For many pet owners, coming home to Max or Whiskers is the most enjoyable part of the day. There’s the happy wiggling tail and excited bark. The exploratory sniffing – where has mama been? With cats, it’s the tentative way she nuzzles her fuzzy tabby body around the cuff of your pants.
Pets provide multiple levels of comfort for their owners, from basic companionship to stress relief and therapeutic cuddling. Both cats and dogs can be masterful at comforting their owners in times of need. With this in mind, some care facilities and funeral homes are employing therapy dogs to help bereaved family members cope with the loss of a loved one.
Earlier this year, ABC News in Rhode Island profiled the state’s first funeral home therapy dog, Buddy. The adorable (and photogenic) 2-year-old golden retriever is available to guests in need of emotional comfort. According to funeral home owner Thomas Winfield, Buddy easily picks up on human emotions and is especially sensitive to those experiencing the pain of loss.
A similar story comes out of Frederick, Maryland, where a specially trained goldendoodle named Raven has comforted guests of the Stauffer Funeral Home for more than two years. Numerous studies have shown how pets can help their owners (or even strangers like the mourners found at funeral homes) with loss. Here are three ways that animals can help humans cope with grief.
They may not have magic powers, but dogs can reduce stress and boost the immune system. How? According to Mel Olmert’s book, Made For Each Other: The Biology of the Human-Animal Bond, interaction between pets and their humans boosts oxytocin, a brain chemical that enhances mood. “Pets almost double our flow of oxytocin…” Olmert writes. “In situations where competition and territory rule, we become vulnerable to stress related illnesses. That’s when pets can be better medicine than medicine.”
Pets are Psychic
Ok, not literally. But they can be very sensitive to human emotions. If you’ve ever had your normally hands-off cat cuddle up with you when you’re sick or received extra love from Spot after an especially stressful day, you’ve seen this at work. Research has shown that dogs can pick up on facial expressions. One University of Lincoln researcher found that dogs use their senses to detect human emotions, while cats seemed to learn how to read their owners’ expressions over time, according to an Oakland University study.
Animals Reduce Stress
There are times when pets can be difficult, especially when they’re young and still in training. Overall, however, pets can be a joy. They reduce blood pressure and can lessen anxiety during the process of finding the right funeral home and final resting place for your loved one. There are many challenging tasks that come with the passing of a friend or relative. Having a pet at home can ease natural periods of depression or loneliness that may come after you’ve said goodbye to your loved one. Remember, you are not alone.
Here at Mountain View Funeral Home, we encourage family members coping with loss to seek out the encouragement and support of a pet. For those without animals at home, consider pet adoption, volunteering with a local shelter or offering to pet-sit for a friend or relative.