There’s a softness about the symbiosis between sadhus, their un-uniformed friends and dogs . . .
. . . and monkeys.
The variety and close proximity of other animals in our daily lives here contributes substantially to the general atmosphere of robust liveliness and although most domesticated animals are as under-fed as their people nevertheless once exploitative strategies are in place, humans tend not to interfere too much in animal life.
There is a definite limit to this claim:
Organic eggs do not exist here and although there are (some) free chickens, they tend also to be scrawny individuals desperately pecking at something poisoned in one way or another.
Nevertheless, coming as I do from the so-called developed world I want to make the observation that the vast majority of local residents are able to refrain from unnecessary interference in the lives of most animals because they are themselves engaged intimately with the natural world: except for progressive well-educated moderns, the human domain lies within the arena of domesticated wild-life. This is within a context extending forty years back to when everyone walked on and around the hill bare-footed and there were very very few toilets; these forty years have witnessed a quantum leap in domestication!
Although it is noticeable that sadhus in particular are capable of empathy with other animals, and despite the transformation especially in the lives of dogs since the advent of the Arunachala Shelter, the sadhu/dog symbiosis is a curious departure from the social norm where humans generally speaking tend not to interfere in animal lives largely because they do not have relationships with animals outside of exploitation and seem in fact to be incapable of the psychological sophistication required to do so. I’m speaking of within the local folk culture here, being acutely conscious of this syndrome at present since the family who live downstairs have the idea that they are training two puppies but they don’t have the vaguest notion of how to do this apart from shouting at the baby dogs like the British Raj. This is not unusual here.
On the other hand there are local friends who value the lives of animals beyond the scope of my middle-class conditioning. Once in the squelchy thick of a monsoon JyothiMa (who sells coconuts opposite the ashram) called us excitedly into her coconut-leaf hut-home that was running a river down the centre passageway leading to the rubbish tip behind; the whole place was dripping. After slipping our awkward way towards JyothiMa’s full-moon-face at the very back, we found her indicating we bend down to witness a dry patch under a rope bed: it was full of new-born puppies wriggling like worms.
As we all know, for millennia the inhabitants of this marvellous peninsular sensed the profound psychic value of the humble cow and although you do frequently see skinny care-worn farmers switching a sick cow all the way down the main road in to the Vet Clinic, and although – if observant, you will apprehend that cows do clearly recognise that the milk we steal belongs to their calves and they do not like this, not one little bit, still the ideal human family does highly value – for ideological reasons – it’s very own cow. Nevertheless please bear in mind that Industry is Industry and no exploitation of animals by humans is without it’s dark side.
Bullocks – on the other hand – live a dog of a life!
As with the local humans, almost all the food eaten by cows is poisoned, nevertheless these benign creatures are undoubtedly much happier than their counterparts in the global mechanised livestock industry – the one factor contributing I believe more than any single other factor to the atmospheric chemicals causing the fanfare finale to KaliYuga: ClimateChange.
Since the terrain here involves a hill with substantial wilderness on the slopes and adequate semi-wilderness on the flat-lands adjacent to the slopes – all of which is enclosed and surrounded by urban development, for those if us curious about genuine wildlife there is also quite a variety nosing about in scrub and thorn-bush habitats that are mostly unthreatened by humans. Years ago I used to find evidence of Adavasi Tribal people hunting with traps but not for quite some time.
During the past few days several locals have warned me that a Tiger was sighted on the hill but this matter will re-surface in a discussion about myth. However if patient, one is not unlikely to sight Deer – maybe around twenty, I often see groups frisking away from footfalls; also there are Foxes and Jackals, Bandicoots, Frogs and Fishes in the Ponds, Porcupines, Squirrels, Snakes, Mongoose, Monitors and heaps of other Lizards, Rhesus Monkeys and Langurs and possibly others species I’ve not yet encountered.
The aristocratic Langurs used to remain aloof up on the slopes, they visibly distanced themselves from the rapscallion Rhesus, but times have changed and they can now frequently be seen intermingling and even occasionally a Langur can be seen crossing the road, even eating junk food – not at all things of the past. All this has nothing to do with KaliYuga unless groping desperately for signs.
However there is one animal matter of huge significance in this local community, a presence that has resulted in by far the most profound beneficial change of all witnessed by me in the past forty years: the Arunachala Shelter, a refuge and hospital for animals.
At present there are only lots of dogs, dogs greatly handicapped in life who are now exceedingly fortunate to receive the respect and care of this place. But sometimes there are other inmates – all four-footed siblings are welcome for refuge and treatment and the community has confidence to bring wounded, diseased, depressed, abused and neglected animals – including wild, to the Sanctuary.
Staff from the Shelter systematically bring street dogs for a makeover: bathing, de-lousing, de-worming, de-sexing, vaccinations, treatment and operations and ear-marking to record their status. They are well fed and housed with consideration and kindness; when the makeover is accomplished they are returned to their previous street-post although some smart pooches bounce right back to join the permanent happy hangers-on outside the sanctuary gate.
The makeover restores their confidence in this world and in each other also, and equips them to contribute substantially to the psychological security of this divine place.
The unprecedented potential opportunities of KaliYuga include the awareness of Unity, a global awareness of the univocal nature of life expression, of the magnificence of the Universe, the rareness of manifest Life, the preciousness of Life-as-we-know-it, and the integrity and power of what binds us as mutually interdependent, individual members of Gaia’s generation: sibling species we all are. Everything is interconnected – as you know we are related even to the Ebola virus. As a result of this evolving awareness deepening, there seems to be a karmic force behind the global upsurge in passionate intent to change the conditioned accumulation of arrogance in our species: the abusive exploitation, manipulation, degradation and neglect of other sentient beings.
So I see the remarkable influence of our Animal Sanctuary as integral to the manifesting Age of Iron; such benefits of KaliYuga far outweigh the disadvantages, the value here is priceless.
It’s primarily the dogs who have been the conveyors of profound influence in the community, but to appreciate this you will need me to briefly convey the hideous reality of their world prior to the establishment of the sanctuary. Apart from a very few watchdogs kept in abusive conditions at warehouses or rice-mills, almost all dogs were street dogs who never in their whole lives were fed a single sufficient meal and certainly never meat unless they killed a cat or found another dead dog or human. In Summer Rabies was prevalent and there were frequent times when every visible dog suffered Canine Nervous or Gastric Distemper. They were all in very bad condition. Mating season was a nightmare for all – all. Following this was the twice yearly period when starving baby animals were buffeted about, most battling to survive until death, Mother Dogs starved from pregnancy to pregnancy without a hope of recovery, male dogs fought viciously amongst each other.
The initiative of the Arunachala Shelter was courageously taken by foreigners attracted to the lodestone of the hill, so the phenomenon of the change is the result of dedicated, altruistic service to all that is, and this remains true of all those involved in this endeavour. It was and is a Herculean task of tremendous benefit.
Previously Dogs were dangerous you see, people didn’t touch them; it was sensible to keep a distance and understandable when there was fear, because to be bitten by a dog brought you into immediate and extreme danger of Rabies. After some time educated people kept private dogs in collars who were vaccinated each year and kept exclusively away from others of their species, but the vast canine majority simply suffered in plain sight.
They barked and positioned aggressively at passers-by, and snapped at feet on bicycles and bikes.
After the Shelter had been operating some time the change became perceptible, street life generally loosened up: dogs wagged their tails, people patted them, handed them biscuits, looked at them, smiled even. Gradually street dogs became attached to particular houses, shops and stalls – now almost every dwelling sports a dog or two, and they developed territorial protocol remarkably non-aggressive, perhaps since they remain mostly vegetarian.
The Arunachala Shelter is a vehicle of tremendous social transformation.