Bringing a Smile to Faces in the Most Unlikely of Places: An Interview with Randy Grimes
Anyone who has ever attended a funeral or set foot inside a funeral home is aware of the grief that overcomes people after the loss of a loved one. But, imagine walking into a funeral home, saddened by the death of a dear family member or friend, and being greeted by a 63-pound, tail-wagging Golden Doodle. That is exactly what you can expect when entering DeMoney-Grimes, a Life Story Funeral Home and meeting grief therapy dog Brooklyn.
Mr. Randy Grimes, CFSP, CFC, CPC is a certified funeral director and embalmer and third generation owner of DeMoney-Grimes Funeral Home in Columbia City, Indiana. Started in 1915, DeMoney-Grimes originally made coffins and visited people’s homes to conduct funerals. In 1923, they relocated to a historic mansion and developed a funeral home that was destroyed during a fire 60 years later. Today, DeMoney-Grimes operates out of a large, modern funeral home that is ready to serve the needs of Whitley County. Along with offering funeral services for people, they also offer pet cremation services through their company Paws and Remember.
One of the most exciting transformations at DeMoney-Grimes over the years may be the addition of grief therapy dog Brooklyn in March 2014.
Grimes, a dog lover, decided to incorporate a therapy dog into his establishment after speaking with a firm in Wisconsin who uses a therapy dog in their funeral home with great success.
“I felt like it was an up-and-coming…service we could provide to the community. We are always looking for new ways to impact our community in a positive way,” said Grimes.
About a year ago, Grimes found Terry Jester, owner of Powder Valley Poodle Kennel and well-known animal behaviorist who breeds dogs for service use. Jester learned of Grimes' desire to find a grief therapy dog and matched him with Brooklyn. Previously, Brooklyn was placed in a home with a retired police officer who uses a wheelchair, but her size proved to be a challenge when pulling him in his wheelchair, so she was removed from the service dog program.
On March 20, 2014, Jester flew with Brooklyn into Fort Wayne, Indiana and spent two days doing intensive training with Grimes and Brooklyn at the funeral home. Since April 2014, Grimes has worked with a local dog trainer to prepare Brooklyn for certification as a therapy dog. She is trained to respond to visual cues and has learned hand signals for different commands such as sit, stay, and lie down. Communicating with Brooklyn visually is more appropriate than speaking to her during her use in grief therapy for often quiet events such as visitations and funerals.
Impact of a Furry Neck to Hug
While Brooklyn is not in full use at the funeral home just yet, she does play a role in making families’ visits to DeMoney-Grimes more pleasurable. When a family enters the front door, Brooklyn is sitting in the lobby ready to greet them and shake their hands. Grimes realizes that not all families are fond of dogs, so people have the option of having Brooklyn join them throughout the funeral proceedings. She is most often used during the first visitation when families come in early and enjoy her company as they grieve the loss of a loved one.
She also serves as the mascot for Paws and Remember and joins families as they grieve the loss of a pet.
Brooklyn makes people feel more comfortable when they enter the funeral home as she serves as something that people, especially kids, can relate to. She is always happy and gives people a reason to smile and forget their sorrow for a few minutes during a time of grief. Grimes explained that Brooklyn adores children and connects with them in a special, heartwarming way. Death often scares children and the process of putting someone to rest is often foreign to young people, so Brooklyn’s curly, black coat and soft eyes serve as a comfort blanket for young people.
Preparing for a Therapy Dog
In preparing for Brooklyn’s inclusion, Grimes had to make a few adjustments to his establishment. A wooden kennel serves as her nap spot and sanctuary. Grimes also put up a dog gate in his office so that Brooklyn can stay in there with him and be visited by families when desired. An electrical fence around the grounds allows Brooklyn to go outside safely. She is not permitted to roam the funeral home alone because of her age and excitement level.
Brooklyn’s energy level has proven to be a great thing when meeting new people, but she is still being trained to calm down a bit when meeting children.
Grimes has been amazed by the amount of community excitement that Brooklyn’s inclusion at DeMoney-Grimes has generated. When she first joined the funeral home, they ran a newspaper advertisement and mailed out brochures to announce her arrival and explain what benefits she would provide. To Grime’s delight, community members requested to meet her and have her around their families. A local hospital even called DeMoney-Grimes and asked to have Brooklyn come visit patients on a weekly basis.
In the future, Grimes plans to use Brooklyn more often during funerals and visitations and allow her more leeway to go into the funeral home’s chapel. She is on track to become a certified therapy dog when she is about two and a half years old in mid-2015. As Brooklyn’s training progresses, she will also make more visits to other locations and continue bringing smiles and happiness to people throughout the community.
For more information on DeMoney-Grimes, a Life Story Funeral Home, Brooklyn, and their services, visit their website.