Post written by Sofia
A flurry of events drove me back home, to Marin County, CA, in September of 2015. My seasonal job on the East Coast had ended, and I was not sure what step to take next. My now boyfriend (then best friend) took a job in the Bay Area. Then I got the call that my dad had cancer. So home it was.
I imagined my role as a caretaker once I got home. Making meals and driving to the hospital. Making sure prescriptions were taken and comfort given. But it turned out that my dad was, for the most part, active and healthy enough to care for himself for much of his time in chemotherapy. It turned out that my role as caretaker really meant my role as friend and daughter, a role I had not been in (truly lived in and rested in) since I left for college at 18.
We chatted. We went for coffee. We did the crossword puzzle and jumble each morning. But mostly we fostered dogs. 13 of them, actually. It started with Spot, a black and white pitbull mix, who was all licks and sprints. He wore me out, but he gave my dad life. There was no moment at home that was without the comfort of this beautiful and strong animal.
Spot was adopted by a wonderful woman, and we were somewhat shocked at his departure (although at no point was there a realistic plan to keep him, with my dad's health as it was, and my mom's ever-prescient resistance, as it was). A week passed, and it turned out that we were ok. That we were glad for Spot to have a new home. It turned out we were ready for another dog. And then another. Keeping each one until they found their new forever homes.
My family spent a winter with these wonderful dogs, each one presenting a new challenge and opportunity for growth as we learned to love them, and then to gracefully give them to their new owners. The service that I imagined bringing to the household seamlessly shifted into our serving others for our own healing, as my dad chugged through his chemotherapy (he's now in remission) and I focused on staying healthy with walks that had a purpose beyond burning calories, feeling for a soft stomach of fur when I felt anxious, rather than going back to my disordered eating tendencies.
Working with shelter animals is now a part of my life (I adopted Jake this past October, and foster whenever I can). The give and take of service is not selfish, but an aspect that keeps the practice sustainable and exciting. Service led to health not just for me - recovering from an eating disorder, but fostered mental health in my dad.