A wagging tail and panting tongue greets clients that come through the doors of the Baker Funeral Home in Wetaskiwin. Five-year-old Polish Lowland Sheepdog Morris is a comfort companion at the home. He helps loved ones feel more at ease as they make final arrangements for their family members. Morris hasn't always been stationed at the home. He started off as a family pet, until Licensed Funeral Director Allie Wombold decided to bring him to work. Once he was there she noticed that Morris naturally gravitated towards the clients, so she decided to get him certified as a therapy dog. Since then, the sheepdog seems to be thriving at his role.
"People coming into the funeral home generally aren't here because they want to be," says Wombold. "He really brings a sense of calm and kind of a reset button for them."
According to the Canadian Service Dog Foundation, therapy dogs can come in all shapes and sizes. They must be confident, social and interactive, and trained to provide service and comfort. Therapy dogs are frequently used in hospitals, retirement or nursing homes, schools and rehabilitation units. A therapy dog is trained to provide a service to others; they can be Therapeutic Visitation Animals, Animal-Assisted Therapy Animals or Facility Therapy Animals. Edmonton based registered psychologist Ashley Mielke says dogs, and pets in general, can be very helpful for people going through the grieving process. "They provide a really calming presence for us," says Mielke. "We mimic their energy so when they are calm and relaxed it really helps us to calm ourselves."
Morris is a mellow pooch, happy to just lie on the floor until he hears his cue. "It's a pretty relaxed atmosphere for him and he can laze around all he wants but as soon as he hears that doorbell he is so excited to see who's there," says Wombold. "He goes to the door and he kind of just sits with them for a moment. If they are into having him there we introduce him." The reaction to Morris has been palpable. At first, the dog was just involved in appointments, but now the home is getting requests to have the dog attend funerals. "There's no judgment coming from a dog, people can be themselves," says Wombold. "They can feel how they want, if they are feeling frustrated or anxious a dog will just allow those feelings to genuinely happen." Even with a busy schedule packed full of cheerful greeting, Morris still finds time to venture out of the Funeral Home. The dog has made visits to the local high school, long term care facility and even takes a monthly trip to a senior's home. "There are 16 residents there and they ask us to come once a month and they can feed him treats, and he'll do tricks and he can pose for pictures and just let them pet him," says Wombold. "They are without pets too and it doesn't mean that they don't miss them or love them." Beyond the joy he brings to visitors at the funeral home, Morris also manages to evoke smiles from people trolling his Facebook page or checking out his Youtube videos. This four-legged friend has helped to put a friendly face on an industry that people access during a very dark and sad time.
If you'd like to follow Morris, go to his Facebook page: morristhefuneraldog