It took a horrific travel experience to open Matthew Fiorillo’s eyes to the power of pets. He was at an airport, and his flight was delayed for five excruciating hours.
“Tempers were flaring, and this woman walked by with a Maltese, and I just watched this wave of calm come over everybody,” he tells PEOPLE. “I said, ‘Wow, I have to implement this at the funeral home.’ ”
After two months, Lulu the goldendoodle is definitely part of the team at both of Fiorillo’s Ballard-Durand funeral homes in White Plains and Elmford, New York. The dog is also a part of his family, too – when she’s not working, she’s his dog.
The 1-year-old pup, who wears a blue vest to identify herself as a therapy dog, was trained for a year to comfort people, and she uses her skills all the time, in a very precise way.
“She has an uncanny knack for visiting the people she feels might need her,” he explains. “It does put people at ease and makes people smile when they don’t feel like smiling.”
Lulu works her magic by poking people gently with her nose or just sitting beside them with “her calming presence,” Fiorillo says. “She’ll just kind of be there. She has a knack for knowing who wants it and who doesn’t.”
Implementing this kind of comfort at funeral services is becoming more common, according to Tech Times, who first reported the trend.
Mark Krause, the owner and president of Krause Funeral Home and Cremation Service in Milwaukee, was the owner of Oliver, a Portuguese water dog who trained to be a therapy dog. He made visits to schools, nursing homes and hospitals and eventually went to work at the funeral home. When the pooch died in 2011, his funeral was attended by 150 people and many of their pets.
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While her job is still new, Lulu’s impact on mourners in New York is very clear.
“That dog looked into my eyes and I was done,” Sandy Del Duca told Tech Times of the pup, who was at her father’s funeral. “She seemed to know just what I needed. A funeral is a funeral; it’s not a great thing. But that dog gave the service a family atmosphere and made it more of a celebration.”