I went to India with members of the KUSZ for The Whole World Is a Single Flower Conference 2011, but what I remember most about the trip were the dogs. They were not like the dogs from back home. They were gaunt and wary. They did not run up to us, tails wagging, begging for attention and handouts. They lived off the leavings of humanity, scavenging the piles of garbage on the street, sleeping in the alleyways and avoiding human contact, and ignored by humanity. These were not dogs that were selectively bred by people to meet our needs or whims. Their colors varied, but they were uniformly long legged and tailed with narrow heads and bodies and they resembled each other. Some of the dogs were nursing females, some had untreated mange, none of them looked directly at me, even though I tried to make eye contact. They shared the same space, but not as companions or pets.
I remember sitting on a bench on the grounds of the Red Fort. Near the bench was a half-opened bag, probably the remains of someone’s lunch. A scrawny, black and white, nursing female, her liter hidden elsewhere, inched her way toward the bag, her eyes riveted on me. I watched as she looked at me, her eyes tentative as if on high alert to avoid a kick. There was no aggression in them, only caution. I wondered where her liter was, and a feeling of sadness overwhelmed me as I imagined six, sausage-shaped puppies, waiting for their mother to return to feed them after her day of scavenging.
When we went to one of the many religious sites, another emaciated dog walked near us. A uniformed guard kicked the dog off the stone walkway. Several of the women in the group hovered around the dog petting it while others said “Leave it alone! Leave it alone!” as though we might be somehow contaminated by its existence. It would appear that dogs wander around, breeding randomly, asking no quarter and expecting none. But not at the monasteries. There it was different.
We walked on the grounds of a Vietnamese monastery and there were dogs, well fed and sleek, lying in the sun. When we approached they looked directly at us with curiosity, not at all like the dogs on the streets that avoided eye contact while being very conscious of our presence. And in Dharmasala it was very different too. from the other places we had visited. The dogs on the streets were well fed. I saw Tibetan refugees putting food out for them, and they would approach us without fear. There were also little, fluffy dogs that were selectively bred, were pets and carried by Tibetan women in their colorful skirts and aprons.
Robin Hoffman, Ann Miller and I attended a Puja at a Tibetan Convent. There were several dogs wandering on the grounds, friendly and well fed. We were invited into the office as two of the dogs followed us though the open door. No attempt was made by the nuns to shoo the dogs out and the animals apparently were quite used to being there. One of the nuns announced proudly that the dogs were “ brothers”. The compassion of the monastics spilled out onto the grounds and spread over the stray dogs living nearby. I continued to be awed by the monks and nuns who had dedicated their lives to the spiritual path. They have my unbounded respect and gratitude.
When I returned home I was met at the door by Misha, my son’s 60-pound Shepherd mix and Ocean, my little Corgi/Dachshund puppy. They barked, jumped up tails wagging frantically, trying to push each other out of the way to gain my attention. As I stroked Ocean’s sleek coat and rubbed her round, little belly my thoughts wandered back to the Red Fort and the black and white dog with the wary eyes. I wondered how she and her liter were faring. Kwan Seum Bosal.
– Diana Starr Daniels, PZC Member