Share the Wealth

How much does it cost to vaccinate one adult dog for rabies?

300 rupees ($2.60).

Saturday, after teaching a workshop at the Himalayan Society for Youth and Women Empowerment (HSYWE), four of my students and I went to visit the Swayambu Stupa, an important spiritual site in Swayambhu, a suburb outside of Kathmandu.    A stupa is a mound-like or hemispherical structure containing relics that is used as a place of meditation.  Many, like the one in Swayambhu, are believed to have spontaneously emerged out of the ground.  Swayambu Stupa, is also known as the “monkey temple” because of all the monkeys scampering around the site or sitting and peering at all the visitors while munching on bits of carrot that are sold to visitors so that they can feed them.  The Stupa is perched at the top of the hill overlooking the twisted warren of roads where the HSYWE is located.  There is also a monastery there.  Throngs of people filled the site.

There are also many many street dogs who reside on the site.  Most look well-fed, but many are quite dirty.   I imagined what they would look like if I could just give each one a bath.  I often do this in the city, imagine what it would be like if all the street animals — cows and dogs — were regularly bathed so that their fur shone in the sunlight as was the case with the two dogs whom I had rescued.   Ah…a modest dream to be sure, but still an unlikely one.

When we arrived at the last viewing area, we found not one, not two, but three little black puppies.  My heart sank.   They were smaller than the one I had previously rescued, not more than 8 weeks.   Since I am leaving in less than two months, and they were far to small to put in cargo, even assuming the airlines would do this in late June, I had to sigh and walk away.  They were little round black puppies, with fleas jumping off of them.  It was difficult to know whether their fat bellies were from plenty of mom’s milk or, probably more likely, worms.   I didn’t sleep well that night.  When I did sleep, I dreamed of having a small baby elephant in my motel room; I had him stashed in the narrow corridor between the two beds in the room.  The motel was clearly the one where I had recently stayed in Brattleboro.  The origin of the elephant eludes my waking memory but I do recall that I had it there for a reason and I was hiding it to protect it.

When I was not dreaming of elephants, I cogitated on my options.  I could take one puppy home in the cabin at the end of June.    If there was a female, that would, in theory,  reduce the dog population simply by removing one potential breeding animal.  Not much, I admit, but it was something, and a good reason to snag a female if there was one, rather than a male.    What about the other two?  Walk away?    My mind churned with angst as sleep continued to elude me.   At first that seemed like the only option, but I continued to reflect on the situation off and on throughout the day.   I realized that I could not solve my conundrum alone.  I called my vet.

I have something I need to talk to you about?

Would you like me to come over?

Oh, yes, please!   In my experience here, phone conversations with Nepalese are difficult, although his English was very good.  But this was a complex situation, requiring considerable thought.  I was hoping he would agree to come with me to the stupa  when I went back to try to find one puppy to bring home.

However, once I laid out the situation, Arjun (the vet), offered to come with me and in that moment I realized that, at the very least, we could give all the puppies basic medical care, even if I could not take them all with me when I left.   He didn’t think a shelter would take them, nor did he believe that they would get adopted through the existing shelters, which was probably an accurate assessment of the situation.  We decided to go the next day and treat the puppies for fleas, worms, and vaccinate for distemper and corona virus.  We would return to vaccinate for rabies, as the stupa is located in any area at high risk for rabies, presumably because of all the monkeys who also occupy the site and are fed by tourists.

In the meantime,I did the necessary research to figure out if I could take one puppy with me and preliminary inquiries were positive.  By the end of the day, I was left only to wait 48 hours for a confirmation from Korean Air, my first flight on my way to the U.S. in June.  Delta was on board in a heartbeat.

I then turned my attention to the remaining two puppies, assuming we could even find them again.  Well, why not put it out there?    I texted one of my students and explained what we were doing and she volunteered to come and help the next day.  I also said that I would pay all medical care for the two remaining puppies if she could find someone who might want to adopt them.   She promised to send messages to all her friends.  The word has gone out.  Whether it will bear fruit has yet to be seen but, even if it does not, I have done, and will be doing, the best that I can for these tiny fuzzy new souls.

But my cogitations were apparently not finished.   As the evening unfolded,  another idea was forming my mind.  This time completely unbidden but, in the context of the decisions that I had thus far made, further revelations made sense.     The stupa site, because of its location, has a fairly stable dog population.  Why not vaccinate them all?    And so, upon finding out that I could vaccinate 100 adult dogs for rabies for $260, I decided to propose a rabies vaccination program on the Swayambhu Stupa grounds.   I texted my vet with my new idea.

Would you like to do this?

Of course, thank you.

I realized as I read the words thank you that it must be difficult to be a vet in this city and have to turn away on a daily basis from the great need.   It is hard enough for me; I’m not sure how it would be if I had chosen to dedicate my life to providing medical care to animals.  This is the first time that I have not felt helpless to do much for the stray dogs of Kathmandu as a whole. True, I took two dogs to the U.S., and may be able to take a third, but for the cost of that trip, I suddenly realized that I could have vaccinated 1400 dogs!

It feels like I have come full circle into an understanding of animal activism in all its various manifestations.  On the one hand, I have raised two dogs and found them forever homes.  Maybe I will do this for a third.  On the other hand, I have also committed to the ongoing care of a dog who would otherwise be left, as she once was, to struggle on her own, in ill health.   Now I can do something for a group of dogs, and at a Buddhist temple, at the same time.   I suspect that Lord Buddha himself will be pleased.  He is probably wondering why it took me so long to figure out that I could do something like this.   Of course, I will  do another Mighty Cause campaign for the dogs of Swayambu Stupa so that my vet can continue to support them long after I am gone.   But the fact is, even if I do not seek financial assistance for this first vaccination program, compared to most of the people whom I meet on a daily basis here, I live a life of privilege and comparative comfort.   The truth is — I have just been unexpectedly granted a Fulbright Award for next year (this will be discussed in another posting, now in progress).  It will cover all my living costs, and then some.

Why not share the wealth?!