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Van Nest funeral home offers mourners comfort dog

Mourners get a comforting smile and wagging tail at this funeral home

Bronx Times

Mourners at this local funeral home are getting a caring pair of ears to scratch.

The Joseph A. Lucchese Funeral Home in Van Nest has an in-house comfort dog that provides a bit of furry, tail wagging relief to mourners.

Owner Joe Lucchese said he has liked the idea of comfort dogs for a long time, but he never had the opportunity to implement it until he bought his business, formerly F. Ruggiero & Sons, two years ago.

Inspired by Sandy Hook

He was particularly inspired by the use of therapy dogs in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting two years ago, and felt that the use of dogs during tragedies could be applied to the process of planning a funeral.

“It is a tragedy for that particular family,” said Lucchese.

His three kids had also been begging for a dog, so he decided to finally get a black Labrador puppy named Lily about a year ago.

“It was the perfect thing to kill two birds with one stone,” he said.

He joked - sort of - that he went with a black lab because her hair wouldn’t show on mourners dark clothes.

Lucchese said he knows Lily is not for everyone, and that some people may prefer not to have a dog around for various reasons, including allergies.

But he said he hasn’t gotten any negative feedback yet.

As far as Lucchese knows, Lily is the only in-house comfort dog at any funeral home in New York City.

Stressful moments

Once she is certified, Lucchese hopes to have Lily in the room when families are making initial funeral arrangements and when they are first viewing the deceased, which he called two very stressful moments.

Right now, she is kept in the office, where family members can visit with her if they wish.Lucchese said that even in that limited role, Lily is able to provide comfort, and that people often lighten up when come in to the funeral home on Morris Park Avenue and see her.

“She does her job and makes people feel better.”

Marcy DiBattista said that when she was planning the funeral for her father, who was an animal lover, she just knew that Lucchese’s funeral home was the right place because of Lily. Interacting with Lily helped her and her family take their mind off things, she said.

“For a second you do get to stop thinking about why you’re really there.”

A smile

Lily also cheered up Anthony Perrone while his family planned his mother’s funeral.

Everybody in his family, he said, had something good to say about the dog, who especially helped his sister, who raises black labs.

“She was so sad,” said Perrone, “and that dog just put a smile on her face.”

Perrone said that since then, he’s come back twice to visit Lily, bringing her a box of bones.

Reach Reporter Jaime Williams at (718) 742–3383. E-mail her at jwilliams@cnglocal.com.

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