By Leader Editor Kara Apel
For decades, Krause Funeral Homes & Cremation Service, Inc. has been known for providing excellent service to families in the Milwaukee area. However, to many people in their community, they’re simply known as “the funeral home with the dog.”
Over the years, the Krause family has offered grief therapy dogs as a unique and special resource for families.
Oliver was their first on-staff therapy dog. He was a beloved member of the Krause family and belonged to President Mark Krause; his wife, Joan; and their daughter, Nicole. Oliver died at the age of 10 in 2011. Bennie, a Portuguese Water Dog, is their current therapy dog and is also a member of the Krause family.
The Krauses and Bennie recently made an appearance at the National Funeral Directors Association International Convention & Expo in Chicago, where Mark Krause gave a presentation about therapy dogs.
Joan Krause trained both Oliver and Bennie. If you’re interested in adding a therapy dog to your team, she advises searching for a medium-sized dog that is hypoallergenic, meaning it will not shed and will not aggravate the allergies of your guests.
She says there are two ways to start the process:
- Train a dog you already own that you feel has a good temperament
- Find a breeder and purchase a dog specifically for this purpose
When it comes to picking out the right dog, the Krauses say it’s important to pay attention to how the dog responds to you while you’re in the room. When Mark Krause was picking out Bennie, he noticed the dog was always looking at him and seemed to crave a response. You do not want to choose a dog that is too independent or aloof. Click here for more advice on picking out the perfect puppy.
Joan Krause also recommends asking the breeder if you can accompany the dog on a car trip to the vet. If the dog is going to be in the car a lot traveling to different events or services, you will need to find a dog that doesn’t get carsick easily.
How to Train the Dog
When you have your dog, Joan Krause recommends starting with puppy or beginner obedience training first. Make sure your dog can understand and follow basic commands. After this, Joan recommends going through the Canine Good Citizen program, which is offered through the American Kennel Club. After this comes the test for the pet therapy certification.
When it comes to preparing for this test, Joan went through the local nonprofit group Pets Helping People. In every state, there are different pet therapy groups you can work with, and many of them are nonprofits. During your research, look at the organizations’ websites and ask local people where their dogs underwent training. Click here to view the AKC’s list of Recognized Therapy Dog Organizations.
The test to obtain a pet therapy certificate is like a test for a driver’s license, meaning the dog can take the test again if they don’t pass the first time.
Despite all the training that you and your dog will undergo, you still need to do your own homework to determine what types of environments or sounds may specifically upset or startle your dog. For example, Joan Krause said Oliver completely froze up after being frightened during a military salute at a cemetery. Because of this, when Bennie was undergoing training, she brought the dog around as many loud environments as possible to help desensitize him, including walking around construction zones and going on elevator rides.
“Live and learn when you go out with your dog. Give them as many experiences as you can so you don’t have any surprises,” she said.
Working at the Funeral Home
Dogs are a lot more intuitive than most people give them credit for and can sense grief. Mark Krause says it was amazing how Oliver could quickly scan any room and figure out who needed him the most.
When it comes to the logistics of having a dog at a service, make sure the dog is always on a leash and has a handler. Family members will often warn you about certain people who are scared of dogs. For the most part, however, people who do not like dogs will stay away on their own.
“People will come up to you and engage you – if there are some people that look a little bit shy or reserved, ask permission to come over near them. It’s all about taking cues from the family,” Joan Krause said.
Dogs are a lot like people – they can become easily overwhelmed and overstimulated if they have too many people around them or need a break.
Joan Krause says it’s important to understand the specific ways your dog communicates. Some dogs may yawn or have a certain look. If you can sense your dog is getting overwhelmed, it may be time to head outside for a quick walk or locate a quiet place to take a nap.
The Logistics of Having a Dog
If you have multiple locations and one dog, the dog needs to have its own calendar that funeral directors can access in case he or she is already booked or already has a vet or grooming appointment. You don’t want to upset families by promising the dog will be at a service or event if he or she already has a commitment elsewhere.
If your dog will be serving in the funeral home, you need to have the animal added to your business insurance policy. Because Bennie is technically owned by Krause Funeral Homes, all of his medical and grooming bills are considered to be business expenses.
Don’t Forget Marketing!
Most importantly, if you decide to add a therapy dog to your team, make sure to let your community know about it.
The Krauses have run several commercials and conducted interviews with multiple local media outlets about their therapy dogs.
Many people recognize Bennie – even when he’s not on duty – because they’ve seen him on TV. Oliver was so popular that he was written into many pre-need arrangements.
Whenever Bennie is on duty, he wears a harness with the Krause logo embroidered onto it. The Krause staff also hands out branded baseball cards with Bennie’s photo to children who visit.
At the end of the day, Joan Krause says having a dog on the team is a “win-win” situation – both your staff members and the families you serve benefit from having a furry friend around. After all, dogs are man and woman’s best friend!
Want to tell us about your firm’s therapy dog? Have any advice you’d like to share? Email us at [email protected].