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Four-legged therapy

BY Brian Powers - bpowers@chronicle-tribune.com

Two local funeral homes have employed dogs in attempts to ease the grief of a loved one’s death.

Nero the black lab and Judd the Golden Retriever have become staples in the community for those in grief and more.

Therapy dogs, not to be confused with service dogs, are available for clients of both the Needham-Storey-Wampner and Armes-Hunt funeral homes. These two dogs have essential roles in assisting in the process of grief by just being a friendly and loving presence in one’s time of need. Contrary to the training that service dogs go through – which is specific to the needs of the individual they are assigned to – therapy dogs are trained to be compassionate, outgoing and available to everyone.

Nero has been employed by Needham-Storey-Wampner Funeral Home since 2016. Nero has quite the backstory, as well. Julie Case, owner and lead trainer of Ultimate Canine in Westfield, the company that trained Nero, explained that he was originally imported from Russia and was bred from one of the most prestigious canine bloodlines in Europe.

Nero pays no attention to his bloodline, though. He only cares about being there for his clients, which not only consists of funeral home visitors, but throughout the community as well. Ben Blankenship, funeral director at Needham-Storey-Wampner, and one of Nero’s handlers, stated the dog travels to different nursing homes, jails and even the public library to read with kids.

“We go out in the community and make a positive impact because animals can reach people in many ways humans can’t,” explained Blankenship.

Judd, the resident retriever of Armes-Hunt in Marion, plays a similar role in his job. Shari Wallace, Judd’s breeder, trainer and now handler, also spoke of the good Judd does not only at work, but also in the community.

“I go outside the box,” Wallace said. “We do hospice and family health care, Indiana Wesleyan once a week and elementary schools and day cares.”

Therapy dogs can be especially helpful for Hospice patients because many are in the program for about six months before they pass and dogs like Judd can not only comfort the patient but the family when the time comes, Wallace said.

And Judd has the touch, his handler said, of watching the therapy dog comfort those in need.

“I just watch him work the room,” she said. “That dog can walk around and sense individual needs.”