The pain of loss was crushing Mary (not her real name). She didn’t know where she would find the strength to plan her baby’s funeral. She just wanted to stay home, curl up in a ball and stay in bed. But, she had to be strong for her baby. She showered, dressed, left the house and drove to Voluntas.
As she walked through the doors of the funeral home, she experienced a most unusual greeting. There waiting silently, alert, tail wagging, was Filou, a Shih Tzu Maltese. Mary instinctively scooped up Filou. He snuggled in. She felt his warmth. She held him as she would have held her baby. She rocked him back and forth. She felt relief. Filou felt loved. Mary was then able to work through the task of planning her baby’s funeral.
Rocking Filou, a comfort dog, did not make Mary’s task easier but it did calm her. More and more Funeral directors are recognizing that comfort dogs can play a part in providing relief and unconditional love to those who are grieving.
Filou is a working member of the Voluntas team. He is the Côté-Marcoux family dog. When they decided it was time to welcome a dog into their family, they knew that they were looking for a friendly dog that demonstrated good manners and an outgoing loving temperament. They also wanted a hypoallergenic dog who did not shed. Filou fit the bill.
As Filou quickly won the hearts of the Côté-Marcoux family, Funeral Director, Stephanie Côté realized that he was a very special little dog. She saw his ability to stay calm in the midst of excitement, his quickness to understand and obey commands, his capacity to interact easily with both children and adults, his love of being greeted and caressed by everyone and, most interestingly, he never barked. She worked with Filou and then had Caring Paws Animal Therapy evaluate and certify him as a comfort dog. Once certified, Voluntas welcomed Filou as part of the team.
Today dogs are not just loving companions but also helpers. There are guide dogs, hearing dogs, cadaver dogs, avalanche dogs, police dogs, therapy dogs and most recently a growing number of Funeral Home comfort dogs.
To qualify as a comfort dog, the dog must pass a series of 10 tests which include:
• Accepting a friendly stranger;
• Sitting politely for petting;
• Appearance and grooming;
• Well behaved out for a walk;
• Walking through a crowd;
• Sit, stay and down, on command;
• Coming when called;
• Reaction to another dog;
• Reaction to distraction;
• Supervised separation.
Filou works part-time. He comes to work with Stephanie and has instinctively set up his “office” in the foyer of the entrance. It was Filou who dragged his little bed to the corner of the foyer giving him full view of the arranging room, the gathering room, the kitchen and the administrative offices. He is the first to greet and welcome everyone who enters the premises.
Filou does not attend funerals or celebration of life events unless invited. Recently, Filou stopped by the office with Stephanie for what was supposed to be a few minutes. They happen to enter at the same time a family was arriving to celebrate the life of their loved one. Filou immediately went to work greeting everyone as they arrived. The family fell in love with him and asked if he could stay for the afternoon. Of course, he could stay. The children loved him. He worked hard that day and slept very well that night!
On another occasion, a family arrived at Voluntas to make funeral arrangements for the patriarch of their family. The adult children had accompanied their Mom in order to support her through her grief. As they all walked into the Gathering Room to discuss set-up, Filou came tottering in and immediately went to the Mom, sensing it was she who most needed comforting. He presented her his paw. She picked him up and started patting him. He stayed with her for the balance of their visit.
Filou’s unconditional love brings a sense of calmness and even joy to everyone with whom he interacts. And this includes funeral employees who at times can experience extreme sadness and anxiety. Cuddling and petting Filou brings tranquility, slows the heartbeat and then fills the heart with hope and love.
If you would like to meet Filou, give us a call and we’ll make sure he’s at Voluntas when you visit.
Author: Lynn Brown-Poole for Voluntas