Category Archives: Volunteering

Dharamsala Animal Rescue – Great job!

“If the entire world sought to make itself worthy of happiness rather than make itself happy, then the entire world would be happy.”― Criss Jami, Venus in Arms

Gandhi’s suggestion, “be the change that you wish to see in the world” is something I aspire to, but am far from.

To see the terrible things, the gross injustices, the suffering in the world, and shake one’s head, is as effortless as it is useless, and something I am as guilty of as the next guy.   There are those rare individuals who see it, and will fight to make it right.   Deb Jarrett, the founder of DAR, is one of them.

The Founder:

Deb, Founder, with Shelter Dogs
Deb, Founder, with Shelter Dogs

In 2008, she volunteered at a preschool in Dharamsala, India.   The children were unforgettable, but an injured dog that she saw outside the school took her heart.   Her concern for his plight was met with indifference by the villagers.   Upon returning home to USA, she knew she needed to do everything in her power to help.   She created Dharamsala Animal Rescue (DAR) to care for injured animals, control stray dog population through birth control projects, and lead the fight against rabies.   Today, Tommy the dog, is healthy and being well cared for by the same villagers, and as remarked by a Ann, a vet from Australia, “Dharamsala strays are some of the luckiest in India”, and I have to say, having been to here many times over the last 30yrs, I wholeheartedly agree!

The Team:

The Fabulous DAR Team
The Fabulous DAR Team

“I hope he survives”, I say grimly, trying not to gag from the stench of rotting flesh, as we pull out yet another maggot from head of a dog who looks like he’s been scalped. “Of course he will, why won’t he?” says Parveen casually as we were talking about a superficial nick rather than a dog which less than 24hrs ago was about to be put down, and at once I was so proud to be a part of this amazing team that brings Deb’s altruistic endeavours to life.

They are an endearing lovely bunch, each with their own story, and their own quirky personalities, the common denominator being their deep, genuine, unconditional love for all animals.

Froggie, the lady, survived against all odds
Froggie, the lady, survived against all odds

For example Kamlesh, the assistant vet, was told to euthanize a 3 week old puppy that had been badly mauled by dogs. He had the injection in his hand when the pup looked up at him, “my heart started beating really fast and my hands started shaking, and something happened inside me, I just couldn’t do it”. He brought her back from the brink death. After that she had three nearly fatal illnesses. Her will to live and Kamlesh’s love and perseverance have seen Froggie through. She is now a gorgeous lady (she even sits like one with her legs crossed!)

The Work:

Good Moo-ning
Good Moo-ning

I’ve never looked forward to work as I do now.   Firstly the commute is infinitely more interesting and pleasurable – noise, colour and chaos abound.   One day I see an elephant in the street, another I see a drunk guy feeding strays.   A red sari, yellow sari, golden bangle, silver anklet, hooting, swerving – action packed!

The Welcoming Party
The Welcoming Party

Secondly, the reception is incomparable – a Welcoming Party eagerly awaits my arrival each morning, around 10 tails wagging, and squeals of delight.

 

And thirdly, the work, I can’t wait to get started because I’ll hopefully be a part of making a life even a little better.

My take:

In my two short months with DAR, I have seen some pretty horrific, some pretty amazing, and some pretty unbelievable things.

Karan had Pneumonia and Distemper and sadly didn't make it
Karan had Pneumonia and Distemper and sadly didn’t make it

I’ve watched heartbreakingly as two of our dogs have lost the battle to Canine Distemper, a life threating neural virus (something vaccinate stray puppies against), I’ve seen at least five dogs being put down, I’ve seen maggot infested wounds that would put you off food for days.

 

Amazing DAR guys with Miracle Sam, now walking
Amazing DAR guys with Miracle Sam, now walking

I’ve also seen a dog whose back legs were paralyzed, and who had clearly lost the will to live, not only get the spark back in his eyes, but unbelievably starting walking again (at meal times, sometimes jogging!).

Come back!
Come back!

I’ve also met some angelic human beings in the form of volunteers, donors, and guardian angels who feed the strays with no expectation of recognition or reward. I think that each day I work with them, I will learn compassion and generosity, and start to embody the change that I wish to see in the world.

Head Stuck In The Clouds

Nature does not hurry yet everything is accomplished – Lao Tzu

It has sometimes been said that I have my head stuck in the clouds, which I vehemently deny, however, this time I must concede.

When I came India, I wanted to volunteer, and trek.  Given I was based in Himalayan foothills, it would be criminal not to explore the beautiful rugged landscape all around.  One of the guys from the animal shelter I work at, Munna, is an avid trekker, who heads out every evening, and spends his only day off going for long hikes with his dog.  I had hinted at my interest to join several times, but this never amounted to invitation.  So on Sunday morning when he said “if you wanna come for a walk with us, be ready in ten minutes,” I was ready in seven.

It was a pleasant overcast day – a welcome change from the simmering heat of the past few weeks. We met up with a couple of his friends, a 50yr old man in flip flops, Sirji, who turned out to be the fittest 50yr old I’ve met, and another guy, Tenzing, thirty something, and not nearly as fit.

Silent contemplation
Silent contemplation

Soon after leaving the house were already walking on brown needles among the plentiful deodars, the scent of pine and manure in the air.  We stopped at a stream to take in the view – mountains upon mountains of lush green, with patches of terraces looking like crinkles in an emerald green carpet, some with grey scar tissue where the rock had broken free.

Bird's Eye View
Bird’s Eye View

We began our ascent, Munna and Sirji in the lead, chatting, laughing, joking, nothing giving away the fact that they were climbing 45 degree inclines with loose rocks. I walked behind, trying to work out my centre of gravity with each step, clutching at rocks and branches to reduce my chances of a perilous fall, working up a fair sweat, but feeling good that at least I wasn’t last. Tenzing brought up the rear, moaning and muttering, cussing and swearing, to anyone who could hear, to which Munna responded “don’t worry mate, all your farts will come out yet”.  This continued for at least ten of the twelve hours  – a great source of amusement.

d Tenzing enjoying a hot chai
Enjoying a hot chai at 8,000ft

Yes, that’s right, we ended up hiking up and down mountains for the better part of twelve hours, stopping along the way to make a hot cup of tea with wild mountain mint, a roti or biscuit, and watching the city become smaller and smaller, the sounds of civilisation diminishing, and the sound of tweeting birds getting louder.  As we climbed higher still, the tweeting got less.  We passed the odd goat and goatherd, but not much else.  We also came across the rare Monal, the very pretty state bird of the Himachel Pradesh (the size of a chicken, and the colours of a peacock).

Sitting on top of the world
Sitting on top of the world

There is silence, and there is silence, and when we reached the top of the mountain, there was silence. After some eight hours of determined climbing, at 10,000ft (3000mtrs), we were sitting atop a high mountain, gazing at the grey and white peaks of the Himalayan Dhauladar Range, the sun was above us, the clouds before us, birds flying below us, the city of Dharamsala far away, a little splash of non green in the distance, and all around us was silence.

Head in the clouds
Head in the clouds

It felt like having your head in a ball – vacuous silence. My head was stuck well in the clouds, and I loved it – what a feeling!

 

 

My shadow in the mist
My shadow in the mist

We all sat peacefully revelling in it. In minutes we were covered in a dense mist. It really was like being in another world. The sun had started lose it’s brilliance and fading into a warm glow.

Edge of Middle Earth
Edge of Middle Earth

One last look over the edge of Middle Earth and it was time to head back.

Making a difference

Rakkar Village

Finding a place with no address is every bit as tricky as it sounds. Dharamsala Animal Rescue (DAR), where I planned to volunteer, was simply in ‘Rakkar Village’.  I had no idea what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t this – I  could have been in a remote valley in the Swiss Alps – surrounded by lush green mountains, that were dissected by thin streams, strewn with boulders of all shapes and sizes. The water from the mountain ice melts, rushing over one stone in its haste to get to the other, making the only sound, other than the occasional cry of a circling kite.  For the first time in India, I experienced silence. It really was a truly magical place that I never knew could have existed in this populous land.

And suddenly it was over.  I looked down to see the offender – a white dog sat in the window of the lonesome building, one paw on top of the other, in a very human-esque  fashion, who I would later come to know as Froggie (more on Froggie’s story later).  On her cue, the symphony kicked off; some 5-10 different pitches and tempos of barking joined in – what a reception!

Deb with the dogs

Deb, the founder of the shelter, and a couple of staff members came rushing out to meet me, followed by a few more dogs, limping, bounding, tails wagging, they all looked so happy, and I knew at once that this was the best decision I had made in a while – It was going to incredibly rewarding working with these dogs, and these wonderful human beings who clearly loved them dearly .  “Why don’t you head out with the guys on the mobile clinic and see what you think?”.   And so begins my contribution, whatever it may be, to this charity, that inspired me.  Deb’s courage, determination, and huge heart led me here, let’s see where the road goes..