Friday, November 15, 2013

Candy provides therapy at a Dallas funeral home. She is also a dog.

When the vest goes on over her shaggy black-and-white coat, Candy knows it’s time for work. Candy is a canine therapist at a funeral home. She is also a dog.

A new breed of therapists working in funeral service.

Candy works as a grief therapy dog at Rest Haven funeral home in Rockwall, outside of Dallas, TX. She is only allowed to be a playful puppy when she’s off-duty at the home of her caretaker, Sharon Satterwhite. Candy reports to work daily and takes her job as seriously as the rest of the staff. The Portuguese water dog behaves calmly, within the guidelines of her training.

16-month-old Candy’s behavior is dictated by strict training. She knows when she should comfort guests or sit idly to the side. But sometimes instinct kicks in, like when she wandered off one day to find a man in the middle of making funeral arrangements, and put her head in his lap, easing his grief.

“She knows somehow. She has a sense of people who need a little bit of love,” Satterwhite said.

Candy was trained as a therapy dog for the funeral home.

Candy is just getting started in her work at Rest Haven. As she finishes her training, Candy will take part in the funeral arrangement and visitation process, one of a growing line of dogs used in the funeral business to relieve stressful situations.

“Dogs just give unconditional love, and they will sit there and absorb all your sadness,” said Linda Marler, program coordinator with Baylor Health Care Animal Assisted Therapy. “You can sit and hold onto a dog, and it just makes you feel so much better.”

Funeral director Mark Krause started the canine therapy trend.

The idea to adopt Candy came from Rest Haven funeral director Maria Estes, who heard about a Milwaukee funeral home that had a therapy dog named Oliver.

Funeral director Mark Krause, adopted Oliver in 2001 and said the Portuguese water dog was one of the first in the funeral industry. Oliver gained a following of sorts in Milwaukee, Krause said. Local TV stations did stories on the dog, and he appeared in commercials for the funeral home. Even a routine shopping trip after work attracted a crowd.

Krause’s funeral home used Oliver in funeral services, and he said Oliver helped a couple thousand families over the years.

“He made the place feel warm and inviting,” Krause said. “Funerals can tend to be the opposite.”

Oliver died at age 10 in December 2011 and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a touching obituary. Krause’s funeral home held a service for Oliver, and Krause said about 150 people came with their dogs or the ashes of their pets.

Krause said he knows of at least “a couple dozen” grief therapy dogs working at funeral homes as a result of Oliver.

Canine therapy started in 1985 at Baylor.

Baylor Health Care’s therapy dog program started in 1985. Now, the Baylor program has 94 dogs owned by volunteers, she said, with 32 visiting sites each week across the hospital system. The dogs can help to relieve anxiety and offer a comforting presence.

Rest Haven welcomed their new employee.

Dewayne and Ann Cain, who own Rest Haven, supported getting Candy and the plan to use her as a full-time therapy dog at the funeral home. Candy came as a puppy from a breeder in Missouri, and Dewayne Cain surprised employees with the “new employee” dressed with a red bow.

Candy was a typical puppy, often getting into trouble. But trainers from Rockwall-based Patriot Paws, which provides service dogs to wounded veterans, have worked with Candy to train her to work in the funeral home.

Candy’s first funeral service was for a pet lover.

The first funeral call for Candy came this spring, after the death of Patriot Paws founder Lori Stevens’ mother. Stevens said her mother had many dogs, and having Candy at the visitation and funeral “broke the ice for everybody.”

Training is just about complete for Candy, and Rest Haven also plans to take her out into the community, to schools, nursing homes and special events, just as Oliver did.

On a typical day at the funeral home Candy makes her rounds through the office, greeting staffers and welcoming people who come to the door.

One day she greeted a man she found grieving while making a loved one’s funeral arrangements. Suddenly he spotted Candy and his face lit up as he petted his new canine friend.

“It makes you smile; you can’t help it,” Satterwhite said.

“Even if you’re smiling through your tears.”
The Source

Funeral fund


  1. What a beautiful sentiment to someone who needs unconditional love and to know that they have a friend just because. I love my therapy dog Louie, he is truly my best friend and the only one I can depend on when the days are good or bad.

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