Lately I have been interning in a hospital as a chaplain. A couple days a week I have had the joy of meeting up with Tucker, the Golden Doodle Dog and working on the floor with him. Why would the hospital with its highly sterile conditions allow dogs on floors? Maybe it’s because science is finally confirming what people have known intuitively for years therapy dogs help heal people physically, emotionally and socially, and spiritually.
Most of us never think about how animals have the capacity to lead us spiritually in a variety of ways. They can teach us about death, participate in our social and moral development, enhance our physical and psychological well-being and heighten our capacity to love and to experience joy.
Animals, however, offer us a unique opportunity to transcend the boundaries of our human perspectives, they allow us to stretch our consciousness toward understanding what it is like to be different. This stretching enables us to grow beyond our narrow viewpoint. It allows us, I believe, to gain a spiritual advantage.
How can we possibly appreciate and move toward spiritual wholeness if we cannot see beyond our own species? How can we come to know God, or grasp the interconnectedness of all life, if we limit ourselves to knowing only our own kind? The goal of compassion is not to care because someone is like us but to care because they are themselves.
Any spiritual discipline, in any tradition, invites us to open our hearts and minds. This invitation represents an ongoing exercise; the desire and attempt to open to others in our midst are the essence of the spiritual process.
Trish Dick, OSB
We don't have a photo of Tucker but here's what seems an appropriate substitute - a picture of Sister Trish forming a bond with a dog on one of the dogsledding retreats she regularly leads!