Local Funeral Homes Helping Familes Grieve With Emotional Support Dogs

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- We've heard of emotional support dogs in hospitals and schools, but now they are starting to also pop up at funeral homes. It’s a growing trend that's happening in the Des Moines metro and around the country.

It's scientifically proven, dogs can immediately put people at ease increasing serotonin and dopamine levels which boosts mood, and lowers stress and blood pressure. That's why it only made sense for Hamilton's Funeral Home and Afterlife Services in Des Moines to add some furry friends to their support team.

Now, when you walk into the Hamilton's Funeral Home in the East Village you'll quickly be greeted by one of their newest members.

“This is Finland, or Finn for short. She is a Merle Great Dane. She’s three,” Morgan Haugland, Hamilton’s family service coordinator, and Finn’s Mother said.

You'll also find Lola at the Highland Memory Gardens, and Bear at the Westown Parkway location. They are all apart of the Family Support Dog Program.

“We’ve actually seen the relief on peoples faces when they come in and see the dogs and be able to pet them,” Buffy Peters, Director of Hamilton’s Academy of Grief and Loss said.

Nine-year-old Lola was the pilot dog for the program that officially started last spring.

“She just really took to it,” Amber Elliott, Lola’s Mother and Hamilton’s family service coordinator said. “She really loves people and she gravitates towards the children.”

From the arrangement meetings, to the visitation or funeral services, or even just a friendly greeting at the door. The dogs are available for families who want that extra support.

“It’s a hard time and I can’t take that away, but they are going to remember seeing those animals there,” Peters said.

Making a time of terrible grief, hopefully, just a little bit better.

“We had a family who had little children and one of their parents had died and [Lola] was in the arrangement room the entire time they were there with three or four kids just circled around her petting and cuddling her. That’s kind of what makes it so special,” Elliott said.

All three dogs are currently emotional support animals, meaning none of them need official training or certification. However, 16-month-old Bear is actually training to become a certified therapy dog. Peters says that's a big deal for Hamilton's because they are a part of the Des Moines Public Schools' grief response team. So soon, Bear will be able to be a part of that squad, as well.

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