
The 6-month-old miniature-golden doodle is in training to be a therapy dog, and started coming to the funeral home in December to give comfort to hurting families.
"She hears the door and greets people right away," said Shawn Diller, funeral home director. "We had a widow bring toys back with her. A lot of time (Zoey) is with kids and will lay on the floor right next to someone."
Diller takes Zoey home at night. He said some families have made special requests for her time.
Zoey recently returned from obedience training to ensure she behaves and doesn't jump on people. If Diller says "place," Zoey won't move until she is told "release."
Funeral home employees who meet with clients quickly try to decipher whether the family would like a dog around. Zoey can go to an apartment above the funeral home if Diller believes a family may not welcome a dog, but that has yet to happen.
Zoey cost $1,200 and the obedience training was $1,800. Diller plans to pursue training that will lead to Zoey getting a comfort-dog certification.
"Every time I would go in there she took so many pains away from me, just holding her," widow Donna Wagner said. "It really did help; it helps tremendous."
In December she was at the home for the funeral of her husband of 58 years. She said Zoey made it easier. It was as if Zoey knew she was hurting and just wanted to give her a hug, she said.
The success of therapy dogs at nursing homes and hospices inspired Diller to get a dog. He also said the practice is becoming a trend in funeral homes. When he decided to get a dog, Diller called a colleague in Columbus for advice.
"They told us it was very successful from family reactions," he said. "They also made suggestions on breeds and the right obedience schools."
The four months have gone so well, Diller is excited for Walker Funeral Homes to get a second dog for the Sylvania location.
"I would pick her up, and she'd nestle in my arms," Wagner said. "I could just feel my tension and depression going away for a while. She was that lovable."