Thursday, October 6, 2011

Canine Companions for Independence

My father with Supermax

Canine Companions for Independence

My father was not a big lover of dogs. He liked some, others he didn’t. Growing up I think he tolerated most of the
dogs we owned because of my love for
them, not his. He developed allergic
reactions to dogs, and that curtailed his interaction with most dogs even
more. But not Supermax.

Supermax is my oldest, a pyr-collie mix (we think). When my father first met Supermax I worried
he would be bitten. Supermax was new to
our home and a rescued stray—he didn’t like men. Time went by and my father and Supermax
developed a relationship that rivaled best buddies. My father loved my three other dogs but
Supermax, or simply Max, as he called him was his favorite without a
doubt! And Max loved his “grandpa”!

My father passed away recently, and as the family was
planning his funeral I kept thinking “Daddy would be so pleased to have Max
here with all his other close loved ones.”
I struggled with the idea of letting Supermax attend the service, not
because it has become the trendy thing to do, but because my father loved
him. And, I could just hear my father proudly
saying in Heaven, “Did you know Supermax- a dog-was at my funeral!?!”

Part of me admitted that having Supermax at the service
would comfort and distract me, and maybe other’s from the grim reality of
losing a family member.

That’s where Pam Turner and her Golden Retriever mix, Aragon, come
in. Aragon
is a grief counselor at Turner Funeral Home in Ellwood City, PA. Aragon
underwent several months of training with the nonprofit Canine Companions for Independence; he was then
placed with Turner and began work helping heal broken hearts.

is one of only a few dogs that work funeral homes in the country. He sits at the back waiting on family and
friends to stop for a pat or hug.
Sometimes he sits beside family members as they grieve, resting his head
on their lap for comfort. At Turner
Funeral Home almost 95 percent of mourners request Aragon’s presence during services.

Turner says “Having Aragon there is never going to take away
the hurt they’re feeling, but it takes their minds off of it for a little bit.”

In the end, I decided not take allow Supermax to attend his
“grandpa’s” services. Not because he
wasn’t allowed, I thought others would be offended or because “grandpa”
wouldn’t have wanted him there—quite the opposite. I left Max at home that morning because I
wasn’t certain how he would react around grieving family and friends. Dogs are so keyed into our emotional energy
that I did not want to stress him. He
would not have understood why we were sad or what the flowers were for or what
the large casket was, he would have picked up on smells that the humans would
never notice and he would develop that little frown he gets when he’s worried.

That’s why dogs like Aragon, who are specially trained
for Compassion Work and funeral service settings, are a benefit to the business
and mourners.

Supermax and I had a long talk that morning about my father
and how much he loved him. Even though
dogs are not allowed in the cemetery, one day Supermax and I will make a
special trip to my father’s grave and maybe we’ll leave a dog treat for
him. “Grandpa” would find that funny.

Sheila Rinks is the editor of Finding Fuzzybutt Four, producer of the Raising Indiana podcast and shares her home with her husband, 4 Great Pyrenees and 2 very well-fed kitties.

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