Kota the comfort dog with his handler outside Moloney's Hauppauge Funeral Home (Long Island Press photo)

As grief-stricken family members accept condolences and say goodbye to a loved one at Moloney’s Hauppauge Funeral Home, in walks someone unexpected to help ease their heartache: Kota the comfort dog.

The Moloney family, which runs seven funeral homes on Long Island, bills itself as the first funeral home on LI to house a certified therapy dog to help families cope with loss, although others are training pups to do the same work.

“Kota made me feel really good,” says one woman who had services for a loved one at Moloney’s. “He sat next to me the whole time. He’s really such a good dog.”

Hundreds of organizations nationwide train comfort dogs and their use at funerals is part of a new trend, according to the American Kennel Club, which oversees the Canine Good Citizen program.

Kota, a Labrador/Weimaraner mix with short black fur and yellow eyes, was rescued from a shelter in Arkansas several years ago. Impressed with his smarts and docile nature, the Moloney family signed Kota up for comfort dog training. Wantagh-based Sublime K-9 Dog Training tested Kota in May, and he passed. The funeral staff asks families if they want Kota to join them for 20 minutes during the first part of visitation.

“I’ve had people call and they’ve asked for him,” says Peter Moloney, co-owner of the funeral homes. “It brings a completely different dimension … unlike I’ve ever seen before. I’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s a very unique experience for the families.”

Therapy dogs can reduce stress for individuals of all ages, offsetting the effects of anxiety for those in mourning. Suffolk County SPCA Chief Roy Gross recalls how his former comfort dog, Cody, soothed first responders at Ground Zero after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

“We know how well it works,” Gross says. “You have a bad day, you come home and you know that your dog is gonna sense that … you’re sad, you’re stressed, and it’s like an immediate stress relief. Your blood pressure drops, you just feel better having that pet there.”

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Timothy Bolger is the Editor in Chief of the Long Island Press who’s been working to uncover unreported stories since shortly after it launched in 2003. When he’s not editing, getting hassled by The Man or fielding cold calls to the newsroom, he covers crime, general interest and political news in addition to reporting longer, sometimes investigative features. He won’t be happy until everyone is as pissed off as he is about how screwed up Lawn Guyland is.