The newest employee at Hoff Funeral Home wasn’t able to fill out an application, but he still got the job based on his people skills and big heart. Charlie is a therapy dog. This special seven-month-old labradoodle joined the Hoff staff in April as “Chief Comfort Officer,” providing comfort to grieving families at Hoff locations throughout Southeast Minnesota.
“We heard about other funeral homes using therapy dogs at a national convention a couple of years ago,” said Ashley Hoff-Czaplewski, one of Hoff’s funeral directors. “We did some research and realized it was something that we wanted to try. I’ll just say, it’s worked out better than we ever imagined!”
“Charlie William Hoff” was born in Indiana. He got his first name from suggestions via Facebook and his middle name has been used by the Hoff family for three generations. At eight weeks old, Charlie went into training to earn his therapy dog certification. It took a couple of months for him to be trained by Ultimate Canine, a company that trains service and therapy dogs nationally for places like Ronald McDonald House.
After Charlie completed his certification, his trainer brought him to Ashley’s house outside of Winona. The trainer stayed and worked with Ashley’s family for three days to get the dog acclimated to his new life. Charlie resides with Ashley and her husband, their seven-month-old son and three-year-old chocolate lab when he is not working.
“We wanted a therapy dog because we believe in the comfort that a dog can truly bring to people in crisis, in a time of need,” explained Ashley. “The way a dog can just snuggle up to you and make all your worries temporarily disappear. We see first-hand how Charlie can help a person take their mind off everything they’re going through — at least for a little while.”
Life for Charlie isn’t too ruff – (pun intended) – his work is important, and Charlie knows when he’s on duty to greet families, provide comfort during a service, and let kids and grown-ups pet him. “When he’s wearing his red vest,” Ashley says, “Charlie just knows that’s work time and he behaves accordingly. When his red vest is off – that’s play time, and Charlie can act like the puppy that he is.” Charlie’s office hours are primarily from 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. weekdays, but he is flexible to meet family needs.
“It’s amazing how Charlie knows how to comfort the ones who may need it the most,” Ashley said. “A family will come in and it can be pretty emotional. We ask if they’d like a visit from Charlie and within a short time he is making his rounds and helping to ease the pain. We weren’t sure how it would work out, but he’s got a big heart and a way with people that’s hard to explain.
Charlie is not only social, he obeys therapy commands. For example, when he is told to “visit,” he puts his head on a person’s lap. And when he is told to “snuggle,” he puts his paws on the person’s lap too. The command that the kids like best is “knuckles” and that’s when he’ll give a paw to an outreached fist. Charlie loves people and they love him. As a labradoodle, he is hypo-allergenic and non-shedding, so even people who have allergies to dogs can enjoy Charlie.
“A lot of his early training was on socialization and just getting used to being around all different kinds of people and kids, going to schools, hospitals and stores,” said Ashley. “We always ask guests if they’d like to meet Charlie first.” Guests can choose to have Charlie sit with them during arrangements, visitations and funerals.
It’s a newer trend in the funeral business and Hoff is the only one in the immediate area that employs a therapy dog. Since getting Charlie, Ashley said they’ve gotten calls from funeral homes in other states asking how it’s going. She and the other Hoff family members who work with Charlie highly recommend it and tell them “it’s an investment, but one that’s well worth it.”
Charlie has taken up a few other jobs and can be found reading with kids at the library or making special visits to hospitals or nursing homes. You can make a request for Charlie to provide comfort at your organization or to make an appearance at a funeral service or celebration.
What’s a modern therapy dog without his own email address or social media handle? Reach Charlie at email@example.com, Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/CharlieCuddles/ or call (507) 452-4241. Hoff Funeral & Cremation Service has locations in Goodview, Lewiston, St. Charles, Houston and Rushford.