Calling to mend broken hearts; Funeral home hires area's first grief therapy dog

Oakey's is area's first funeral home to have grief therapy dog

By Rachel Lucas - Anchor / Reporter

ROANOKE, Va. - One local funeral home is using man's best friend as an added service to help families cope with grief.

Ragnar Oakey, a golden Labrador, has a calling to mend broken hearts. You may have seen his big smile being walked through downtown Roanoke. He is Southwest Virginia’s first grief therapy dog to be employed at a funeral home. Oakey’s added Ragnar to their team’s roster shortly after his owner, Sam Oakey, the son of the owners, graduated college and began working as the assistant manager at the downtown location.

Quickly growing in popularity, he's available upon request to all families at Oakey's funeral services in Roanoke.

Oakey said his calm, sweet demeanor is being used to comfort others during their darkest of days, the loss of a loved one.

“There have been so many times where people have laid on the ground for 30 minutes, just stroking him, talking to him, just being with him and have said how much it helped,” Oakey said.

Although at first, a dog may seem out of place at a funeral home, once you see the magic happen, it really makes a lot of sense.

“Everyone was a little surprised at first. It's kind of not the first thing you are expecting, but it just kind of puts a smile on everyone's face right off the bat,” Oakey said.

Oakey said Ragnar is especially gifted working with children. Ragnar even has his own Instagram where many of his pictures feature the dog playing with children.

Studies have proven that therapy dogs reduce stress and anxiety, and can even lower blood pressure. In fact, when just petting a dog, our brains release a chemical that makes us feel happier. 

“There's no guessing what their motives are, no ulterior motives. No hidden agendas. Pets are just true love. He is just always happy to share his presence and rest his head on someone's lap and just lay next to you,” Oakey said.

Ragnar has had obedience training and is almost done with his official therapy dog certification through Hope’s Dog Training. Trainer Hope Cogen said Ragnar recently earned his Canine Good Citizen title through her class as well. His training and empathetic character are being put to good use. Requests keep pouring in for Ragnar to attend visitations and other funeral services.

“I joke, well it's not really a joke, he gets more requests than I do,” Oakey said. “Not many people know who I am, but he gets requests every day from families."

Ragnar even has a portrait hanging on the Oakey's wall.

“He's just as much as part of the family as anyone,” Oakey said. “I look forward to many years of sharing him with the valley because he is a true blessing to all of us.”

Ragnar’s services are offered free at all of Oakey's locations.

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