If a stranger approached you at a loved one's funeral, ignored your personal space, and attempted to comfort you without being asked to, how would you respond? Your grief might compel you to accept comfort from whoever offers it, or you might find it to be an extremely unwelcome invasion of your privacy. But how would you feel if the stranger was in fact a dog? More and more funeral services are featuring a therapy dog to offer emotional support to mourners. Should a dog attend your loved one's funeral?
An Optional Service
Funeral homes offer a wide range of services, many of which are entirely optional. Although embalming or other such services might be suggested, these services don't necessarily meet your requirements and can be declined. However, a therapy dog may well be included as an optional service, and this is really something to consider.
Remember that a therapy dog is an animal that has received specialist training. The dog is not simply a pet belonging to someone working at the funeral home but can be thought of as a trained specialist. A therapy dog doesn't run wild at a funeral, and the animal will sit quietly throughout the service. A therapy dog doesn't physically do much at the funeral, so why can they be so beneficial?
A Positive Chemical Reaction
A quiet dog who offers affection and appreciates being petted—this simple act can be enriching for someone who is grieving. Studies have shown that petting a dog reduces your levels of cortisol (a hormone produced in response to stress). Additionally, interacting with a dog can increase your levels of oxytocin (a calming hormone that can help you to feel at ease, while also helping with social bonding). The therapy dog, by doing nothing more than allowing itself to be cuddled, can trigger a chemical reaction that has a positive effect during such a difficult time.
While you might be sold on having the funeral home's therapy dog in attendance at your loved one's funeral, you must contemplate whether this will be in the best interests of other mourners. Do any family members or friends have a dog allergy that you're aware of? Does anyone have a phobia of dogs, or simply doesn't care for them? These issues should be assessed before you make a decision; however, anyone who doesn't wish to interact with a therapy dog doesn't have to.
When planning a loved one's funeral, you might well be asked if you want to have a therapy dog at the service. It's helpful to weigh up the considerable pros and the few cons about having some four-legged support during a heartbreaking time.