Hoff Funeral Director Ashley Hoff-Czapleweski sits with the funeral home’s new chief comfort officer, Charlie the labradoodle, who has been with the home since April.
by LAURA HAYES
It was love at first sight.
Ashley Hoff-Czaplewski and her husband, Brandon Czaplewski, drove to Indiana to meet the eight-week-old labradoodle puppy, Charlie, for the first time. Hoff-Czaplewski started crying the first time she saw the curly-haired dog. “I got so excited when they carried him out and they said, ‘This is your puppy,’” she remembered. “I got so teary-eyed knowing the important work that lay ahead of him and how much of a difference he was going to make for people.”
Charlie, who is now eight months old, is Hoff Funeral and Cremation Services’ official chief comfort officer, providing comfort to loved ones and greeting anyone who walks through the door of the funeral home with a prance and a wag of his tail.
Several years ago, Hoff-Czaplewski’s father, Tim Hoff, heard about a funeral home that had a therapy dog. The staff tossed around the idea for a while, but it wasn’t until last year that they decided to take the leap and get a dog for Hoff. “We knew we wanted a labradoodle because they’re hypoallergenic and non-shedding, which is great for this line of work,” Hoff-Czaplewski said.
The staff found Meadow Park Labradoodles — a dog breeder based in Indiana that breeds dogs specifically so that they can become service or therapy dogs. When the puppies are eight months old, they are tested to see where they would best work. Charlie, Hoff-Czaplewski said, was selected for the funeral home and came to Winona when he was four-and-a-half months old. His trainer stayed awhile to show Hoff staff all of Charlie’s commands — “visit” means that Charlie will lay his head on a person’s lap, “snuggle” means that he’ll put two paws on their lap, and kids can “knuckle” Charlie and tap his paw with their fist.
Charlie’s primary job is to provide comfort to someone going through tragedy. When Hoff-Czaplewski and other Hoff staff first meet with families, they offer Charlie’s services. Hoff-Czaplewski explained that Charlie can sit in on meetings while they make arrangements and can be present during visitations and funerals. Staff will keep Charlie on a leash or set out his bed for him to lay on. “People can come up and pet him. Kids will lay on his bed with him and pet him,” Hoff-Czaplewski said.
So far, Charlie has had an amazing impact on families coming to Hoff. Walking into a funeral home to make arrangements for a loved one is one of the scariest things in life, Hoff-Czaplewski explained. “To see them relax just a little bit when Charlie walks out — you can see a little bit of their tensions, worries, and grief temporarily wash away. He’s a temporary distraction for them when they really need it,” Hoff-Czaplewski said. Charlie, she added, can sense what family member needs comforting and will sit at their feet or lean against them. He’s also a therapy dog for the staff. “When we’ve really had tough days and are working with families going through some incredibly tough situations, we need his therapy and love too,” Hoff-Czaplewski said.
When he’s wearing his red vest, he’s on duty, but when it comes off, Charlie is free to be a puppy. Charlie lives with Hoff-Czaplewski and her family and their three-year-old chocolate labrador Gunner. Charlie loves running around Hoff-Czaplewski’s yard with Gunner and chasing tennis balls.
Community members may see Charlie around town reading with kids at the Winona Public Library or visiting people at the hospital or nursing home. Charlie is available upon request and can be reached online at https://www.facebook.com/CharlieCuddles/, by email at email@example.com, or by calling 507-452-4241.