Therapy dog brings comfort and cuddles to grieving families in Bentleyville

March 14, 2017
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Photo courtesy of Randi Marodi
Bernie, a goldendoodle puppy, wears his Therapy Dog in Training vest as he makes himself at home at Thompson-Marodi Funeral Home Inc. in Bentleyville.
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Photo courtesy of Randi Marodi
Charlene Bozovich of Bentleyville pets Bernie during a visitation in February.
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Photo courtesy of Randi Marodi
Tim Marodi, owner/supervisor of Thompson-Marodi Funeral Home Inc. in Bentleyville, teaches Bernie how to sit.
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Photo courtesy of Randi Marodi
Bernie watches Tim Marodi, owner/supervisor of Thompson-Marodi Funeral Home Inc. in Bentleyville, as he stands by a casket.
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Photo courtesy of Randi Marodi
Bernie sits by Tim Marodi as he answers the phone at the funeral home.
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Denise Bachman / Observer-Reporter
Abby Marodi, left, and Kate Marodi, whose idea it was to bring a therapy dog into the funeral home, pose with the family’s dogs, Megan and Bernie, in Thompson-Marodi Funeral Home Inc. in Bentleyville. Order a Print
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Photo courtesy of Randi Marodi
Bernie greets Mark Damich of Bentleyville during his first visitation in February. Bernie was just 9 weeks old.

BENTLEYVILLE – All it took was one Facebook post for the newest member of the Marodi family to win the hearts of those who are grieving the loss of a loved one.

Bernie, a tan goldendoodle puppy, is a therapy dog in training at the Thompson-Marodi Funeral Home Inc. in Bentleyville, and his sole job is to make mourners feel better.

So far, he’s doing a bang-up job.

During a visitation shortly after Bernie made his debut on Facebook, a woman inquired about Bernie’s whereabouts.

“I brought him down for 10 minutes, and in just those 10 minutes, he had a huge impact – and he wasn’t even doing anything,” said Randi Marodi, who, along with her husband, Tim, own the funeral home.

“I took him over, and it was amazing. He was very calm,” Randi said. “It helps people forget they are in a funeral home for a few minutes. Our main goal is to make it a little more comfortable for people and less stressful.”

Bernie has even endeared himself to the employees. “This is a sad business,” Randi said.

Studies show that animals can reduce tension, improve moods and provide a calming influence – even at funeral homes, where just stroking a dog’s fur sometimes can be enough to bring comfort to those in mourning. Not only can Bernie spend time with family and friends during visitations, he also can sit with family members while they make funeral arrangements.

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Bernie sits by Tim Marodi as he answers the phone at the funeral home.
Photo courtesy of Randi Marodi

Bernie joined the Marodi family after Tim and Randi’s youngest daughter, Kate, who is a freshman at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, provided some persuasive arguments – and video footage.

“It started last year. Kate wanted a dog,” Randi said. “We said no because she was going off to college.”

Besides, they already have a dog, a 14-year-old dachshund/beagle mix named Megan.

But Kate was determined, and even though she admits that “it started off that I just wanted a dog,” once she turned to social media and learned that dogs have the ability to change people’s lives, she thought it would be a good idea to bring a dog into the family business.

“When I’m walking around IUP, anytime I see a dog, I want to pet it,” Kate said.

Then she watched a video about Lulu, a goldendoodle who has “worked” at the Ballard-Durand Funeral & Cremation Services in White Plains, N.Y., since May 2015, after its president, Matthew Fiorillo, experienced firsthand how a therapy dog eased his tension after one of his flights was canceled.

“A wave of calmness washed over me, and after it happened, I was like, wow, that was really powerful,” Fiorillo told “TODAY.”

Kate pitched the idea to her older sister, Abby, who is a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, where, Abby said, therapy dogs are brought to the Cathedral of Learning once a week, and she got on board immediately – and their mom wasn’t far behind.

Then Kate showed her dad the video.

“He watched it and was like, ‘That’s interesting. You girls research it,’” Randi said. “That was the green light for all of us.”

Their research led the Marodi women to Yankee Doodles and Poodles, a small breeder of goldendoodles and standard poodles in Avella, owned and operated by Robin Martin and Pat Genellie.

Macaque in the trees
Abby Marodi, left, and Kate Marodi, whose idea it was to bring a therapy dog into the funeral home, pose with the family’s dogs, Megan and Bernie, in Thompson-Marodi Funeral Home Inc. in Bentleyville.
Denise Bachman / Observer-Reporter

Martin and Genellie started breeding goldendoodles, which are a mix of golden retriever and poodle, when they were unable to find one in the area. They both had bred golden retrievers in the early 1980s, and they both worked for veterinarians. Their pups are raised in their homes, and are socialized with children and and other pets.

Goldendoodles have the perfect temperament for therapy dogs, Randi said, because golden retrievers are content to sit, and poodles are very intelligent. In addition, they aren’t afraid of big crowds, they are hypoallergenic, and they do not shed – a big selling point in the Marodi household.

“I was reluctant at first,” Tim said. “I didn’t want another dog in the house, and I was worried about how a dog would be received. After they gave me the details, I thought it would be a great addition.

“Plus, I wanted another male in the house,” Tim joked.

And it’s obvious Tim and Bernie have bonded. Bernie spends his days with Tim in his office, where a pillow and blanket are tucked under Tim’s desk.

Macaque in the trees
Bernie greets Mark Damich of Bentleyville during his first visitation in February. Bernie was just 9 weeks old.
Photo courtesy of Randi Marodi

Since Tim and Randi own the funeral home, they can continue to use Bernie as a member of the “staff,” even though he is not certified – at least not yet. He even wears a blue vest emblazoned with “Therapy Dog in Training.” His services are free, and his presence is by request.

Once Bernie has all of his vaccinations, Randi would like to enroll him in puppy obedience school at Misty Pines Pet Company and Dog Park in Sewickley to prepare him for Therapy Dog International Certification so that he can spread even more joy throughout the community, such as hospitals and nursing homes. The librarian at Bentleyville Public Library already has asked if Bernie could become a reading “tutor.”

“I’m so glad Kate came up with the idea and Tim was receptive,” Randi said. “So many times, funeral homes are so traditional. I don’t think it would have worked 15, 20 years ago. In the past 10 years, people have become more pet-oriented.

“I never wanted another dog, but I’m glad we have him now.”

Denise Bachman is an award-winning journalist and veteran of the Observer-Reporter. She joined the staff in 1981 as a sports writer after graduating from Penn State University with a degree in journalism. After working in various capacities, she has served as the managing editor of production and lifestyles editor for the past several years.

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