Businesswoman Nora Pavone from New York City knows well that her clients have a hard time walking into her office for the first time.
That's why people who come to the Marine Park Funeral Home in Brooklyn, N.Y., are greeted by a dog who according to Pavone, the director of the funeral home, "can really feel human emotions."
Fiona, a 18-month-old Bernese Mountain Dog, has recently been the millionth dog to be certified as the American Kennel Club's "Canine Good Citizen." The Bernese sennenhund passed a test that showed she can perfectly perform basic commands such as greeting a stranger, sitting, standing, and behaving well in a crowd, including not reacting to other dogs. Pavone is not surprised by her dog's accomplishments because Fiona is a very smart doggie.
"She really knows who needs her, and she can just gently walk up to those people and sit next to them and the effect is much greater than I could have even imagined," Pavone explains.
At first, Nora was hesitant whether Fiona should join the funeral home team. But now Fiona is an integral part of Pavone's interactions with clients. Pavone came up with the idea to make Fiona part of her team when she saw therapy dogs interact with people in nursing homes, hospitals, and schools. The role of a comfort dog in a funeral home is exactly what the funeral industry has been lacking.
Having made up her mind to get a therapy dog, Nora realized she needed the right breed. She has chosen the Bernese Mountain Dog, the breed from Switzerland, for its easygoing nature and intelligence.
Fiona is very friendly, she is not afraid of strangers and loves making new friends.
After Fiona got the American Kennel Club's "Canine Good Citizen" certificate, Pavone started taking Fiona to work.
"I love dogs, but I didn't know how it would be taken in this setting," she said. "But it seemed like it was really just the place where she was needed most."
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Fiona was only 9 weeks old when she joined the funeral home. Since then, she has been there to comfort grieving families.
Pavone's clients are free to pet Fiona and interact with her when they want to.
"You can walk down the hall with her, and every time kids see her, they want to interact with her," Pavone explained. "Clients can also ask her to stay in the visitation room, where she approaches people who need her help. It's amazing to see her working in the visitation room."
"Sometimes people just want to hug her and pet her, and it just makes them feel a little bit more comfortable," Pavone concludes.
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