Dogs have been informal therapy for their owners since domestication of the animal thousands of years ago. They are naturally drawn to humans and, under normal circumstances, are outgoing and even affectionate to human strangers. Anyone who has ever hugged a four legged fur-ball when they were feeling down knows the emotional lift that comes from that natural bond. It’s little wonder that, beginning in the 1940s, health professionals began formally using dogs as emotional therapy, especially for those suffering substantial trauma or grief. In the last decade, the use of service dogs, especially grief therapy dogs has substantially grown.
Enter Charlie Blue McBrayer, the newest member of the Jones-Wynn Funeral Home family. Charlie Blue is one of those “it was just meant to be” stories. The McBrayer children had been dropping heavy hints about adding a "fur baby" to the family to parents Ellen and Scott McBrayer. Coincidentally, Ellen’s mom, Dana Jones Wynn, had been reading about grief therapy dogs, specifically Goldendoodles, a cross between Golden Retrievers and Poodles, that are perfectly disposed to the gentle, open characteristics that make therapy dogs so effective. Pieces of a disparate puzzle started to fall together.
“We learned that there was usually a very long wait to get these particular puppies,” shared Ellen, “but suddenly it was as if our prayers were answered. In November, Charlie Blue, a more rare “parti” colored (white with black patches) Goldendoodle, became available and in December we surprised the kids with our new puppy! One of Charlie’s canine family members was already working as a grief therapy dog, so our confidence was boosted that she was meant for us.”
The Jones-Wynn family knows that Charlie Blue will first have to attend lengthy obedience and therapy training schools before becoming a grief therapy dog, but they are already making her part of the family. She has bonded closely with the McBrayer children and has already been enjoying some quiet nap time in the offices of the funeral home.
Once trained, a grief therapy dog can be requested by a family to attend visitation and/or services. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, they are especially good with children, often quietly approaching a child while off-leash and simply leaning against them. The first response from a child is sometimes tearful, but transitions to stroking and petting the dog, taking the child’s mind off the heavy feelings that they bear. Grief therapy dogs have been seen at graveside services sitting with their head in the lap of a grieving loved one, somehow providing immeasurable support at a difficult time. Often, those who don’t consider themselves “dog people,” find themselves being, at least temporarily, won over by the instant support that a dog shows a stranger.in a time of need.
Perhaps the late comedienne, Gilda Radner, summed it up best: “I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me, they are the role model for being alive.”