Cone Funeral Home’s newest employee doesn’t talk much, but she’s a great communicator.
“She did miracles with that family Saturday,” said Anita Farmer, who handles accounts receivable at the funeral home on Campbell Lane. “She’s so good, and she just wants to love on you. I think she’s going to be a tremendous asset to the business.”
And she works cheap, often subsisting on nothing more than a few puppy treats.
Farmer is talking about Tilly, a goldendoodle (a cross between a golden retriever and a poodle) puppy that has joined the funeral home as a “comfort dog,” a new concept that is just catching on locally.
“My wife and I have been talking about this for some time,” Cone Funeral Home owner Kenneth Cone said. “I talked to Bob Milward (at Lexington’s Milward Funeral Home), and he said getting a comfort dog was one of the best things he’d ever done. It just calms everyone down.”
Jan Cone, Kenneth’s wife and the main keeper of the comfort dog, agrees that Tilly is an asset to the business that has been owned by the Cones for the past eight years.
“Tilly gives that unconditional love that you get from a pet,” Jan Cone said. “It’s hard to pet her and not be more relaxed.”
As the Cones cuddled with Tilly on a love seat near the funeral home’s fireplace Monday, they talked about this addition that puts them on the cutting edge of the funeral business.
“We’re the only one in this area that has a comfort dog,” Kenneth Cone said. “There are a few others in the state.”
The National Funeral Directors Association doesn’t keep records on how many funeral homes employ comfort dogs, but the NFDA website says it’s a trend that has increased in recent years.
Kenneth Cone, an old dog in the funeral home business who has worked in multiple states for more than four decades, has learned a new trick that he is now sold on after trying out Tilly for the first time last Saturday.
“You wouldn’t believe the difference she made for people,” he said. “People were coming over and hugging her and petting her.”
A testimonial on the Alliance of Therapy Dogs website from Brian Merkle of Michigan’s Merkle Funeral Service gives a glimpse into the potential benefits of comfort dogs.
According to Merkle: “A young mother died unexpectedly, leaving several children, including a teenage daughter, behind. The daughter was sitting in our lobby, crying uncontrollably. Lola, our therapy dog, knew she needed comfort, so she climbed up on the couch and lay right next to the emotional daughter. The girl soon began stroking Lola’s soft coat and stopped crying. Lola helped ease her burden, if only for a moment.”
That’s the type of interaction the Cones envision for Tilly, who is not yet four months old and is still being trained. They chose her because the goldendoodle breed is hypoallergenic and people-friendly.
“I think they (goldendoodles) were bred to be more of a service dog,” said Sandy Otto of Bowling Green’s Puppy Preschool, where Tilly is being trained. “I would say they have been used as comfort dogs for about 15 years. They’ve been used at nursing homes and funeral homes. When you’re sad, it helps just having a dog next to you, and it gets people talking.”
Jerry Patton of Brownsville’s Patton Funeral Home visited Cone on Monday and came away liking the comfort dog concept.
“I really didn’t know a great deal about it, but I believe anything that can help people get through a difficult time is a good thing,” Patton said.
Kenneth Cone, who has grown the business and is expanding the funeral home with the addition of a 900-square-foot room, said Tilly is a good fit for his business philosophy.
“We’re trying to have a place that takes the stigma out of death,” he said. “I truly want you to feel like you’re coming into my home.”