IN­SPIRED BY IN­DIA How to truly nd your­self in a far off land.

In the Moment - - Contents -

Ex­pect­ing to ‘find her­self’ by vol­un­teer­ing for an an­i­mal char­ity in Pushkar, In­dia, Jo Carnegie

learned other lessons in­stead…

N ovember 2014. I was one month into a three-month stay vol­un­teer­ing for a street dog char­ity in In­dia. Back in London I had a lovely life, I was earn­ing good money and, as a hap­pily sin­gle 38-year-old woman, I was en­joy­ing the free­dom to do what I wanted. But I’d started to get bored just think­ing about me. On a hol­i­day to In­dia a few years ear­lier I’d been very a ected by the plight of the street dogs, so one evening I hit Google and came across a char­ity in Ra­jasthan, called Tree of Life For An­i­mals (TOLFA). They were look­ing for vol­un­teers so I ap­plied. To my sur­prise (and slight alarm) some­one got straight back to me. A few weeks later I came home a lit­tle bit drunk from a night out and booked my ticket.

In­dia is an as­sault on the senses, let alone vol­un­teer­ing at a char­ity there. TOLFA is a shel­ter and vet­eri­nary hos­pi­tal ded­i­cated to the res­cue and care of In­dia’s vul­ner­a­ble an­i­mals. Many of the dogs there were in a shock­ing state, yet I was bowled over (quite lit­er­ally some­times) by how a ec­tion­ate they were. I was a nur­tur­ing vol­un­teer and it was my job to cud­dle or­phaned pup­pies and spend time in the ken­nels giv­ing TLC.

One af­ter­noon I came into the main o ce for a chai (tea) break, when I spot­ted a card­board box by the desk, con­tain­ing what looked like a pile of old blan­kets. Then I saw a pair of am­ber eyes look­ing up at me and the tiny crea­ture swad­dled up inside. There was some­thing about that di­rect gaze that made me feel an in­stant con­nec­tion.

Kneel­ing down, I care­fully lifted the puppy out. He was lthy and skinny, his shriv­elled back legs dan­gling limply be­neath him. TOLFA’s res­cue truck had been out an­swer­ing an­other call when they’d spot­ted him ly­ing by the side of the road. He was only a few months old and very weak, but his spirit was un­mis­tak­able. We called him Pe­dro, or ‘Wee Pe­dro’ as he be­came known to me.

I’d al­ready met lots of paral­ysed dogs at TOLFA – road tra c ac­ci­dents in In­dia are com­mon. Pe­dro’s con­di­tion was some­thing he’d prob­a­bly been born with. Not that he let it stop him! Within hours of ar­riv­ing he was shu ing around at high speed in the thick of the ac­tion.

Every­one loved Pe­dro, but he and I had a special bond. He would fol­low me ev­ery­where, of­ten sit­ting on my foot so I’d know he was there. I loved his ‘can-do’ at­ti­tude and pos­i­tiv­ity. Even when he strug­gled phys­i­cally, he'd just pick him­self up and try again.

Pe­dro was gre­gar­i­ous, but he also had an in­nate wis­dom. In the be­gin­ning he de­pended on me to help him. As time went by, it be­came the other way round. When

I was feel­ing home­sick or over­whelmed we'd go and sit in our favourite spot in the sun. Each time I held him I was re­minded how frag­ile he was, yet there was such com­po­sure to him and a deep calm­ness would come over me, a mo­ment of peace and still­ness amongst the chaos and colour. My trip to In­dia had also been the prover­bial ‘ nd­ing my­self ’ mis­sion. I’d thought I’d nd en­light­en­ment through the teach­ings of some guru, or at the top of a moun­tain, but cer­tainly not in the bones of a tiny, paral­ysed street dog.

It was hard to leave Pe­dro, but I knew I’d be go­ing back to see him. Back home, when I was feel­ing a bit lost or down, or plagued by the fa­mil­iar doubts and anx­i­eties, I'd think of my lit­tle mate har­ing around on his back­side nearly 5,000 miles away and it would make me smile. My step would be­come lighter and noth­ing would seem so much of a prob­lem. I called it my daily dose of ‘Pe­dro Pos­i­tiv­ity’. I couldn’t wait to see him again.

I was at a friend’s house when I re­ceived the mes­sage that Pe­dro had died. He'd been un­der the weather for a few days and a mem­ber of sta had found him one morn­ing curled up un­der a tree. It might have been a virus, or maybe his lit­tle body had just got­ten him as far as it could. I needed to ex­press my grief for this funny lit­tle dog that no one knew, in a for­eign land far away, so I wrote a Face­book post to ‘Wee Pe­dro’ that night, say­ing how a light had gone out in the world. I ex­pected peo­ple to think I’d lost the plot, or that it was the most self-in­dul­gent post ever. The re­sponse I re­ceived was touch­ing and lovely.

Go­ing back to TOLFA a year later was very emo­tional but I felt like Pe­dro was still around,

both in his essence and in the other dogs there. Many have su ered ter­ri­bly at the hands of a hu­man be­ing, but they bear no ill will or mal­ice. It made me think about all the grudges I’ve held in the past and how it was a waste of time and en­ergy – the only per­son I was hurt­ing was my­self. Spend­ing time with these in­spi­ra­tional an­i­mals taught me about the power of for­give­ness.

Vol­un­teer­ing for a front­line an­i­mal char­ity can be chal­leng­ing and up­set­ting. Some an­i­mals do die, no mat­ter what. But they are also in­spir­ing and up­lift­ing places, full of hope and re­silience.

Pe­dro died in 2015 and I still think about him ev­ery day. Be­fore, I’d al­ways been a wor­rier but now I see life – as well as peo­ple – much more favourably. I now try to be braver and more ad­ven­tur­ous, even with seem­ingly small things. Pe­dro taught me that role mod­els come in the un­like­li­est of forms and that we shouldn’t over­look our­selves, or oth­ers, be­cause we’re not deemed ‘per­fect’ or ‘im­por­tant.’ Pe­dro was left to die at the side of the road like a piece of rub­bish, yet here I am writ­ing about him now, and how he has changed me at ev­ery level. Here’s to liv­ing with a bit of ‘Pe­dro Pos­i­tiv­ity’ ev­ery day.

“I’d al­ways been a wor­rier but now I see life – and peo­ple – much more favourably”

There are an es­ti­mated 30 mil­lion street dogs in In­dia. Jo's role at TOLFA was to give the dogs cud­dles and care while they re­cov­ered from their treat­ment.

Hindu pil­grims visit the lake­side city of Pushkar in Ra­jasthan, north­ern In­dia, to bathe in the sa­cred waters.

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