Meet Womble, one of Australia’s first funeral comfort dogs

Written by Monique Butterworth for Australian Seniors.                                  

Comfort dogs are an increasingly common sight in funeral homes – particularly the United States – bringing unconditional love when it’s needed most. Coping with grief while navigating funeral arrangements can be a stressful time, and dogs are renowned for bringing calm to our lives.                                                         

One of Australia’s first comfort dogs is a four-year-old Labrador called Womble, who is on duty for Kings Funerals in Victoria. Having not quite made the grade as a guide dog, Vision Australia identified Womble as having a beautiful personality; incredibly gentle, intuitive and empathetic. All the attributes Kings Funerals general manager Beth King was looking for in a funeral comfort dog.    

 “Cherished Pets Foundation’s Dr Alicia Kennedy and her team were instrumental in locating Womble,” explains Beth. “After two years of searching for a dog with the right personality to not only comfort families but be a part of the team, we connected with Womble’s trainer. Womble joined us when he was two.”

How does Womble help at a funeral?

Womble is free to roam the office when he is not working and is available to sit in on funeral arrangement meetings when invited. When attending a funeral, he is accompanied by his primary carer, funeral assistant Jo Swann.

“Although he is on a lead for his safety, Womble will help direct us where to take him,” says Beth. “Our staff may spot someone in particular who Womble might assist with and we’ll bring him over, but he otherwise is very intuitive. Especially in knowing who is welcoming to his company.”

Womble is extremely patient with children, often sitting with them on the floor allowing all the cuddles. “He has a very empathetic way of connecting, sometimes just with a paw or by sitting close enough to be patted and on call,” adds Beth.

“Womble is attuned to emotions and this can range from someone being still and quiet, to those more outwardly expressing grief. He will also attend to people who may be enjoying sharing a precious memory, so it’s not always about crying or distress.”

He’s not the only dog offering comfort to older Australians outside of the traditional assistance dog roles. The charity Greyhound Rescue is bringing the “magic” of greyhound companionship to residents of selected HammondCare aged care homes, in a greyhound visiting program called Hounds Helping Humans. Meanwhile, KM Smith Funeral Directors employs Archie the labradoodle as a therapy dog to greet people attending or planning funerals at its Bowen Hills branch, chapel and viewing lounge in Brisbane. 

What are the benefits of comfort dogs? 

The benefits that dogs bring can be clear to anyone watching them in action. For example, Beth says clients find Womble reassuring and are more relaxed when he is around. “Families seem to be able to open up and discuss the funeral details and arrangements more easily. And on the day of the funeral, Womble is a sense of calm, which really helps families get through the day,” she explains. “We are also conscious of respecting those who are not as keen to have him around.”

At home Womble leads a ‘normal’ dog life with walks, children and cats to keep him company. Around the office he is “a breath of fresh air”, Beth says. “He helps ground the staff and provides comfort to the team especially when dealing with the more complex funeral cases,” she says. “A quick pat, cuddle, a lunch-break bask in the sun together or walk around the block with Womble does great things for both the mind and body.”

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