Dogs as Healers

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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.