Grief can come in waves, wash over you and be completely overwhelming. Sometimes the best therapy for dealing with it is a kind word. Sometimes it’s a generous act. Perhaps it comes as a warm embrace with no words needed.
Or maybe, just maybe, it comes on four legs and with an adorable, teddy bear-like face.
Deal Funeral Directors in Statesboro has expanded its staff to include a special four-legged member named Oakley. He has a lot to say about his role at Deal, and his plans for the future. The goldendoodle is only 10 months old, but he’s already a pro at taking care of his coworkers, and the families they serve.
Oakley has been coming to work at Deal each day with his mom, Laura Moore, since he was 9 weeks old. He looks forward to heading to work each day, and often has to wait for his mom to gather her things and head for the car.
“She just doesn’t seem to be in as big of a hurry as me,” Oakley said. “But it’s OK. I know that she means well.”
Once he’s buckled in inside the car, Oakley relaxes a bit. He says he never bothers anything in the car. He loves his mom and wouldn’t want to distract her while she’s driving.
“I’ve never driven, but I’m pretty sure I could if I really wanted to,” he said. “But I think I might be distracted by things we see on the drive, or I’d want to stick my head out and sniff some stuff. So it’s probably best to let Mom do the driving.”
Oakley came to live with his mom after she learned about the role of therapy dogs in funeral homes or in hospice situations. She says she has seen people’s faces just light up when they see a therapy dog, despite their sad circumstance.
Moore says that Deal Funeral Directors works to provide the best service they can for the families they serve, and “We feel that adding Oakley to our team sets us apart from others in our area.” He’s the only therapy dog in service in a funeral home in Bulloch County.
Moore is a Bulloch County native, and attended Georgia Southern University. She began working in the funeral industry in 1997 with Hodges-Turner Funeral Home, and graduated from Ogeechee Technical College with an associate’s degree in Mortuary Science in 2002. She then became the manager of Hodges-Moore, where she worked until 2013. She has worked part-time at Deal for the last several years, and recently came back to the funeral home full-time. She and her business partner, Bob Cook, own Paws ‘n Reflect, a pet cremation service.
Oakley helps clients at Deal, as well as at Paws ‘n Reflect. He takes all of his roles seriously, especially when it comes to looking after his coworkers.
“When I come in every day, I go to see Aunt Betty first. She’s a nice lady and gives me lots of pets,” Oakley said. “Then I go find Uncle Jake, then Uncle Bob. Then I usually just find a place to lay down for a bit.”
But when the buzzer at the front door goes off, Oakley springs into action.
“When I hear that buzzer, I know someone is coming into the building, and I don’t want them to get too close to Aunt Betty, not until I check them out. It’s my job to be sure everyone is safe. I’m not just a pretty face, you know,” Oakley said.
One of Oakley’s duties is to be with the families who come in to plan services for their loved ones. Oakley says he waits a bit before he approaches people, to be sure they are open to him being there.
“Not everybody wants me in the room. I don’t take it personally or anything. It’s just ‘cause they haven’t met me yet,” he said.
Once Oakley comes into the room, he greets people, and eventually just lies down under the table or at someone’s feet. Just having him in the room brings a great deal of calm and comfort.
“He eases all kinds of emotions and grief and tension,” Moore said. “He has a very good temperament and is very calm and laid back.”
“Yeah. I’m a very good boy,” Oakley said.
Because he’s still so young, Oakley isn’t quite ready to become a certified therapy dog. Certification requires him to be at least a year old. In the meantime, he’s working on his basic skills.
“I can sit, lie down and heel — that just means I walk close to my mom,” Oakley said. “I can stay too. My mom can walk the yard not even looking at me, and I stay right where she told me to. It’s kind of hard sometimes, but I am getting better and better at it.”
Oakley is also learning how to be calm and still during a service. He watches sometimes behind a glass window with Aunt Betty, and sometimes, family members will ask if they can see him. He plans to one day be trained so that he can go down the aisle during a service.
“I want to be an usher and lead people in and out of the services. I wear a tie on those days, and I look very pawfessional,” Oakley said.
Moore says that people have reacted very positively to having Oakley around.
“Everyone in the office loves him,” she said. “People have texted me personally to say they appreciate his special therapy.”
Moore recalled one family in particular who had lost a grandmother, and a special needs granddaughter who was having an especially difficult time.
“I just knew she needed me,” Oakley said. “Sometimes, you just don’t have to say a word. You just have to sit with somebody and let them hold onto you.”
When Oakley isn’t working, he loves taking car rides to anywhere, and Moore says he’s shocked when she doesn’t take him. He loves playing with his Bichon sisters at home, and he can’t resist a good ball when it’s thrown just right.
“That’s just fun. I love the ball, that’s right,” he said.
Oakley also likes to go on long walks, and he loves sitting on the dock at his mom’s lake house. But don’t ask him to get in the water.
“I don’t like the water. But it’s pretty to look at. I sit on the dock and I think about all the people that I help. And all those hugs,” he said. “Yeah. Hugs are the best.”