Outside the window where I’m typing it’s heavily overcast with periodic showers intensifying to a steady soaking forecast to last all night with flash flooding possible. So where did Konchog wind up? Washington’s Olympic Peninsula? The Outer Hebrides? Some dank, steel-grey port town on the north shore of the Black Sea?
Yes, high desert Arizona. Specifically Dakini Valley, our retreat spread in the Tonto National Forest where we’ll see as much moisture tonight as the area’s had in the past six months. I’m really pleased. Not only is it conducive to retreat, but this parched land is just panting for it.
I came at my teacher’s invitation, and while, as often happens at Dakini Valley, it was a bit of a karmapalooza at first, we’ve now settled into a nice, relatively low-intensity retreat rhythm. I’ve also been more extensively discussing with Jetsunma plans for a teaching visit to Mongolia next spring/summer, which would be my fondest wish come true.
I haven’t been here for an extended visit since my path hit a bit of a speed bump in 2000 and I was yanked out from Maryland for eight months of Dharma Re-education Through Labor. Saved my butt, and I’m grateful, but it took some time for the bittersweet associations to fade.
Now I’m here in contentment and joy and amazed to see the changes. This is especially true on the other side of the land from Jetsunma’s compound. There, it’s been totally customized to accommodate rescued dogs for our Tara’s Babies project and the volunteers who come to care for them.
I’ve known about this project all along, of course. It had its genesis in Jetsunma’s concerned insistence that we send teams down to New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina to rescue as many as we could of the animals stranded by the flooding, terrified and starving. Ultimately, we brought 124 dogs and six cats back here to Dakini Valley. Some were reunited with their owners, some adopted out, and some re-distributed to other no-kill shelters. We still care for 10, non-adoptable for a variety of reasons, such as being abused or semi-feral pit bulls, for example, and thus too unpredictably dangerous.
One recent morning, I took a tour of the facility as the dogs were being fed, in order to learn more, take some pictures, and glean some stories to share. I’m proud to report that the kennel was spacious and clean, the quality of the food excellent, the volunteer intimately familiar with the quirks of each individual dog as well as the characteristics of its breed, and the dogs themselves healthy-looking, exercised daily, and disciplined with just the right combination of firmness and love.
There are 40 dogs now. A number have come from a variety of ugly situations here in Arizona, a dozen from Arkansas and, recently, 10 all the way from Taiwan where one Ms. Woo, a schoolteacher, had been sheltering dogs in her schoolyard. Now retiring, Ms. Woo’s dogs would have been killed if not for her extraordinary efforts to send them to Tara’s Babies. According to a recent survey by the World Humane Society, Taiwan was accorded the dubious honor as the world’s worst country in which to be a dog.
But Dakini Valley is an excellent place to be a dog. Here my buddy Sam, a regular volunteer, loves up one of these Taiwanese rescues, named Baby. Apparently all of the puppies in Baby's litter had distemper; she's the only one that survived. Because of the illness, she walks like she's had tee many martoonies:
We’re fortunate that one of our nuns, Ani Pema, is a veterinarian. She was out for the week to administer vaccinations Here she works with Sam to give a rabies shot to Khen (no, he’s not in the same cage as Bharbie, very funny):
Khen is a really odd case. He’s an Australian Shepherd of the kind that’s strangely known as a “lethal” or “extreme” white Aussie. That is, he’s one of the one-in-four of that breed that’s born with a genetic malfunction that renders him blind and nearly deaf. Instead of isolating and neutering these dogs, some geniuses just keep right on breeding them. Khen was discovered dumped in the woods around the nearest town of Young, emaciated, scared to death by being in the wilderness with his handicaps, and covered in large fight wounds. Apparently in his panic he escaped his Tara’s Babies cage six times the first day, squeezing himself through impossibly small holes.
Now, Khen’s a transformed dog, settled and stable, and sharing a large space with another “lethal white” named Ronnie that we got from the Payson Humane Society (that’s the nearest sizable town). Here’s a close-up so you can see how their eyes are. The scrape on his nose came from crashing into something in his excitability. It was getting treatment to prevent infection.
Resident on the land is another nun, Ani Karen. She takes care of four dogs and four cats of her own, as well as helping care for the larger pack. Here, she’s taking Sebastian for a walk. Sebastian also came from Young where his “owner” traveled three weeks out of every month. His solution was to leave Sebastian massive bowls of food and water. The result was a dog suffering not only from the predictable separation anxiety, but gross obesity. We put him on a strict diet, offered lots of personal attention, and now you see what a trim, handsome boy Sebastian is now.
Though I have a low-grade phobia about dogs, for some reason I locked onto Sebastian. If I were in the right circumstances, I would adopt him in a heartbeat. Which brings me to an important point. About 30 of the 40 Tara’s Babies dogs, including Sebastian, are adoptable right now! They’re great dogs that need loving homes. They’re trained, healthy, vaccinated, neutered, clean and stable. What more could you ask for? We do screen potential owners carefully, but if you or someone you know is interested in adopting one of these fine canines, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
And, naturally, the care and feeding of 40 dogs doesn’t come cheap. Tax-deductible (for U.S. citizens)donations are always gratefully accepted and you have my word as a monk that every effort is made to keep overhead extremely low and the lion’s share of your gift goes directly to the animals’ welfare. If you’re so moved, you may make a secure online donation here, or send a check made out to “Tara’s Babies” and mail it to: Tara's Babies Animal Welfare, POB 4254, Sedona, AZ 86340. Volunteers, foster care and in-kind donations are also most welcome.
May you live long and prosper in this and every future lifetime.