Metro funeral homes welcome new grief therapy dog to comfort mourning families

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Therapy animals have found their way into our lives in so many ways. Colleges bring them in to relieve stress during final exams. They visit hospitals, schools and nursing homes. 

But now, a group of Twin Cities funeral homes has a therapy dog of its own. The solemn place where mourners go to remember and grieve is now brightened by a rescue dog named Jackie.

“Wherever I go, she goes. So most people are now excited to see me because Jackie comes with,” said Ryan Scharfencamp, a licensed funeral director at three metro funeral homes, including Geargart in Coon Rapids. “The best way to say it is this profession chose me, it's a calling." 

Last October, the profession started calling on Scharfencamp’s sidekick from the Human Society in Coon Rapids. 

“She was laying on her bed, Jackie saw my daughter Elsie and she kind of walked up to her, her tail was wagging," he said. "Elsie put her fingers through the cage, Jackie licked them and she just kind of sat down and looked at us and it was kind of meant to be."

A lab-retriever mix, Jackie is calm and sweet. She is able to quickly transition from her more active side. 

Since she started working last fall, Jackie has worked about 20 arrangement meetings or funerals. 

“Her job is just to walk around, greet guests, get love and attention. It's actually very unique and amazing to see how Jackie can really connect with people,” Scharfencamp said.

Though Jackie is only one year old, her trip to Minnesota involved quite the journey. She is originally from Alabama and was one of dozens of dogs brought to Minnesota after Hurricane Michael hit last fall. 

“She obviously came up here for a reason and it's all been working out perfectly,” Scharfencamp said.

Jackie is now on the tail end of her training to become a certified grief therapy dog. So much of that meaningful work happens with grieving families in Coon Rapids. 

“Someplace that's usually, most traditionally a sad place, they see the dog, their faces light up ... She brings that hominess, that ease,” Scharfencamp said.

Scharfencamp says bringing therapy dogs to funeral homes is a growing trend across the country.