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On any given day in our Ornish Sausalito office you will surely bump into a dog or two in the hallway. It’s always so heart-warming to see them right at home in the middle of the hustle and bustle of a workday. I find it relaxing and comforting just knowing they are around as part of the family.

This week I offered to take care of my ex-husband’s dog, so he could take a long needed vacation. I felt honored that he entrusted me with his beloved pet, Max, a 60lb Australian Shepard.

As the time grew close, however, my anxiety began mounting as I thought of all the responsibilities of caring for Max. The dialogue going through my head started sounding like a kid who didn’t want to eat her peas.

“I don’t want to do this!!!” “I don’t have time for this!!” “What have I done?”

 Pet owners have been shown to live longer after a cardiac event

Don’t get me wrong, I once had a dog and loved it, but to be honest I’ve gotten out of the habit of caring for pets. To be attentive to another being takes time and energy that frankly I don’t feel like I have these days. I was a bit surprised by my own inflexibility, so I decided to observe my resistance and mental chatter, trying not to get lost in it. Deep inside I knew it would be good for me, so I might as well engage with my whole heart.

There have been many studies that show how dogs help humans reduce stress. Some research demonstrates that playing with or petting an animal can increase levels of the stress-reducing hormone Oxytocin and decreases production of the stress hormone Cortisol. Pet owners have also been shown to live longer after a cardiac event.

After the first day, I found myself in the groove and in love with this big furry creature. I would get up from my desk just to pet him and talk to him. Then I would get up to feed him and let him out. Then I would get up to go play fetch. Every time I would go to my yoga mat, Max was right there with me. And I mean right there in the middle of my mat, waging his tail ready to lie on top of me the minute I was ready to practice the Cobra Pose.

After just one day, I realized that he was a loving companion, but also that I was getting up and moving a lot more than I usually do. As I brushed his thick bushy coat, I could feel the blood and energy moving more freely to and from my heart as I was sending love to my shaggy friend. What could be more healing?

As the week draws to a close, I may not be running to the shelter to become a pet owner again, but I will certainly encourage my ex husband to take more vacations so Max can have another holiday at my house.

Contributed by

Susi Amendola
Stress Management Specialist

What have you done to remind yourself of the things that have meaning for you?

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