I consider myself an animal lover and have a special affinity for dogs, having been around them most of my life. I grew up with a rotund Beagle and through the years of my childhood, my sisters and I would bring home any stray that we found. Invariably, the typical answer from my Mom was “No, we cannot keep him”. Except somehow she and my Dad softened when we drug home a scrawny, brown and white Heinz 57. He was homely and just desperate enough to worm his way into our hearts. We called him Barney and he and the Beagle lived many happy years cruising our Alabama neighborhood. In the 70s, no one walked her dog; there were no electric fences. The dogs of the streets ran free, doing whatever it is they do during the day, and they would return home at night to eat, beg for table scraps and sleep in or heated comfort. Since we spent our days outdoors, any injured animal found its way back to our house, too. How many birds did I try to rescue? How many cats, dogs, squirrels and chipmunks did I feed despite my parents protests? I wanted to adopt or save them all.
When I was in Thailand a few years back, I was feeling benevolent, magnanimous, dare I say it – a bit divine. I had bonded with elephants, visited temples, said prayers to the largest Buddha in existence and paid to release caged birds on the steps outside a holy place, something the woman who had entrapped the birds said would grant me good karma and inner peace. I was embracing the energy that is Thailand and feeling quite special. In a village outside of Chang Mai our group had stopped for the night, and the first thing I did was head out alone to explore the area. I had on my sarong, my jade necklace and my mantle of love and caring for all sentient beings. I couldn’t believe my luck when I stumbled upon a small monastery, a compound sprinkled with small temples, wats and outdoor platforms for prayer. Feeling blessed and inquisitive I wandered inside, half hoping for some moment of spiritual insight or to be fortune enough to meet a monk within its walls.
I journeyed deeper into the monastery, marveling at the space and soaking up the peaceful quiet that surrounded me. In my stupor, I was not mindful and failed to see the vast array of bowls strewn about the place, tucked beneath shrines and near trees. Suddenly I became aware of eyes up on me. I was not alone. I was being watched and as I looked about more carefully I begin to discern the shapes of dogs, dozens of them, who lived within the temple’s walls. I looked about and figured that about 40 or so moist, brown eyes were tracking my every step. I was excited and longed to connect with these creatures. Being a “dog person” I couldn’t wait to scratch an ear or two and feel my specialness, just as I had when I release the caged wrens. “Here boy,” I called softly to a lone dog or two that had separated from the larger pack. “C’mere baby,” I cooed, sitting down on my knees and holding out my hands. The sun was beginning to set, the sky infused with a light shade of pink and the last rays of sunlight bounced off the bronze that adorned the temples. I was in the moment; I was in Thailand, in a holy temple and communing with dogs. My heart swelled, happily, until one of the dogs dashed by me, not in greeting, but in challenge. He darted up, raised the call of alarm to his pack via a few loud barks, and nipped at my heels.
I felt my sense of peace slipping for all of a sudden I was surrounded. On my knees, alone in a darkening temple, I was encircled by a pack of dogs who were nothing like my domesticated pets at home. These dogs were protecting their home, their food bowls and in no way wanted me within their territory. A sense of danger begin to form inside me. I could feel the energy flowing from the pack as it gathered in size and it gained strength from the fear I emitted. They grew bolder and now several of them were taking stabs at me: run in, nip at my skirts and heels, and run out. My heart beat rose in my chest and delusion of karmic bliss was shattered. I needed to get out, fast.
I rose to my feet slowly, lowered my eyes and begin to back away from the circle, heading as best I could back to the entrance gate which now looked to be a mile away. I knew not to run; that would have meant a full on attack but that’s what I felt like doing. It took all my to try to stay calm, to not react when a dog rushed me and grabbed at my sarong. I kept me course set and inched toward the exit, my heart beating so loudly and the dogs making such a racket that I was sure a monk would come out and see me in my dilemma. But no one came. It was just me and the dogs, and I kept my snail’s pace until I got through the gate. Even then a few bold ones chased me out and followed me down the dirt road.
Shaken and upset I began the lonely walk back to our hostel for the night, an ordinary girl, not a “dog whisperer”. I had been so wrapped up in my own fantasy, my own inner story and arrogance that I forgot that all dogs are wild and pack mentality, especially when protecting food or home, will always prevail. I was not one with those dogs and they taught me a valuable lesson about boundaries, respect for any creature’s space and to never delude myself about my personal power. My walk home that night was one of sadness, confusion and my steps, still a bit shaky as the adrenaline dissipated from my limbs, were those of a girl who was all too human.