Ernie: A Funeral Home Therapy Dog’s Story of Love & Service

Dale and Jodi Clock adopted Ernie in July of 2007.  They had been looking for a second

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Ernie – Just a few days old.

therapy dog for their funeral home, as Max, their then therapy dog, was both getting older and being requested to be present at our other locations. It was their hope that Max would have been able to act as a mentor to Ernie and assist with showing him the ropes.

The week before Ernie was scheduled to come to his “furr-ever” home, Max died as a result to kidney failure. Ernie had big paws to fill! Not only did he fill, them – he solidly blazed his own trail. There was no doubt he barked and wagged his tail to his own beat.

From that day Ernie became part of both the Clock’s personal family, and the Clock Funeral Home family. At the age of 12 weeks, he rarely missed a day going to work. He had several beds, toys and water bowls under employee’s desks or in their offices throughout the facility so he could explore and learn the footprint of our 40,000 square foot building in downtown Muskegon. Each day he would look not only to his parents (Dale & Jodi), but to the Clock employees for assistance in potty training, finding his way back to the front office, and worked the system for treats.

It wasn’t long until Ernie figured out that the mailmen, UPS drivers

Born to be wild! Four years later posing on the same Harley.

and Fed Ex team also brought tasty treats too! Regardless of what was taking place, he knew the sound of their vehicles and would race to greet them at the door, walk with them to the office, follow them to the restroom and wait at the door until they appeared again, then walked them back to the front door. It didn’t take long for him to realize that when he did this, he received a two treats, rather than just the one when they came in.

Ernie was a slow learner when it came to earning his certification for being a therapy dog. In the initial phases of training, he was easily distracted, more interested in exploring and playing then learning the required behaviors to receive the designation. He was in training for a couple of years before he actually passed the requirements.

Prior to his certification, Ernie remained active in helping heal families within our funeral home and community. He would go visit the local schools to help teach them what working dogs do, as well as acclimate students how to meet and greet an unknown pet, to avoid a biting situation.

Not only was Ernie a familiar face in the community, he was a familiar face with one of our local hospices. He had a few fans that requested him on a regular basis to come and visit them in their final days. Outside of making visits to hospice, he was also on call for in-home hospice visits. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for Ernie to provide not only tail wags and kisses for the patient, but also the patient’s family members. There were times when Ernie and the family would simply play, which enabled the family to laugh and smile during a tumultuous time.

Ernie and Jodi leading the walk on the “ruff ruff” route.

He also become the face for Clock Timeless Pet’s partnership with The Scholnik Healing Center and Mercy Hospice’s annual community fundraiser called “People, Pooches & Picnics.” This event raised money for hospice via an organized community walk for people and their leashed pets ending with a picnic at the Scholnik Healing Center. This event has become so successful that a by-product of this year’s event was a new program called the “Furr-Ever” re-homing trust. The premise of this is to raise money for animals who parents are in hospice care and need to be re-homed, rather than go to a kill shelter. Ernie’s legacy will live on through this program.

Ernie was most attached to his dad Dale. It wasn’t uncommon for Ernie to be at Dale’s side during a family’s arrangement conference, be present at the gathering or visitation and finally attend the funeral. In fact, there were times that Ernie would join Dale walking up the isle to dismiss families when a funeral had ended. It was the rarest occasion when Ernie wasn’t present at an arrangement conference or a visitation.

Ernie did however have one big fear – loud noises or gunshots. This fear was not a result of thunderstorms, he connected it with our Veteran clients who received their military rights at the end of their funeral service. Somehow, Ernie knew that when people came into the facility dressed in a military uniform, the gunshots would follow. The minute he saw any of the good military volunteers enter the building, he high tailed it to the farthest end of the building and hide under someone’s desk. He would only come back to the front after the twenty one gun salute was over and “Taps” was played. This was quite disappointing to the retired military volunteers as they loved Ernie. They would always bring treats and sometimes a special toy for him to try to let him know that they were good guys who were just honoring a fallen comrade.

Ernie loved making doggie snow angels!

When Ernie wasn’t working, he went home with Dale and Jodi. At home, he was just one of the herd. He knew the difference between being at home and working. When he was home, his favorite pastimes included long walks, terrorizing the cats, doing doggy snow angels and barking at the sliding glass door. He also loved to go for car rides, especially to the family cottage in South Haven. He had the ride timed out and knew exactly when the car was transitioning from the highway to the entrance ramp. When this occurred he would always jump up, insist that the window go down and he took in the smells of Lake Michigan. He knew that when he was at the cottage, the walks were longer and more frequent. (He also knew that he would most likely be selecting a treat from the local pet bakery downtown.)

In the prime of his life, he was stricken with lymphoma. The timeline from discovering the onset of an illness, receiving a diagnosis and his death was less than ten days. During that time Ernie only acted ill one day. That was the day he died. Ernie, to his core was a true therapy and comfort dog. In his final few moments while taking his last few breaths, he was licking my tears away as if he was telling me, “It’s okay – I’ll be waiting for you and dad when it’s their turn to join me at the Rainbow Bridge.

A memorial service was held to honor “Ernie Clock,” Clock Funeral Home’s Therapy Dog, on Thursday, February 12, 2015 at 6:30 p.m.at Clock Funeral Home’s Muskegon Chapel on Peck Street in Muskegon. This service was open to the community. Many people and their leashed pets came to honor Ernie’s life.  In retrospect, Ernie’s life brought comfort, tail wags and doggie kisses to over 2,200 families who Clock’s had the honor of serving. His legacy will live on, through the stories that will be told by those he helped make a bad day, just a litter better.

Ernie left behind his parents Dale and Jodi, his sisters Kellie, brother Brett and his wife Kelly, Nephew Gavin  and four legged siblings Lucy (a neurotic Pomeranian), Dutchess (a blind deaf sheltie), Tinkie, Yama and Stevie (all Siamese) cats.

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11 thoughts on “Ernie: A Funeral Home Therapy Dog’s Story of Love & Service

  1. Tears …
    So sweet he was licking your tears as he left this place. He was telling you it is okay indeed! I am sure that he has rejoined Max over the rainbow bridge and met lots of new friends as well. There may even be a few cats there he is terrorizing too. Our Pumpkin recently passed, perhaps they met there too.
    Much love he was an amazing dog indeed that comforted and brought joy to so many.

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  2. What a lovely story! I’ve been to the Clock Funeral Home in Muskegon several times and worked as a volunteer for a local Hospice too, mostly sitting vigil. Unfortunately, though, I never met either dog. It would have given me great pleasure to see this. Thanks for all that you do to bring comfort to so many families. Peace

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  3. What an amazing dog with an even more amazing life. What a perfect life to be a funeral home therapy dog providing comfort to those in need. But, I wonder if there were any that didn’t want a dog involved? There is always someone. I think a funeral home therapy dog should be mandatory. Sandra and Dolly

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  4. I’m sitting here crying while reading Ernie’s story. What a special little dog he was. How interesting he learned to associate the loud noises with military because of the gun salute. Thank you for sharing the story of this amazing dog.

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  5. Oh what a lovely tribute to Ernie! My condolences and thoughts are with you for your loss of your beloved family member and community hero! What a lovely legacy he left behind. Thanks for sharing such a personal testimony and video tribute. RIP Ernie. He may not be here in the physical but his love and spirit live on forever.

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  6. What an amazing story, thank you for sharing. You were so blessed to have in your life and share Ernie, he was a real hero in my eyes, am sitting here with tears and in awe. Service dogs bring so much comfort to those that need them in their darkest hours and he was an angel, a light showing them that there is a light in the dark.

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  7. Wow, what a great and sad story. I love the idea of a funeral therapy dog and a dog funeral. It must have been such a shock to only have ten days from diagnosis until Ernie passed. I find that dogs that work with us bring so much meaning and enjoyment to our jobs–and make it much harder when they die. Since he died over two years ago, I hope you have gotten and trained another therapy dog.

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  8. Awwww, what a sweet tribute. ❤ I am a huge fan of dogs having jobs. How many lives must Ernie have touched?! So wonderful! Thank you for sharing Ernie's story. ❤

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