One of the biggest challenges of traveling to countries like Nepal and Peru is the pain of seeing starving, neglected dogs. “It makes me too sad to see dogs who are hungry and homeless,” a friend said. “How do you cope with animal abuse when you’re traveling?”
I’ve written several blog posts about coping with the heartache of a pet dog’s death or dying process, such as How to Deal With Guilty Feelings After Your Dog’s Death. I’ve even written about coping with guilt and grief after rehoming your dog. But I’ve never written about the sadness and helplessness of seeing starving dogs in different countries.
Recently I spent two weeks in Nepal, mostly in Pokhara, Bandipur, Bhaktapur and Kathmandu. Neglected dogs were everywhere — from the busiest cities to the quietest villages. The dogs weren’t being abused, at least not the way we define it in North America. Buddhism is strong in Nepal; Buddhist practice is rooted in kindness and compassion. The problem is there isn’t enough money to feed dogs. I saw lots of starving monkeys, too, especially at the Swayambhu stupa (several Buddhist shrines and temples) in Kathmandu.
Not only were most of the dogs and monkeys starving, many were injured. Some had missing or broken limbs, torn ears, infected wounds. I was heartbroken to see so many neglected animals, and thought of my friend. Would it be less painful to stay home and avoid the heartache of seeing starving dogs in Nepal? Yes. Would my life be deeper, richer, more meaningful if I stayed home? No. Would I be transformed in any way if I stayed home instead of facing the heartache? Nope.
I figured out how to cope with the pain of seeing neglected animals as I walked past a trio of dogs laying in the middle of a neighborhood road in a village on the way to the World Peace Pagoda in Pokhara.
How I Tried to Help a Hungry Dog
Not only did I walk by starving dogs every day, I spent an hour trying to feed one in Bhaktapur. He was about five or six months old, just a young pup. Brown, short hair, so skinny you could see the nubs of his spine and pointy hip bones.
This pup was tied to a door with a red woman’s belt. His collar was a rope. I stopped, and he sat up and started wagging his tail. He sniffed and licked my hand. I knocked on the door — I had no idea what I’d say and I doubted they spoke English, but I had to try.
Nobody answered the door. I went back to the busier area and bought some milk, Nepali Momos (with buffalo meat, yum!), and water. That poor little puppy inhaled it as faster than I could take it out of the newspaper wrapping. I was still sad, but at least I was doing something to help a neglected dog.
Trying to Feed a Starving Puppy in Nepal
I decided to go get another serving of buffalo momos and more water for the hungry young pup. I stopped at a veterinarian’s office, but he didn’t speak English and I didn’t really know what I wanted to say to him anyway. “Please help me feed all the starving dogs in Nepal?” Even if I could make him understand, he probably couldn’t do much more than he already was. That veterinarian saw more neglected, wounded, dying dogs in Nepal and felt more grief than I ever will.
When I got back to the puppy’s door, he was gone. So was the cup of milk and bottle of water. Somebody stole my dog! And I was left holding a bag of buffalo momos…and I don’t even like meat.
How I Made the Dog Situation Worse…
I walked down the street, into an even quieter part of the neighborhood. Three puppies, tiny ones this time, snoozing on the side of the road! I stopped and they immediately came to life — they were only two or three months old but they knew the smell of buffalo momos. I started tearing apart the momos, carefully dividing them equally between the three puppies.
Then I felt a nudge on my leg. The mom dog! Also hungry, wanting a buffalo momo or two. I felt a little better; feeding a starving mom dog will help all her puppies grow healthy and strong.
Then three more puppies came running up to me. And another mom dog…and four more puppies. So many puppies!!! At least a dozen puppies and two mom dogs. I sprinkled bits of buffalo momo along the side of the road and walked away. I had to get away fast because my heart was breaking. There was no way all those dogs could get enough buffalo momo. In fact, some of the puppies probably didn’t get a lick.
One of them mom dogs started following me as I walked away. I had to shoo her back to the pack of puppies. Then the puppies started fighting! Growling, biting, and arguing over the dust that still faintly tasted of buffalo meat.
Trying to feed hungry dogs in Nepal didn’t make me feel better. “Helping” the hungry puppies in Bhaktapur didn’t ease my pain. I walked away feeling sadder and even more helpless than before.
If you’re more prone to homesickness than heartsickness, read What If You Get Homesick While Volunteering in India?
How I Cope When I See Hungry, Hurt Dogs
This is one way I was transformed as I traveled in Nepal: I practiced feeling the pain of seeing starving dogs in the moment I was seeing a starving dog. I grieved and let the sorrow wash over my heart. I dipped into my spirit, my relationship with God, and the strength of Jesus Christ. I saw the dog and felt the pain. If I could help a hungry or hurt dog, I would.
After I walked by the starving dog I left the moment — and the pain — behind me. I focused on being in the present moment, really looking at and experiencing my new surroundings. A new street, a group of old Nepali men sitting around a chess board on the sidewalk, a woman selling oranges.
The hungry dog existed in the past, but the past isn’t now. The past is part of my heart and spirit, and even my physical DNA…but it is not my present moment. When I practice being in the present moment, I don’t have to cope with seeing starving dogs in Nepal. I just am, I am here, and I am here now.
Also, it really helps to write your thoughts and feelings. I always take a travel journal on my trips, even though I don’t spend a lot of time writing on vacation. If you haven’t tried journaling on your travels, read 10 Best Travel Journals for Solo or Group Trips.
What do you think? How do you cope with seeing hungry or neglected animals when you’re traveling? Your thoughts, big and little, are welcome below. If you have any tips or tools for travel that transforms us, please do share those. We love tips and tools :-)
Travel in faith, and be transformed.