Have you ever heard the term “therapy dog?” Only a couple decades ago, many folks would likely have been unfamiliar with this expression.
But the role of these comforting canines has expanded significantly in recent years. Specially-trained animals are now brought in to provide solace in all sorts of stressful situations.
Some dogs offer a consoling shoulder to cry on after major tragedies. Others alleviate anxiety in nursing homes, hospitals and across college campuses.
And now, a snow-white rescue pup named Jackie is performing a similar role in Coon Rapids, Minnesota. She recently became a “grief therapy dog” at a group of funeral homes serving the surrounding Twin Cities.
Ryan Scharfencamp is a licensed funeral director at Gearhart Funeral Home in Coon Rapids, and several other facilities in the metro area. Jackie is basically his cold-nosed sidekick.
Scharfencamp considers this inspired team up a higher calling of sorts.
“Wherever I go, she goes. So most people are now excited to see me because Jackie comes with,” he told Minneapolis-based Fox affiliate KMSP-TV.
Jackie did appear to choose Scharfencamp on purpose, after all. The duo initially crossed paths when he visited the Animal Humane Society in Coon Rapids.
“She was lying on her bed, Jackie saw my daughter Elsie and she kind of walked up to her, her tail was wagging,” Scharfencamp recalled. “Elsie put her fingers through the cage, Jackie licked them, and she just kind of sat down and looked at us, and it was kind of meant to be.”
Scharfencamp describes the temperament of this friendly lab-retriever mix as sweet and serene. So far, Jackie has been present at roughly 20 memorial and/or funeral gatherings.
“It’s actually very unique and amazing to see how Jackie can really connect with people,” he said. She essentially helps mourners and visitors express their feelings in a way fellow humans sometimes can’t.
“Her job is just to walk around, greet guests, get love and attention,” Scharfencamp said.
Perhaps Jackie has developed this empathetic nature as a result of her own challenging background. Originally from Alabama, this 1-year-old pooch is actually a survivor of Hurricane Michael.
Jackie was originally transported to Minnesota with dozens of other dogs after the horrific 2018 squall. According to CNN, Hurricane Michael represents the first recorded Category 4 storm to make landfall in the Florida Panhandle.
But Scharfencamp believes the canine’s role was ultimately meant to be.
“She obviously came up here for a reason, and it’s all been working out perfectly,” he said.
Jackie has been working toward her official grief therapy dog certification, and she’s almost done with the training process. Regardless, Scharfencamp feels that her naturally comforting personality is something that can’t be taught.
When all is said and done, Jackie helps humans who are hurting feel a much-needed sense of hope, reassurance and compassionate connection.
“They see the dog, their faces light up … She brings that hominess, that ease,” Scharfencamp said.
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