The Untapped Talent of Dogs

Posted on February 16, 2018 by Martin Oaks under Community, Cremation, Resources
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In the course of business at Martin Oaks Cemetery & Crematory, grief is an everyday topic of conversation. We are one of the leading cremation specialists in Dallas and the Fort Worth area. Our funeral directors who use us have been with us for many years: there is not much we have not experienced in terms of cremation.

The clients our funeral directors bring have several things is common, chiefly loss and grief. So, necessarily, we come in contact with many people who are at the lowest ebb of their lives.

It seems that grief has many facets, as well as many possibilities for recovery. No two cases are exactly the same: no two paths for recovery are exactly the same. If we had to generalize, the only trend we see is that people have to work through their grief at their own pace and in their own way.

A recent trend we are noticing in therapy for grief is the importance being placed on animal intervention. At this year’s International Cemetery Cremation and Funeral Association conference, which is coming up in late April, there will be a speaker who will address the topic of having grief therapy dogs available during final disposition procedures.

What is a grief therapy dog?

These are canines who are trained to provide comfort, affection, and support for those who have lost loved ones. These dogs can be used in funeral homes, retirement homes, nursing homes, hospitals, hospices, and any other facility where death-care is part of the agenda. They are not to be confused with service dogs for the disabled: these grief therapy dogs have a very definite mission to assist those in the state of loss.

A lot of facilities have rigorous requirements for the dogs – these can include an evaluation by Therapy Dogs International (this organization specifically spells out the difference between, for example, a “seeing-eye dog” and a “therapy dog.” This may seem like a small issue, but therapy dogs have greatly different purposes in terms of application to grief).

It is generally accepted that the use of dogs for therapy may have begun many years ago in an informal, untrained manner; but a systematic approach did not occur until a registered nurse, Elaine Smith, started a program for training dogs to visit institutions in the mid-1970s.

Anyone who has owned a devoted dog knows that their love and comfort is unparalleled: the unconditional regard with which they provide their owners is part of the gift they bring to the therapeutic situation.

Studies have shown that a client’s attachment to a dog can be an important dynamic in therapy. While this dynamic by itself does not offer a cure, it’s certainly a paramount cornerstone in dealing with emotional stress. Just petting dog can increase a person’s serotonin level, which heightens moods and lowers stress. A client recently said to us that her dog was more effective than a blood pressure pill.

Dogs are amazingly endowed with qualities which humans can relate to quite naturally. Law enforcement officials for years have understood that their detection abilities are superior: the late Ray Phillips, who was a friend of ours, worked with dogs in a pilot program at the University of Mississippi. He told us that the olfactory sense of a dog is virtually limitless – in fact, he appeared on the television program, “To Tell The Truth” with his dog Brandy, after Brandy had sniffed out a bomb on a plane at LaGuardia Airport in New York City. Ray’s assessment was that whatever Brandy could do in terms of detection, she could also provide in therapeutic support. In other words, Ray believed that the talents of dogs to help humans in an infinite number of ways have yet to be completely explored.

We will have more to say on this topic in the future. If you have any experiences with a therapy dog that you would like to share, please get in touch with us!

Photo: RIP Trio.

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