With 42 years under my belt and a reputation for being somewhat reluctant to change, you can imagine my reaction in 2016 when my son acquired a dog he pronounced would one day be a “grief therapy dog” at Oakey’s. Heck, I wasn’t even sure what a grief therapy dog WAS, so I sure as heck wasn’t immediately keen on the idea of allowing a canine to mix with our grieving families.
Sam spent the next couple of years at mortuary school in Nashville, and I figured by the time he returned to work in Roanoke he would have shelved the idea of his English Golden Retriever coming to work every day at our family firm. Wrong! And that wasn’t all I was wrong about: Sam’s dog, Ragnar has been an incredible success with every family requesting him!
A member of my funeral study group from Columbus, Ohio related his experiences at Schoedinger Funeral Home with their grief therapy dog, and how the idea had caught on in a massive way. So I was willing to give “Rags” a shot here to show me he could actually help families at their hardest time. It didn’t take long before I was telling young Sam how wrong I had been to approach the idea of a grief therapy dog with such skepticism. Ragnar is now being requested multiple times a week and has been a calming influence on dozens of our families.
The idea is actually quite simple: our funeral directors make families aware of the availability of Ragnar and ask if each family would want Ragnar to be present for a visitation or service. We explain that the presence of a grief therapy dog can be beneficial to all in the immediate area, and that stroking a dog can lower blood pressure rates, stress, and ease respiration. Not just any dog can do this; my own border collie mix Stella would probably spaz out everyone in the building with her nervous energy!
Ragnar is actually still in training to receive his official certification as a grief therapy dog, but is getting plenty of practice until then. While I have not heard one negative thing about the concept, Rags has received tons of compliments, kind letters, and even gifts from grateful relatives of decedents. All of our staff members have fallen in love with this big, white creature who has one of the best dispositions of any animal I have ever seen. He seems to know just what to do when he is on the job, and has a particular affinity for kids. But Rags is equally adept at putting a smile on the faces of seniors and those with special needs.
To say that the entire concept has bowled me over would be an understatement. I have gone from rolling my eyeballs at the thought of a dog in the funeral home to being one of Ragnar’s biggest proponents. Having Ragnar at a visitation or funeral is a complimentary service we offer at Oakey’s, but the demand is beginning to outweigh his availability. We may one day have to acquire a second dog to help those going through grief, bereavement, and mourning. But no matter how cute, smart, and sweet that second dog might be, he could never win over the hearts of those at Oakey’s like Ragnar has!