Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
Merryvale Assisted Living resident Margaret Adams gets her hugs and kisses from Jovie, the therapy dog. "He's so loving, just a sweet thing," said Adams.
COVINGTON -- As grief specialist Adam Cooper counseled a family after the death of a loved one, a woman in the family acted particularly distraught -- that is, until he introduced her to Jovie. Jovie isn't a fellow counselor; she's a dog that's been enlisted by Cowan & Caldwell Funeral Home to bring comfort to grieving families.
Jovie's presence calmed the upset woman, Cooper said.
"She saw Jovie and her face lit up and she was loving on her and you could tell that there was a connection to her," Cooper said.
"Just that momentary contact allowed her to open up about what she was feeling. It goes back to the 'man's best friend' thing. She's there to comfort," he said.
Cooper is the grief services director for Life Changes Grief Management Center, an outreach of Caldwell & Cowan Funeral Home and Lawnwood Memorial Park in Covington.
In February, he brought Jovie on board to become the grief therapy dog for Life Changes.
"Basically there's a soothing aspect to being able to pet an animal and that is part of what it is for," Cooper said. "It's almost like there's a transference. The people are able to pass their grief onto her. A good hour visit will wear her out."
Cooper said he and his wife met with several dogs before settling on Jovie. They first saw her in a photograph at the veterinarian's office. The dog needed a home because the owner couldn't afford to keep her anymore.
"You could tell from the picture, she just drew us in," Cooper said.
The Coopers met Jovie and decided right then to take her.
"She accepted us immediately, and we knew she was the dog for us," said Cooper, who added that Jovie had come from an established home where she lived with a man and his wife, who had recently died.
"She was the lady's comfort in her last days. It was almost like she was already attuned to someone who was hurting and grieving."
Jovie lived with a trainer in Flowery Branch for three weeks where she underwent extensive obedience training, learning simple commands such as "sit" and "stay" and more unusual actions such as placing her head in someone's lap.
Cooper said the training prepares her to not only assist grieving people, but also to be a visitor at nursing homes and schools.
"She basically is a therapy dog when you get right down to it," Cooper said.
She makes visits to the Life Changes grief therapy support group where she is off-leash and visits group members as they share their thoughts. Her calm friendly demeanor makes her a welcome presence, said Cooper.
"She'll go from person to person. It's kind of like she'll seek out the ones who need a little bit more attention," he said.
Cooper said he is working on integrating Jovie into funeral home visitations. Customers of the funeral home are told Jovie's services are available at no cost and if they are interested, Cooper will bring her by.
"We want to make sure that only people who are amenable to the concept have her there. We don't want her to be off-putting in any way," Cooper said.
Cooper also makes bi-weekly treks to Merryvale Assisted Living in Oxford where Jovie meets with residents.
He is also making arrangements for Jovie to be a reading therapy dog at a local elementary school. Children who need to improve their reading skills can read to Jovie and Cooper, who listen without correcting or commenting on the child's abilities.
"We didn't feel like we wanted to limit her to grief work. We wanted to be an outreach to the entire community," Cooper said.
When Jovie's not in her therapeutic role, she lives with the Cooper family, playing with their other dogs and sleeping in her crate at night.
"She's a normal dog, outside of work," said Cooper.
When asked what type of breed Jovie is, Cooper said their best guess is a shepherd mix.
"All I know is that she's full of love and that's what counts," Cooper said.