ASHRAM DOGS

Marcie Fallek D.V.M., C.V.A

“it is not how much you do, but how much love you put into the doing that matters…… We can do small things with great love.”  Mother Theresa

Anxiously, I exited the crowded store in the small town of Puttaparthi, India, where they had recently added a miniscule refrigerated section to the only ‘supermarket’ in this remote village.  Having just finished the morning leg of feeding the stray dogs, I was frantic, as I was completely out of cheese. On my way back to the hotel, I had noticed a very young female dog standing in the middle of the street, oblivious to the loud screeching of the horns of the cars and the auto-rickshaws.   Swaying with weakness, every rib protruding from her wasted form, she stood confused and unresponsive.  I had been reluctant to leave her and enter the market, fearful I wouldn’t find her again in the throng of people.  There had been no choice; she would not live another day without food. Impatiently, I rushed past the guard at the door.  He had seemed diabolically intent on holding me up, meticulously checking my receipt to verify that I was not a shoplifter.  Tearing out of the store, I ran into the street; she was nowhere to be found.   Then I noticed her a few hundred yards away.  I breathed a sigh of relief.

Without a knife to cut through the heavy plastic packaging of the cheese, I hastily tore it with my teeth and began biting off small chunks.  She had the softest brightest eyes, startling in contrast to her emaciated body.  When I tried handing her the pieces, she backed away warily, never taking her eyes off of me; so I lightly tossed the cheese at her feet.  She sniffed it, and gingerly tried to take it into her mouth. Not having eaten in a very long time, it seemed as if she had lost the ability to chew. Slowly she began to eat the pieces lying before her.  As I neared the end of the pound of cheese, she began to take it from my hands.

The next day, I was thrilled when I found her again. She was noticeably stronger!  The protein and fat from the cheese, had given her strength.  That was exactly what I had been hoping for.  When I saw the dozens of stray dogs rooting around in the garbage dumps for scraps, I observed that the prize was usually pieces of stale bread, white rice and curry.  This was the garbage that the restaurants dumped into the vacant lots every evening for the poor. These unfortunate canines had in all likelihood never eaten meat or any kind of animal protein in their lives.  All the dogs seemed to be under two years old.  They probably didn’t live long after that.

The joy that I experienced feeding these dogs cannot be described.  The connection that I felt to them, the sense of purpose, left no room for the anxieties, doubts, and worries, that usually crowd my mind.  Somehow, my little sense of ego dissolved into the urgency of the moment and I felt at peace.   I cannot change their lot, but I could bring them a daily dose of joy, hope, and loving kindness.  Although these were feral dogs, never having known the love and security of a family, they behaved like perfect ladies and gentlemen.   Despite their starved condition, they surrounded me, sitting patiently as they awaited their turn to take the bit of cheese delicately from my hand. Their gaze was continually fixed upon mine, their eyes bright with expectation with their tails hesitantly wagging.  One or two of them could be a bit greedy and try to grab or to push another dog away, but with a only gentle reprimand, they fell into line.  Occasionally when one would become frightened and run off as a dominant dog approached, I would throw the cheese their way.  This seemed to scare them more, which made me very sad.

I love them all:  mangy, skinny, ears torn off from battles over turf and food, I cannot differentiate between them.  In their eyes, I see God.

One I call the monkey dog:  he spends all the day under a big tree where the monkeys gather.  He is a rather plump fellow  (lucky him), but totally bald from mange. He is fascinated with the monkeys, barking and barking at them, just like my dogs do with squirrels.  He takes the cheese thrown at him, but goes right back to barking at the monkeys.

A favorite pair that I met on the road to my hotel was a big spotted male and a small delicate golden brown female.  They seemed to me a couple, like Lady and the Tramp, inseparable companions.  As I stretched out my hand to offer the cheese to the male, he became demanding and vocal and howled for the food.   In truth, it was all about love. After he ate, he kept pushing himself into my leg, wanting to be near me, overflowing with gratitude.   Both Tramp and his girlfriend stayed right by my side, licking my hands as they followed me down the path.

A very holy experience for me was the day I discovered a deserted field, behind the sheds in the ashram, a place that was obviously the ‘cave’ of the dogs.  There were about twenty of them resting in the shade, in the shallow ditches that they had dug for themselves. As I approached, they barked territorially and ferociously.   Love has no fear.   Softly, I called them over, offering them cheese.  Within seconds, they were all docilely awaiting their turn.  They became my friends.  When workmen drew near to watch the unusual scene, my canine companions ran towards them barking protectively.  It was exquisitely moving to me that these wild dogs, frequently abused by many of the Indians, had the same sweet loving dispositions as my own dogs.  I used to think that street dogs were different, like street people.  But no, we are all the same.  Although outwardly they looked like train wrecks, they were open and trusting, wanting only food and affection.  It is nothing short of a miracle that despite being treated so poorly, they still had so much love in them.

My joy was in the giving.  I expected nothing in return. But how it fills my heart to see them happy!

“it is not how much you do, but how much love you put into the doing that matters”

“We can do small things with great love.”

These are two of my favorite quotes of Mother Theresa gleaned from the books lining the sacred bookcase in my bedroom. Their centering presence calms the swirling agitation of my mind and my life.

We may not have millions of dollars to donate to charity, or be in a position to build hospitals or schools.  We may not have careers that afford us the opportunity to make Herculean impacts on the lives of many.  One’s occupation, what status a person achieves in life, how many awards won, or how much money one earns, has very little meaning, I believe, when it comes time to tally up our credits and debits at the completion of our lives.  The world is God’s stage, and each one of us is as important to the play as the next.  In whatever role, no matter what the outer circumstance has been assigned to us in this cosmic drama, we all have the opportunity to give love and compassion to those beings surrounding us. Every role in a play is essential, a king is no more important than a servant.  It is how well we perform the part that has been assigned us that counts. As it says it the New Testament, it is harder for a rich man to get to heaven than for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.  Any mother would know, that it is the love behind the awkward handwriting of their child or the effort made behind the simple home made gift that will touch her heart, much more than the expensive store bought gift carelessly given.  It is the heart that touches us and touches God.

I freely admit that I am much influenced by my 40 years of studying, and struggling to put into practice Eastern mysticism.  I do understand that without a belief in reincarnation and karma, it is difficult to make sense of the suffering that we see around us. But even as a very young child, I understood that money did not bring happiness.  It was love that I craved, that I believe we all crave.  We typically seek it from the material world, in the form of a partner or recognition from the world for our talents. Perceived love can take the form of  awards, the association with so called VIPs, money or the possession of expensive homes and cars.   All the prizes or material wealth in the world cannot bring us happiness. Desires and their subsequent fulfillment, generates only more desires.

It seems to me that love and happiness are interchangeable.  That fact that love is our true nature has been proclaimed by the sages for eons.  Our mistake is seeking it from the outside. Love comes and grows by giving it. Like St. Francis said,  “it is by giving that we receive.”    The source of Love is actually within ourselves.  It is like Dorothy’s red slippers in the Wizard of Oz.  We have it all already. All that we seek is already there.

Here is a beautiful little story that bears sharing:

The Good Fairy’s Secret

One day, a young orphan girl was feeling exceptionally sad and lonely, because she had no family and no one to love her.  She was walking through a meadow and noticed a small butterfly caught on the thorny branches of a bush.

The butterfly struggled to get free, but the thorns kept cutting into its slender body and fragile wings.  The orphan girl carefully pulled away the branches and the thorns, one by one, until the pretty butterfly was freed.

Instead of flying away, the little butterfly changed into a beautiful fairy, right in front of the little girl.  The orphan girl rubbed her eyes in disbelief.

“For your wonderful kindness,” the good fairy said, “I will grant you any wish you like.”

The little girl thought for a moment, then said, ”I want to be happy!”

The good fairy replied, “Very well,” and leaned toward the little girl and whispered a secret in her ear.  Then pouf!  the good fairy vanished.

As the little girl grew, no one in the land was as happy as she.  Everyone asked her the secret of her happiness.  She would only smile and answer, “The secret of my happiness is that I listened to the advice of a good fairy when I was a little girl.”

Eventually the little girl grew very, very old, though her face still beamed with happiness.  As she neared her time of passing out of this world, her neighbors gathered around her bed, afraid that her fabulous secret of happiness would pass away with her.

“Tell us, please,” they begged. “Tell us what the good fairy said.”

The lovely older woman simply smiled and said, “She told me that everyone—no matter how secure they seem, no matter how old or young, how rich or poor—had need of me.  So I do as much good as I can, whenever and wherever I can.””

Sathya Sai Newsletter, USA Vol. 34, No. 5 September/October 2010

Marcie Fallek D.V.M., C.V.A

© 2011 Marcie Fallek. All rights reserved. No part of this chapter may be reproduced.

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