West Reading, PA -  Eleven-month-old Vinnie might not be quite ready to assume his duties as a therapy dog for Edward J. Kuhn Funeral Home Inc., but he sure is a sweetheart.

A goldendoodle - a mix between a golden retriever and a standard poodle - Vinnie is undergoing training at the home of Jim and Mary Ann Murray of Muhlenberg Township.

Jim is an employee of Kuhn Funeral Home, which has locations in West Reading and Muhlenberg Township.

"Right now, the only ones who need therapy are my wife and me," Jim said recently at Kuhn's West Reading facility, where Vinnie was very enthusiastically greeting visitors. "He's come a long way, but he still hasn't learned how he needs to greet people when they come in. He's just way over the top with that."

The idea for a therapy dog originated after Jim and Mary Ann saw a national news report on a funeral home in New York that had one.

"My wife thought that a dog would be a great idea for Kuhn, but I said, 'Mike would never go for that,' " Jim said.

Much to his surprise, however, when Jim broached the idea to his boss, Michael Kuhn, who with his father, Edward J. Kuhn Jr., owns the business, Michael was enthusiastic.

"I didn't need much convincing," said Michael, whose family shares its home with a Labrador retriever. "A dog provides immediate comfort, and it's comfort that humans often can't provide."

Within his own family, Michael said, he sees the comforting power of their pet.

"I've seen it work first hand," he said. "When my children are bothered by something, they tend to go to the dog."

While Vinnie will be available to any family member, Michael believes he will be particularly useful when dealing with children, and also will make the funeral home setting less formal.

"Kids coming in here often are a little anxious," Michael explained. "I think that seeing that we have a dog here will provide both a distraction for them and a source of comfort."

In the past, he said, clients have asked if they could bring their own dogs along to the funeral home.

Once Vinnie completes his training, he'll be available at both funeral home locations. He's been to obedience school, and Jim works with him on a daily basis.

"We hope that by the end of the year, he'll be ready to go," Jim said.

And, while his services will be offered to families at no cost, staff members do not expect that every client will be open to having a dog around.

"We think that some families will opt to have Vinnie here," Michael said. "Others won't want him, but that's OK, too. It's up for a family to decide if they want him, and if so, when and how they want him involved."

Vinnie's first role, Jim said, will be just to sit and allow family members to pet him.

Vinnie, who was partially chosen because goldendoodles shed much less than most breeds, loves people.

"They tell me that's a really good trait for a therapy dog," Jim said. "Vinnie believes that everyone on Earth was put here to play with him."

Until he's ready to begin working, Vinnie is having a great time hanging out with Jim and Mary Ann.

He loves beer, and has been known to quaff some from Jim's glass.

He also loves to lie on the sprinkler when Jim sets it to a mist setting, and enjoys playing with Jim and Mary Ann's two young granddaughters.

He also is popular with the rest of Kuhn's employees, who have met him during Vinnie's occasional visits to the funeral homes.

"I think we're all looking forward to getting Vinnie on board and working with us," Michael said. "We think he'll be a great source of comfort for the families who want his services, and comfort is what we're here to provide."

Contact Susan Shelly: life@readingeagle.com
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