By Tim Harfmann
MARINE PARK — For Nora Pavone, the funeral director of Marine Park Funeral Home, every day is bring-your-dog-to-work day.
“I saw other therapy dogs interacting with people at nursing homes, hospitals, even schools, and I just felt it was missing in the five boroughs in the funeral industry,” Pavone said.
So last year, she bought Fiona, a one-and-a-half-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog, to help out at her funeral home. It was a case of puppy love in Marine ‘Bark.’
The dog has been able to assist families during their tough times.
“A lot of requests had come in,” Pavone said. “I was kind of overwhelmed by the positive feedback that we were getting.”
Pavone trained the caring canine for a year, getting Fiona comfortable around strangers and around caskets.
“We’ll walk her around the lobby, and a lot of times, that’s when the kids will get to see her and hang out with her. [Families] can also request for her to go into the visitation room, and then she would make laps in the room and comfort everyone that is in need,” Pavone said.
Fiona was just 9 weeks old when she started at the funeral home. Ever since then, she’s been there to lend a paw to grieving families.
“A lot of times people will say, ‘We have a dog at home — this makes it feel more like a home atmosphere,’ which is what we want,” Pavone added.
“In the funeral industry, it’s called a funeral home for a reason. It’s supposed to mimic our homes and make us feel as comfortable as when we’re at home.”
Fiona recently received a special honor. She became the one millionth dog to pass the American Kennel Club’s “Canine Good Citizen Test.”
“I had no idea until the American Kennel Club actually contacted us after we took the test, and I was completely shocked. It was really exciting,” Pavone said.
There is one thing Pavone said she couldn’t train Fiona to do — read emotions. That comes with instinct.
“She really knows who’s in need of her and just gently going up to them and sitting next to them is so much more help than I could even imagine,” Pavone said.
“Sometimes people just want to hug her, pet her, and it just makes them feel a little bit more comfortable.”