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Om Shanti Shanti Shantiii
When I was in Rishikesh, India during the summer of 2010, I saw street dogs everywhere, skinny, mangy, hungry dogs, all of them heartbreaking and sweet. There was one dog who hung around outside the gates of the school where I was taking my course who I fell in love with right away and would sneak food to after meals. One day she wasn't there. And then the next and the next. I asked the woman who owned the little shop next to the school if she knew where the dog had gone. The woman, whose Hindi I'm sure was impeccable, just said in her broken English "To the market. Gone to the market." The market was a chaotic, bustling, cacophonous area of town filled with shops and cars and fabulously decorated rikshaws. I never saw that little dog again, but I started feeding the skinny little dog that was left behind, and soon she started waiting for me outside the gate of my guest house in the dark hours of the early morning when I'd come out to go to morning yoga practice and feed her the special biscuits I'd buy for her at the market. When I'd go into the courtyard of the school, she'd wait outside the gate and play with her friends, other street dogs and the small male calves who wandered aimlessly through the labyrinthine alleys of the neighborhood and who fed at the dump across from the school.

Soon the little dog was following me up the stairs of the hotel to the yoga hall where we had our morning asana practice. She'd sit just outside the door amongst all the students' shoes and watch the class as we chanted and twisted ourselves up. We opened and closed all of our classes chanting "Om shanti, shanti, shanti" which is a prayer for peace for all beings. I began thinking of the little dog when I chanted, wishing her peace and using that feeling as a springboard to expand my heart and my wish for peace for all beings. And so I began calling the little dog Shanti, and soon, all the young Indian guys who worked at the school and all of the other Western students said they started thinking of Shanti when they chanted "Om, shanti." 
Shanti and friend outside the gates of Rishikesh Yog Peeth.
In a way that I realize is very unyogic, I became quite attached to this little dog, spending time with her to the exclusion of other people and finding in her a sense of peace, and love. I started ordering food outside of the school so that I'd have leftovers to bring her. I'd scratch her belly every morning and she'd whine with pleasure. 

One day the woman from the shop said to me "You take her to America." So I began looking into what it would take and whether it was possible. I called all the airlines. But they all said it was too hot to fly a dog in cargo and they wouldn't do it. I tried finding private companies to do it, but the costs were prohibitive for all but the criminally wealthy. So I decided I'd have to go home without her at the end of my program, but I told the woman that I'd be back for her. I had to go home and wait for the weather to cool down and try to find a way to save up enough money to come back and get her. The woman asked me how much I'd pay for her. I was fairly indignant that the woman would ask me for money for a dog who she did absolutely nothing to care for and had no interest in keeping, but in order to keep Shanti safe while I was gone, I agreed to give the woman a good amount of money when I came back for her. 

I left Rishikesh in the middle of the night and gave one of the Indian boys at the school what I had left of Shanti's biscuits and asked him to promise to give them to her and to look after her. All the people at the school laughed at me and shook their heads but they all said they'd look after her. As the taxi drove to the airport that early morning the streets were pitch black. Half the cars on the road didn't use lights. Cars drove on all sides of the road. As we passed through the market, I saw two dogs lying dead in the middle of the road. Chills ran through me, and I held back tears. A week after I returned home, one of the boys from the school sent me a facebook message telling me Shanti had been hit by a Jeep and was dead. 

There are millions of Shantis out there. Sweet, homeless dogs, who only desire for peace, love, a warm bed, and some food.  You don't have to go to India to get one.  Shelters in the US are overflowing with loving animals. We kill 6 million animals every year in this country because there aren't enough homes. And the number of street dogs globally is overwhelming. What we need are aggressive spay, neuter, and education programs. Please, the next time you are thinking of getting a pet, please adopt.

 
Thank you for reading about Shanti. Om shanti shanti shanti. 

Sarve bhavantu sukhinah
Sarve santu niramayah
Sarve bhadrani pasyantu
Ma kaschit duhka bhagbhavet

Om, may all beings be happy. May all beings be healthy.  May all beings experience happiness, and let no one suffer.