The first rescued dog in Mexico trained to assist and accompany pet owners in a funeral home, during their grieving and sadness process, is named Ánima.
Through her sense of smell, she is able to identify and show Ivan Perez, Funeral PET’s thanatologist, which of the family members needs more support and intervention from the mental health staff.
Seven months ago, Funeral Pet rescued Ánima from a shelter. As a puppy she suffered violence and abuse. When Ivan went to adopt her, she wouldn’t even approach people for fear that they would hurt her again.
“It took me at least four hours, trying to interact with her, until she approached on her own,” said Iván Pérez in an interview with Excélsior.
And now, with the passage of time, affection and training, Ánima -which means soul- not only gives support to people who are going through a bad moment, but also carries a flower in her muzzle to give to the funeral home’s clients, while they accompany their pets to the wake to say their last goodbye.
Service or assistance dogs, like Ánima, must meet three certifications.
In the first, she learned basic training with commands to sit, lie down, paw and, in the second, to deliver the flower, rolled up with a cone, which carries the printed phrase: “I will always be in your heart”.
“The advanced part is that Ánima, through smell, begins to detect the chemical and biological changes that occur in the body of the mourner to communicate to the thanatologist who is the person who needs primary care,” explained Yajali Meza Strempler, Ánima’s trainer and director of Animal Assisted Interventions at Fundación K7.
Before Ánima arrived at Funeral Pet, the facilities located at Calzada San Juan de Aragón 48, colonia Quince de Agosto, alcaldía Gustavo A. Madero in Mexico City, were saddened by the suffering of the pet owners, but now it has brought joy to the place and to the employees as well.
“Now it’s a little easier to be able to talk to customers. When they see Ánima they are encouraged to pet her and tell about their pet they are watching over,” said Alejandra González, an employee of Funeral Pet.
This type of service or assistance of dogs in thanatology is offered in countries such as the United States, however in a more experimental and non-professional way, as has been done with Ánima.
“The message we are trying to convey is that rescued dogs can do thanatological support and that it would be possible to replicate not only for the death of pets, but for funeral agencies of people,” said Alejandro García Rangel, CEO of Funeral PET.
Historically, animals have served as support for humans and dogs have been man’s best friend.
The message on Funeral Pet’s website “we say goodbye to your pet through a cremation service full of love and respect for you and your friend”, recognizes this.
However, with this thanatological training, they can help to better process the emotions of the mourners, as in the case of Funeral Pet, which assists guardians who have lost a pet.
While not all grieving requires the assistance of a thanatologist, support from mental health personnel is needed, according to experts, when several unresolved grievances have accumulated over the course of our lives.
“It is possible that these are warning signs and that I need to go to a thanatologist if I am lowering my performance at work, at school; if I am isolating myself; if I don’t want to go out with my family and friends and if I am losing interest in things and I have been in this situation for more than a year,” said María Galván, thanatologist-veterinarian.
Galván recognizes that grieving the loss of a pet is just as important as any other and should not be silenced.
“If we are not willing to support pet bereavement, then we have to respect, because we have no idea of the role that pet played in a person’s life or in their nuclear family,” she added.
“The pet can live in a family, in which they cannot have children or with a senior citizen, who perhaps no longer lives with anyone else and becomes their only companion.
“Sometimes, the bond we have with our pets goes beyond being a companion animal, they become part of our family,” the specialist concluded.