By Tim Harfmann
For Nora Pavone, every day is bring-your-dog-to-work day at Brooklyn’s Marine Park Funeral Home.
“I saw other therapy dogs interacting with people at nursing homes, hospitals, even schools; and I just felt it was missing in the five boroughs in the funeral industry,” said Pavone.
Fiona is a one-and-a-half-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog who’s a big help for families at a tough time.
“A lot of requests had come in,” said Pavone. “I was kind of overwhelmed by the positive feedback that we were getting.”
Pavone trained the caring canine for a year, getting her comfortable around strangers and around caskets.
“We’ll walk her around the lobby and, a lot of times, that’s when the kids will get to see her and hang out with her. [Families] can also request for her to go into the visitation room, and then she would make laps in the room and comfort everyone that is in need,” Pavone said.
Fiona was just 9-weeks-old when she started at the funeral home. Ever since then, she’s been there to lend a paw for grieving families.
“A lot of times people will say, ‘we have a dog at home. this makes it feel more like a home atmosphere,’ which is what we want,” Pavone added. “In the funeral industry, it’s called a funeral home for a reason. It’s supposed to mimic our homes and make us feel as comfortable as when we’re at home.”
Fiona recently received a special honor. She became the one millionth dog to pass the American Kennel Club’s ‘Canine Good Citizen Test.’
“I had no idea until the American Kennel Club actually contacted us after we took the test, and I was completely shocked. It was really exciting.”
There is one thing Pavone said she couldn’t train Fiona to do — read emotions. That comes with instinct.
“She really knows who’s in need of her and just gently going up to them and sitting next to them is so much more help than I could even imagine. Sometimes people just want to hug her, pet her, and it just makes them feel a little bit more comfortable.”