- Associated Press - Saturday, February 22, 2014

MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa (AP) - A Marshalltown funeral home has added a four-legged staff member to help people deal with the grief of losing loved ones.

Mitchell Family Funeral Home’s Gabriel, a 1-year-old Goldendoodle, is one of two grief dogs in the state, the Marshalltown Times-Republican reported (http://bit.ly/MjgsIt).

The funeral home’s business manager Mary Drake, who is Gabriel’s caretaker, said the dog is a calming presence in the funeral home.

“He’s our ambassador of comfort,” Drake said. “There are scientific studies that say the action of petting an animal or a dog is very calming for families.”

Gabriel has been at the funeral home since December. He came from a breeder in Florida, and is a psychotherapy-trained, registered service dog.

He also performs a prayer trick in which he kneels against a flat surface with his head down. He releases the pose when someone says, “Amen.”

But the dog’s comfort extends well beyond tricks, those at the funeral home say. Some people prefer expressing their grief to Gabriel over other people - especially children, Drake said.

“They can sit down and talk to the dog,” she said. “They can share things they may not be able to tell an adult. That kind of opens up their grief process.”

During visitations, Gabriel can be seen walking around the funeral home. Prior to the service itself, the chapel door is closed, unless the family requests otherwise.

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Information from: Times-Republican, http://www.timesrepublican.com