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Respect for the Bereaved

By Jshortell @servicepoodle

"What if my dog's presence upsets some of the bereaved at the wake?" 
A member of my support group (call her Carol) contacted me after her mother died. Carol didn't think any of our support group would be at the wake because she hadn't been in contact lately. Carol is terribly susceptible to severe depression, has been devoted to her mother (she talked about her visits to the nursing home all the time) and there was a lot of friction and misunderstanding among her family. I don't usually attend wakes, but I'd never avoid one that mattered to someone in my support group. I offered to go. In my offer I specifically mentioned that I would be coming with Maeve. Carol responded with enthusiasm to the idea. Inside my head I thought, "Yes, she's enthusiastic, but what about her siblings and other family members?" I could have asked, but I knew communications in her family were badly flawed.

Before I go any further, let me clarify something. I do not go anywhere without my service dog, and I do not back away from any challenge once I've entered a place where the public is allowed to go. This is my way of educating businesses and the public about our rights under the ADA to be accompanied by our service dogs. However, a wake is completely different from any situation I've ever faced with Maeve.  Funeral homes are covered by the ADA, but one doesn't put one's civil rights ahead of the bereaved's comfort level at a wake. If I had reason to believe the family would object, I wouldn't go. If I didn't feel Carol really needed me as a friend to show up at the wake, I wouldn't have risked it. Attending without Maeve wasn't an option. I have health-and dog-related reasons why I don't leave Maeve behind for any significant period of time. Also, this would be a high stress activity for me. The wake was at the same establishment where we waked my brother-in-law after my sister and I spent weeks doing home hospice with him during a long, distressed, and painful death. I was concerned that this would be an open casket (it was) and that it would be in the same room (it was).  But Carol needed me. My plan was to go and see what happened.  If challenged by the funeral home staff, I would quietly try to educate them. If it became a conflict I would leave. If anyone in the family appeared upset by our presence I would leave. If anyone else paying their respects made a fuss I would leave.  The Leete Stevens Funeral Home staff were terrific. No problem at all; not even any questions. (They're now on Maeve's Business Honor Roll) Maeve behaved perfectly. People paying respects didn't complain. Carol's family were friendly to me and to Maeve; most of them asked to pet her. 

One relative did not look happy to see us. He was a pre-pubescent boy.  He looked at me and at Maeve, made an expression of confusion mixed with distress and quickly went across the room to his mother. He kept looking at us while they talked. I was ready to leave, but his mom seemed to handle the situation. I went through the line, talked to Carol and her relatives, and was in the corridor on my way out when I encountered the boy again. I couldn't tell if Maeve was any part of the cause, but it was clear he was tired and upset.  I asked him if he was confused as to why I brought my dog to his grandmother's wake. He looked surprised I had asked and said he was confused. I explained that I am disabled, Maeve is specially trained to help me with my disability and that she goes everywhere with me. I specifically told him I meant no disrespect to him or his grandmother. The distress was gone from his face; he was interested. He asked questions. He asked to pet the dog. Maeve, contentedly rolled over on her back and lay completely still except for her wagging tail.  He petted her, called his big sister over to meet the dog and kept asking questions. It was clear that the dog was a welcome relief from the stress of being a young boy at his grandmother's wake. It seemed to do his sister good as well. I stood there for 20 minutes while they petted the dog, but I didn't mind. The purpose of attending a wake is to comfort the bereaved and that's what Maeve had done.
Joanne Shortell, Maeve's Service Human

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Joanne and Maeve (her psychiatric service poodle) help people with psychiatric disabilities discover their rights to emotional support animals in no-pets housing without pet deposits or pet fees and their rights to service dogs

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