“Look at the puppies, Ricky!” my friend pointed out from the car as we had just pulled off the road to water the cedar forest after a long journey.
The initial delight at opening the car door to six healthy puppies lasted no longer than second. I dropped to my knees in agony, praying. Some pups were braver than others, cautiously taking turns to run up and lick my knee before retreating under a bush.
“What is it, Ricky?” my friends asked, alarmed at my reaction, and even more so when I couldn’t speak to answer them as I squeezed my head in anguish.
I took a deep breath before answering, “Do you see that sack over there with the hole in it?” My friends spotted it by the tree among all the litter people pitch from their cars, then I continued, “They managed to get out.”
“What are you saying?”
Although I’ve had a great love of animals all my life, my friends are much like I was many years ago: largely unaware, maybe a bit unconcerned, about the treatment of animals — more important, it had been, was my comfort and that my desires be satisfied. Maybe it still is in other ways.
It is said that boys are not to cry, but I couldn’t stop a few tears streaming down as as I found words to explain to them we were at the scene of a horrendous betrayal. The boys put hands on my shoulders as I spoke without looking at them, “They were taken from their mother, put in that bag and driven here, miles away from home, and dumped here to die.”
It was the brothers’ turn to be dumbstruck, incredulous at such cruelty.
“Get me water” I asked, and the younger brother jumped to bring me the bottle, but in the middle of monsoon it was obvious the pups were not thirsty. They were very, very hungry. The elder brother jumped back behind the wheel, “I will go back to the last village we passed to get biscuits!” And he spun off.
I confess my misery lasted a short while; I concluded that we had to leave them and would face this decision. We could not take them on a day’s drive in the car to Delhi on a road that was dangerous and required great concentration. Furthermore: what could the brothers do with six puppies in their small, highrise apartment?
It was most probably a very similar question asked by the heartless people who originally discarded the pups — a questioned asked by millions all around the world, and a question often answered with such cruelty.
The brothers refused to give up; they spent more than an hour musing over what to do between calls to their friends and to animal welfare organizations that impatiently explained that they must take care of the pups or leave them.
“How can these people be so heartless and rude?!” erupted the elder brother after a call.
“Bhai, they get these calls all the time. Everyday. Look at all the dogs in the streets. The cows. The monkeys. The birds. The cats. There is no end.” I explained, exasperated, waiting for the brothers to tire into dispassion. How I wanted to continue “…and they get these calls from people who eat animals”, remembering the mutton curry the brothers relished in front of me the night before. I had refrained, however, having learned there is the right time and place to deliver this knowledge in order to be effective. The dinner table is too late and too inappropriate.
That right time and place came to me many years ago in the words of none other than Swami Dayananda Saraswati, who explained the value of Ahimsa — non-violence — that although all lives infallibly rely on the destruction of other lives, and whereas animals must only locate their food, we must choose it. It is in that choice that the root of all ethics lies, because the real cost of what we consume is measured in compassion — there — and nowhere else.
Therefore, regardless of the emotion in loss, we should not complain if animals, such as crocodiles or viruses, devour our children, or if there is a picture of a little boy charred by a bomb attack in Syria, when we do not practice discernment and compassion in our most basic, daily choices.
Easier said than done, yes, but it is problem that gets pushed from one to another, from generation to generation, but one that is not going away.
I tried to take comfort in the great knowledge that there is no use crying over the inevitable, as Lord Krishna told Arjuna in the Bhagavadgita.
Afterall, what might be a tragedy for the pups might be great fortune for many other animals of prey, whose mothers scour diminishing forests, deprived of their food by humans who steal and steal and steal.
That might be just an excuse; it may be how hope works, I guess.
“We’ll take one. Two.” The brothers discussed Sophie’s choices, “We’ll take all or none.” We can do this, we can do that, lets try this, lets try that. The brothers finally renounced, but I was proud and thankful for their effort. We drove down the treacherous rode in silence except for the sound of monsoon downpours. After an hour the elder brother spoke, “I have never felt bad for an animal. I have never felt so helpless. This is a horrible feeling.”
“Imagine my friend at home in Brazil, Nicolau Vinciprova. He cannot do what I did. He has over twenty dogs. People tie dogs to his gate knowing he cannot reject them. He cannot see one in distress. I used to never notice stray animals; after knowing him, I now see every one that crosses my path.”
Then once again came that old, reverberating, rhetorical question: “How can people be so cruel?”
Later after the emotions subsided a little, I responded, “In that case, if you want to help, guys, please, do not buy or sell animals, neither dead nor alive.”
I took a breath and gave a prayer to remember even the animals that tested the medications used to save loved ones; an annual lapse with fish or with food cooked in chicken broth; the ever-present problem with dairy, as well as other hypocrisies we are condemned to.
The brothers contemplated my words without responding.
And I hoped that my words hit their target, just as such words had been spoken to me at just the right time and place by the right person, one who opened my eyes.
So I bring you these words on this auspicious day with great hope that it will help such dogs and change many, many things wrong with our world.
Happy Krishna Janmashtami!
श्रीकृष्ण जन्माष्टमी की बधाई हो