Dogs of Dharam

The Dalai Lama wisely said, “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”
Written by TJ Thompson | Photos by TJ Thompson and Hillary Levin
As a member of the press for the non-profit Technology Connection for Tibetan Nuns based in Baltimore, Maryland, I traveled to Dharamsala, India to take part in the 30th anniversary celebration of the Tibetan Nuns Project, headquartered in Seattle, Washington (

This enlightening trip included participation in four days of teachings by His Holiness. What struck me most during my trip was not the profound words I heard from the Buddhist leader of compassion, but rather the profound presence and plight of countless homeless dogs in the area.

The unpaved path getting from the airport to my hotel at the foot of the Himalaya Mountains was a winding drive through very narrow streets flanked by steep ditches. There was the constant sound of the multiple cab drivers’ high pitched horn honking along the road. “BEEP beep, BEEEP BEEP, BEEP!” The horn was not a form of road rage or an expression of anger so much as it was a warning: “Here comes a cab, get outta the way, hey move, Hey! These streets are barely wide enough for these cabs, you might get hit if you don’t get outta the way…!!” Unfortunately, many of the dogs wandering the streets don’t know the language of the horn, especially the young pups.

As I became more familiar with the area I saw dogs at every turn. Among them, at the temple where the teachings were held, I met a royal old girl who has made the grounds of the temple her domain. “Tsu” according to the locals has been the unofficial greeter and loyal supporter roaming the lawns for several years. “Puppet” as he had been dubbed due to his mangled legs, appeared to be able to function only by an angel pulling his strings to enable him to walk the streets to forage for food and water. There are many more that go unnamed, starving for food and human attention. At the end of a meal, I would ask for a “doggy bag” to pack up my leftovers, not for a later snack, but for the street dogs. These dogs showed such gratitude to the smallest display of kindness. They licked my hand after their small meal. They walked by my side rubbing their ears against my leg. I would be reminded of their failing health by the coarse, cracked dry nose that scratched the palm of my hand in a gentle nudge asking for attention. These stray dogs ask for very little.

Many of the dogs had a curious blue stripe on their head. I learned this is a mark earned after the dog had received a rabies vaccination usually given by the local rescue organization. It is a clearly visible sign that people need not fear being bit by this humble dog.

In India, rabies is an extreme health issue—so extreme, that the World Health Organization has made it a priority to end rabies in Asia by 2020. Many people die each year due to rabies infection. Either through the bite of a rabid dog or from consuming a rabid animal. According to National Animal Interest Alliance, “The scope of the stray dog problem in many parts of the world is unimaginable by American standards. Street and village dogs have always been part of the developing world’s landscape, but exploding populations and spiraling rabies epidemics have transformed this issue from a third world problem to a global public health priority.” There are animal shelters and dog rescue groups springing up throughout Asia. One such shelter is the Dharamsala Animal Rescue ( that relies solely on donations.

Many of these too young, too slow, too lame, too deaf, too old or even blind rescued pups are unintentional victims of hurried cab drivers or a community that is not well versed in the value of animal companionship. The Dogs of Dharamsala (DAR) have this small team of angels that have been making attempts to care for these amazing dogs that the majority of the locals have chosen to avoid or ignore.

DAR’s founder Deb Jarrett, went to India looking to fill a void and make a true contribution by volunteering at a preschool. However, she writes what truly got to her, “was seeing an injured and bloody dog lying in the temple where the school was held, apparently left to die. It broke my heart to watch the dog suffer—and to see how little the local people seemed to care about his condition.” She created DAR to raise awareness about the animals of Dharamsala. Puppies like “Rambo,” who was saved at the age of three months after being hit by a car and left to die. The accident gave him severe nerve damage in his front leg that an amputation was required for him to live pain free. The rescue also provides a full veterinary check, and ensures all of the dogs available for adoption are sterilized/neutered, receive rabies and basic vaccinations, as well as preventive treatments against worms, fleas and ticks (it costs $10 to vaccinate a dog or $100 to sponsor a dog in need for one year).

According to the Chinese calendar, 2018 was the Year of the Dog, with the Dog a symbol for companion and guardian. Dogs are also a symbol of loyalty, faithfulness, and willingness to fight injustice. During this excursion to Dharamsala I came away believing I had an opportunity I could share with others to take a “paws” to truly understand and practice unconditional love, by being willing to join the fight against the injustice these innocent dogs endure while also contributing to the well-being of humankind. A reminder from Baltimore to Seattle, echoing that “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.”
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