PARKLAND, FL — A funeral therapy dog has been comforting the Florida community rocked by the deadly mass high school shooting in Parkland, in which 17 people were killed.
Kermit, who will turn two in April, is the first funeral therapy dog in all of Texas, according to his owner, funeral director Melissa Unfred.
Unfred happened to be in Florida visiting a friend when she heard about the February 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, she wrote on The Modern Mortician Facebook page.
She told CrimeFeed that she made a decision on impulse to drive Kermit where he was needed, although Parkland was four hours away.
“People just approached us on their own…. some students, some volunteers — one man was a police officer that responded to the scene,” Unfred told CrimeFeed. “The students mostly asked if they could pet Kermit, then would linger for 5 to 10 minutes stroking his fur and talking among themselves.”
Unfred described a scene with Kermit: “One of the girls that sat down with him had been sobbing. He leaned into her and just leaned into her chest and she put her arms around him and it was just a heartbreaking moment.”
Unger said that Kermit, who she originally got to help her through the stresses of her job as a mortician, has always been a professional.
“I had been looking for an emotional support dog under the encouragement of my doctor and therapist, to assist with some anxiety and depression that stems from my career in funeral care and life in general,” she said. “I found him at 2 A.M. on Petfinder.com, a little black-and-white dog, staring back from the picture with one blue eye and one brown eye. I immediately thought, THIS is a dog you can talk to about death.”
She put Kermit to work immediately: The night he was adopted, he was attending his first funeral visitation and watching her prepare and cremate a body.
Later, he received more specialized training. After a local trainer, Janet Perry, taught him the basics, the dog completed his Canine Good Citizenship course at Petco.
After Kermit’s first birthday, he started weekly lessons at The Dog Alliance and, after his certification exam, became the first certified therapy dog in Funeral Service in Texas.
“Kermit has a presence. He knows who and how to approach, often looking people directly in the eye when interacting with them. When we work a funeral together, I leave him off his lead,” Unfred explains. “He will work the crowd, and greet people he is drawn to. Much of the feedback I have received is that he tends to know when someone needs him.”
She describes Kermit as her “best friend and sidekick,” and says that he helped her during a time when he suffered from social anxiety and depression.
“Kermit gives me comfort and helps me actually get out the door to networking events and potential business meetings. Before, I relied on medications. With the introduction of Kermit into my life, I no longer take these medications, and I am working on becoming more social outside of my business endeavors,” she said.
“Time and again, he brings comfort to confusion. We serve beyond our families, but the community as well,” she said. “I am so very fortunate to have him in my life.”
And for one afternoon, Parkland, Florida, was fortunate to have Kermit, as well.
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Main photo: Kermit the therapy dog in Florida [courtesy Melissa Unfred]