2022 - September - Town & Gown - Animals Model and Encourage Healthy Healing

By: Jackie Naginey Hook
Thursday, September 1, 2022

Animals Model and Encourage Healthy Healing

I love to share the story of Elephant Whisperer, Lawrence Anthony. Lawrence was a South African author and conservationist who took some rogue elephants onto his reserve to keep them from getting shot. One of the herd’s matriarchs had been killed and these elephants were afraid.

Lawrence did what he could to calm the elephants and convince them to stay within the fencing. He spoke to them and explained that this reserve was their new home and they were safe there.

One morning, he was speaking to the new matriarch, Nana, trying to convince her not to flatten the electric fence to leave the property. Lawrence knew Nana couldn’t understand his words but hoped she understood what he was trying to say from his body language and tone. Nana put her trunk through the fence to touch Lawrence. From this point on, everything changed and the elephants adjusted to life on the reserve.

Lawrence died unexpectedly in 2012 and his family tells the story that two herds of elephants walked for 12 hours to come to Lawrence’s house. These elephants had not been there for 1.5 years and no one had gone to them to share the news of Lawrence’s death. But somehow they knew and they knew what they needed to do.  They knew they needed to come together and mourn. They hung around Lawrence’s home for two days and then returned to the reserve.

Grief is what we feel on the inside and mourning is moving it to the outside. Elephants know how to mourn and there is a lot we can learn from them.

When a life stops, it’s important for us to stop and come together to mourn and support one another. Just like the elephants, that’s what we know we need to do.  

And if we do that coming together with other creatures present, we can feel all kinds of comfort and unconditional love. More and more funeral homes are inviting therapy dogs to visitations and services. These dogs have the innate ability to recognize who needs support and how to offer it. The whole room lightens up with their presence. Sometimes the healing is profound.

A funeral home in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, watched a seven-year-old boy begin to speak to their dog. This boy had completely stopped talking after his three-year-old sister’s death but the dog drew him out and he started telling the dog about her.

I know when I was going through our pregnancy losses, our dog, Lady Baby, brought me great peace. We shared the couch together when my husband was at work and I knew I wasn’t alone.

I’m grateful that Koch Funeral Home now offers the complimentary services of Monroe and her handler, Karen Keller. Certified by Therapy Dogs International, Monroe can attend a service and make everything different.

It’s a reminder that we’re all connected at some level. "As French poet and journalist Anatole France once wrote, “Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." Loss is an important time to awaken one’s soul.

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