For some years now, an Ottawa funeral home has offered a unique support for those grieving the death of a loved one: a friendly, fluffy therapy dog named Beau. 

Tubman Funeral Homes on Richmond Road says Beau has comforted dozens of families during his time on the job. The Australian Shepherd-Poodle mix has been working alongside his handler, Funeral Director Stephanie Joly-Paquette, for six years. 

Therapy animals are often used to help people who need emotional support. But Therapeutic Paws of Canada (TPOC) says it’s unaware of any other funeral home in Ontario that has an equivalent set-up. 

“This program is unique,” said Nancy Trus, a member at TPOC since 2001 and a dog trainer at Best Friends Dog Training. She explained that therapy dogs can be present at funeral services, but she has not heard of any other home having a dog dedicated to this work.

Beau is a gentle, calm, quiet canine with curly black fur and soft brown eyes. He was eager to greet me when I met him, his tail wagging. During an interview with Joly-Paquette, he sat next to my chair and let me pet him, giving me a small taste of pet therapy. “Aussiedoodles” are not small dogs, and his head was at my waist. 

“We got a larger dog on purpose,” Joly-Paquette said. “That way people can pet him sitting down or from a hospital bed.” 

Joly-Paquette had been looking for a dog when she met someone who had started a pet therapy program at The Royal mental health centre in Ottawa.

“It just kind of rang a little bell, that maybe that’s something we could do,” she said. “And so I went and found Beau.”

Relieving anxiety

Beau lives and works at the funeral home with Joly-Paquette, and also volunteers with TPOC. Despite being certified through TPOC, his services at the funeral home are independently insured and managed through Tubman. His job includes meeting with families before their loved one’s service and helping them relieve some anxiety. He also acts as a greeter while guests arrive, but does not work with the public for more than an hour or two at a time, so he doesn’t burn out. 

“I found Beau to be very soothing,” said Judy Thomas, a grief specialist who connected with Beau at her son’s service in 2021. “He actually went up to our son’s casket, which I thought was quite moving as well.”  

Thomas told Capital Current about a recent grief workshop she held at Tubman with Beau present. She said having a therapy dog at such meetings can be comforting not only mentally, but physically.

“Touch is very important when you’re grieving,” said Thomas. “You could tell having him there was a good distraction and a comforting presence.”  

The popularity of therapy dogs has been rising, said Trus. 

“[TPOS] started at retirement homes,” she said. “And now we’re being asked to work with children learning how to read in libraries.”

The only basis for dog therapy used to be word of mouth from dog owners who said their dog made them feel better, but now there is scientific evidence to support these claims. Petting dogs releases oxytocin in people and the dogs, so it is a mutually beneficial experience. 

Beau may be exclusive to Tubman Funeral Homes but with the use of therapy dogs on the rise, other establishments may adopt a similar program. 

Beau in the chapel. He plays a unique role offering comfort to those grieving a loss. [Photo courtesy Tubman Funeral Homes]