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Dogs as Healers
As a hospice volunteer and throughout his life, Tim Tosta has learned that dogs are more than furry companions.

By Tim Tosta

When Rob joined our Monday night Zen hospice volunteer shift at San Francisco's Laguna Honda Hospital, he brought with him Sydney, a 13-year-old border collie mix. A midsized dog at some 40 pounds, Sydney brought his attentiveness and intelligence to the bedside, without a younger dog's frenetic energy.

As I watched Rob and Sydney make their bedside calls, I began to see Sydney as a healer. With appropriate invitation, he would climb up on a bed and help an anxious resident relax, bring relief to another in chronic pain or evoke a moment of clarity and recall to a cognitively impaired resident

What we attempt to do in our work as volunteers, helping others find tranquility and connection, Sydney accomplished almost instantaneously.

As a child, my golden retriever, Tipper, offered much  that same support to me.  Later, I watched our goldens, K.C. and Carter, bring play to my children and peace to me at the end of a stressful day. They led my wife, Nancy, and me to new discoveries during Rocky Mountain hikes or in a simple walk around the neighborhood.

My relationships with dogs in my life have put me in touch with who I am and who I might become. They have offered me a bridge, connecting me to what really matters -- my  relationship to others.

Because it is dogs' nature to attend to humans, I find it almost impossible to ignore them. Since dogs also attend to things that humans often miss, they are a continuous source of information, surprise and invention. Dogs take me places where I wouldn't ordinarily go -- not just physically or emotionally, but spiritually.

Dogs amplify my awareness, stimulate my curiosity and lead me to new discoveries. Attending to my dog is like a contemplative practice which stays with me, even outside of my dog's company.

I believe that dogs bring much more to our lives than we give them credit for. If we pay attention to how they interact with the world, we can build a greater human capacity to lovingly attend to ourselves and others.

With a Perspective, I'm Tim Tosta.   

Tim Tosta is a land use lawyer and hospice volunteer in San Francisco.

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