Meet Lady: The Funeral Home Dog Who Turns Grief to Hope

How an adopted senior pet is helping to heal the hearts of those who have lost loved ones.
By: Diana Bocco
The funeral home dog turning grief into hope

It was February 2014 when Doug Wagemann first met Lady. Doug, who runs Cochrane & Wagemann funeral home in Roseville, Calif., was helping a family make arrangements for the funeral of a couple in their 80s who had died within days of each other.

“When they showed up to the funeral home to finalize arrangements, they asked if they could bring in the couple’s dog, since they didn’t want to leave it in the car,” Wagemann says.

Once in the office, Doug closed the door and gave the family permission to let Lady out of the carrier. “In the middle of the meeting, I felt some light scratches on my pant leg,” Wagemann says. “I looked down and I saw this tiny little teacup poodle shaking and wanting me to pick her up, so I reached down and picked the little bundle up and placed her in my lap.”

Turns out Lady had been the deceased couple’s baby for over nine years and now they were gone. As the meeting continued, Wagemann remembers Lady leaning into him, placing her little head on his arm and going to sleep.

“As she did this, a feeling of compassion swept over me and I unconsciously began to bond with her, stroking her little head and saying things like ‘It’s going to be OK,’” Wagemann says.

As the meeting came to an end, Wagemann began asking about Lady and what the plans were for her.

“The family all stated that none of them were going to be able to take the dog for various reasons and that they were going to see if they could find a home for her,” Wagemann says. As crazy as it seems, he admits that he had already started to build a bond with Lady. “I felt sorry for the little peanut,” he said. “She had lost everything and was in obvious grief and fear.”

While Wagemann wasn’t looking for a dog, he told the family to give him a call before they made any final decisions. “As I look back at it now, the next three days were the longest days of my life as I was constantly thinking about the dog,” Wagemann says. “But on day three, I received a call from the family. They had taken a vote and decided that I could adopt her.”

Lady Finds a New Purpose

When Wagemann first brought Lady home, she was cautious and unsure of her surroundings, but that didn’t last long. She soon made friends with Wagemann’s three cats and picked her favorite spot on top of the family room couch so she could survey her surroundings. At night, though, Wagemann says she would sometimes whimper in her sleep.

“It was at those times I would reach down and hold her, letting her know she was safe,” Wagemann says. “Many times, she would lick my hand and go back to sleep.”

From the first day, Lady loyally followed Wagemann around and wanted to be close to him all the time, so he decided to take her to work.

“From the very beginning, she fit in and met our families at the front door,” Wagemann says. “Given the fact that no one wants to walk through our front door, she is a welcome sight and comfort to those grieving loss, especially when they hear her story.”

In fact, many family members are drawn to her, picking her up and holding her. Lady, who seems to sense their need, will lie down on their laps, place her head on their arms, and fall asleep while she is gently petted.

Over time, Lady has become something of a local celebrity in Roseville. “She’s been on TV three times in the last year and even walks the Red Carpet at various fundraising events that support senior pet adoptions and rescues,” Wagemann says.

“She is a welcome sight and comfort to those grieving loss, especially when they hear her story.”

When asked about what it was like adopting a senior dog, Wagemann says he has no regrets.

“Adopting Lady has certainly changed my life for the better,” he said. “She is a wonderful little girl who calms me down when I am anxious, just by holding and petting her.”

The same can be said of the people who come to Wagemann’s funeral home, who find that the presence of this tiny dog can help heal the heart.

“It has been a wonderful experience taking in a small, older dog who lost everything and ‘repurpose’ her life [so that she can] experience everything and help others at the same time,” he says. “I like to think that Lady has a special talent and senses when people need a gentle touch or extra attention. She gives back freely and selflessly.”