ASD Logo

UPDATE: Compassionate Paws Grief Therapy

Apr 14, 2015

Last year, ASD attended the National Funeral Directors Convention with Debra Fry of Tipton, IA. Debra has worked in the funeral profession for more than 17 years and is the founder of Compassionate Paws Grief Therapy™. She attended the convention with ASD and her specially-trained Bernese Mountain dog, Gurt, a certified grief therapy dog. Debra was interviewed about her work with grief therapy dogs in a Funeral Pro Chat podcast ASD sponsored last year, which was recently made available on iTunes.

During the NFDA convention, attendees had an opportunity to meet Gurt and learn more about Debra’s program. A great deal of people stated how impressed they were by Gurt’s ability to remain calm and composed in such a boisterous environment. Others were treated to Debra’s demonstration of Gurt’s “inside voice.” (Click here to see a video). It was wonderful to see the joy that Gurt brought everyone who stopped by our booth, from small children to senior citizens. Many directors were curious about grief dog training and Debra provided information on the benefits it can offer to funeral homes.

“I’ve had Bernese Mountain Dogs for years. They offer to those grieving the same type of comfort that a teddy bear offers a child. They’re not an overly active dog either, so they won’t jump all over people. They are a breed that has to be involved,” Debra says. “They want to work. They are highly intelligent and eager to please. Once they get older, they acquire this uncanny ability of sensing who needs them the most.”

Debra’s Bernese Mountain Dogs, Gurt and Packer, have visited funeral homes and nursing homes to provide comfort.

Since attending the convention, Debra has worked with Marcella Boyd-Cox at E.F. Boyd & Son Funeral Home in Warrensville, OH to find and train a Bernese Mountain Dog puppy to work at the funeral home. Just this month, the funeral home officially adopted Dempsey from Debra. Prior to coming to OH, Dempsey received temperament training, completed a bio-sensor program and was micro chipped with Debra in Iowa. Debra will continue working with Marcella to provide insight into Dempsey’s training as a grief therapy dog.

Compassionate Paws Grief Therapy Puppy, Dempsey

Debra is also now working with the directors at Oaks Funeral Home in Itasca, IL and Loess Hills Funeral Homes in Carson, Glenwood and Malvern, IA. She will help these firms to establish and grow their grief dog therapy programs.

“You find therapy dogs everywhere there’s grief and pain,” Debra says. “They’re in hospitals, hospices, schools and the military. During any national crisis, the first thing they do is bring in the grief therapy dogs such as 9/11 and at Sandy Hook. Not only for those affected by the tragedy, but for those who are attending to the tragedy. When dealing with grief, even a brief distraction can be a welcome relief.”

A photo of Dempsey at the E.F. Boyd & Son Funeral Home

Research from the University of Missouri-Columbia supports Debra’s analysis. The study found that a few minutes of petting a dog can result in an increase in “feel good” hormones such as serotonin, prolactin and oxytocin. This proves that grief therapy dogs can offer both emotional and physical comfort to those suffering a loss.

We look forward to seeing what is next for Compassionate Paws Grief Therapy™ and watching the program grow. You don’t have to watch Debra interact with her dogs for long to see how truly passionate and devoted she is to this initiative. Her commitment to helping others through grief dog therapy is truly inspiring.

If you would like to learn more about Compassionate Paws Grief Therapy™ and how to adopt a grief therapy dog, visit or contact Debra directly at 319-383-4985 or

About The Author

Jess Farren (Fowler)

Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at

Loading Conversation

About the Author


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Table of Contents:

More Like This: