Therapy dog comforts mourners at Smithfield funeral home

Therapy dog comforts mourners at Smithfield funeral home

Buddy is the first funeral home therapy dog in Rhode Island.

SMITHFIELD – Inside the Anderson Winfield Funeral Home on Church Street in Greenville one can find the standard comforts for grieving – dozens of chairs, scattered boxes of tissues, a dignified ambiance ... and a dog.

This is the first funeral home in Rhode Island to employ a therapy dog and owner Thomas Winfield, also a state representative, says the pairing makes perfect sense.

“Coming into the funeral home is, for a lot of people, something you don’t want to do,” Winfield said.

But his 18-month-old golden retriever named Buddy can make the process a little easier for visitors.

“It takes away some of that angst ... it makes it bearable,” Winfield said.

Buddy is a friendly dog with sand colored hair and a light-blonde tail that bounces as he walks. He is generous with head nudges and hand licks and especially loves having his head scratched. In short, he’s an undeniable source of joy.

“He thrives on it,” Winfield said.

Every morning Buddy wakes up between 4 or 5 a.m. for breakfast, even if his owners would prefer a little more sleep. Winfield then slides Buddy into a harness and either brings him to the State House or to the funeral home. Though Buddy is still extremely young, he knows the importance of his job.

“That dog knows, when I put that vest on him, he is working,” Winfield said.

Winfield always knew dogs were important, but he didn’t understand how they influence emotion until he saw Buddy in action.

At the funeral home, the chocolate-eyed golden is able to sense the emotions of those he meets and comfort them accordingly.

Winfield has seen Buddy sit next to a quiet teenage boy for hours, just providing him with company. He has also seen the dog nudge other visitors with more affection and energy, sensing interaction is what they need.

“It’s hard to describe it but when you see it, it’s a connection,” Winfield said.

Buddy’s trainer Jenny Dickinson was one of the first people to suggest he be used as a therapy dog for the Anderson Winfield Funeral Home.

For her, it was a simple equation.

“Here he’s got this wonderful dog and these people in need,” Dickinson said, “it’s an additional support feature.”

Dickinson said therapy dogs help put life into perspective for a moment. They are used on college campuses during exams, in senior centers, and in hospitals.

“A dog can help a person think about something other than their immediate grief,” Dickinson said.