By Linda Shore
This is a story about the dogs of Drepung and one I named “Girlie Girl.”
If you are an animal lover, it’s hard to watch the dogs living and dying in the streets and villages of India. Dogs trot up and down the dirt roads and cement courtyards. They are the same mongrel dogs you find in Africa or Australia – small, lean, curly tailed, prick eared, short-haired, and pointy-nosed. Mix together the genetics of all the pure bred dogs that man has ever created in a gene soup, and you’ll get these dogs. The dogs, like those everywhere in India, are in terrible condition. Many of them are so flea infested that they have scratched most of their hair off their bodies and are covered with infected scabs. Females with new puppies are usually the skinniest ones, having given up all their energy reserves to nurse babies. Packs of un-neutered males patrol the roads like urban street gangs. They will often viscously attack a smaller, more submissive male that has accidentally crossed their path and leave him with permanent injuries. One poor old dog that lives in the courtyard of my guesthouse has a shriveled, broken rear leg with a missing foot. Some of the Monks leave dishes of milk out for it. The poor thing just lies in the dirt all day and every morning I expect to see that it has mercifully died. There must be several hundred dogs in Drepung, and I bet half will die of disease or starvation in the next six months.
Sometimes you see a dog that seems to have made the best of things. I named my favorite “Girlie Girl”. She is a young dog in decent shape. Her grey and brown fur has no bald spots, she has a slight limp, isn’t too skinny, and her teeth have the pearly sheen of puppy-hood. Girlie Girl greets everyone enthusiastically, dog or Monk. If you acknowledge her, she will drop her head and wiggle her whole body. Elderly Monks often drive her away with their canes and she will politely trot away only to return after a respectful amount of time has past. Girlie Girl has two best friends. Her constant doting companion is a young, red, handsome male, over twice her size that she regularly beats the crap out of when he tries to mount her. I pet Girlie Girl’s boyfriend when she allows him close to me. Her other BFF is a young female with German Shepard markings who is also larger than Girlie Girl. The three have formed an odd pack, with tiny Girlie Girl as alpha leading the way with her tail held high.
Video of G.G. mauling her boyfriend:
I feed Girlie Girl my hard-boiled egg every morning, which one of the elderly Monks really disapproves of. But then again, he has a slingshot and a bag of rocks tucked in his red robe that he regularly uses to scare off the ravens. I don’t think he likes animals. When I drink my morning coffee on the steps of the guesthouse courtyard, Girlie Girl will stay close by and gently chew my fingers. She will pull on my pant legs when she wants me to play. When I arrive at the guesthouse after my daily teaching sessions, it warms my heart to see her running down the road to greet me. Girlie Girl spends the night sleeping next to the old dog with the deformed leg, almost as if she knows he really needs the companionship.
I worry that Girlie Girl will get pregnant and shriveling away, cross paths with the pack of aggressive males, or that her limp will get worse and make her unable to care for herself. But I have learned some very important life lessons from Girlie Girl. She lives her life unconcerned about what might happen. Girlie Girl lives in the Now, and does so with all the joy she can find. She trusts everyone, yet watches her back and protects herself when the need arises. While I would love to scoop her up and take her back to Sonoma with me, I realize that the monastery is her home and where she is meant to live out her life, no matter how short that might be. I will miss her a lot.