This is just what we needed, said a daughter and granddaughter as they sat petting and hugging Mac, a certified Bright Spot Therapy Dog.
Mac is among a growing number of therapy dogs that comfort mourners at funeral homes across the country. Mac is a sweet, gentle, four year old Golden Retriever owned by Mary and TJ O’Brien of South Hadley, Massachusetts. The O’Briens, along with business partner Joe Curran, own and operate three funeral homes in western Massachusetts, the Curran-Jones Funeral Homes in Agawam and West Springfield, and the Curran-O’Brien Funeral Home in South Hadley. With their family now grown, the O’Briens decided to move into the apartment in their South Hadley funeral home. It is here that Mac works his magic.
When a friend of Mary’s emailed her an article she had seen on Facebook about therapy dogs being used at funeral homes to help ease the pain of loss, the O’Briens were very interested in the idea.
Turning to Bright Spot, Mary moved ahead with therapy dog training. After becoming a certified Bright Spot Therapy Dog, Mac needed a job. The job of funeral home dog found Mac as he started greeting mourners at the door when they came to discuss funeral arrangements with TJ.
Mary serves as TJ’s administrative assistant and Mac hangs out with her in the office. When people come to the door, he’s right there to greet them. Instead of immediately heading into the office to meet with TJ, folks linger awhile with Mac, who accepts all the hugs and kisses they care to give him. Funeral planning is an extremely difficult task for bereaved families. With Mac, they can feel free to cry and wipe their tears on his soft, satiny fur. If people like, Mac will accompany them into the office where he quietly sits or lies down by their feet, offering the kind of gentle comfort only a dog can give.
One time, as Mary was leaving the office and heading to their apartment, looking for Mac, she found him making his way along a line of about seventy-five mourners waiting to go in for a wake. They loved him. He brought smiles and even a bit of laughter to people deeply saddened by loss.
Mary calls Mac her sidekick. He follows me everywhere. It was only natural, given Mac’s friendly, outgoing personality and love for people that once certified as a therapy dog this would become his niche. These days, he greets mourners wearing his official Bright Spot Therapy Dog uniform consisting of blue therapy dog vest and ID badge.
Mary and TJ love the idea of sharing Mac with others in this way. Mary has put a sign on the front door of each of the funeral homes that reads: Bright Spot Therapy Dog On The Premises.
If requested, Mac will help out wherever he can. At a time of such grief, this special dog relaxes people and breaks the tension by just being there. For now, Mac works at the Curran-O’Brien Funeral Home in South Hadley five days a week and by request at the other two homes.