In January of 2008, I travelled to India for the first time.
It was my also my first trip abroad, and almost immediately upon landing in Delhi I began to feel the effects of my white middle-class Canadian privilege. Despite previously believing I was reasonably educated about the world, I realized I had actually been quite sheltered, and I was ashamed of my ignorance. I hadn’t really understood what disparity meant (from a social perspective) until I saw, firsthand, what real poverty could look - and sound, and smell, and feel - like. (I cried so much during that trip...)
I will never forget the desperate eyes of the starving and shoeless mothers begging for food and money in busy streets, often with 2 or 3 children clinging to their sides. Everyone pushed them away, but they hadn't done anything wrong: they were just trying to survive.
I'll also always remember the young boys with messy hair and kohl around their eyes dancing wildly between cars for a little spare change. Dressed in ratty but colourful clothing, they twirled joyfully, right next to our car, occasionally tapping on the window to request a small payment for their impromptu performances. But I was told you just have to say "no" to all of it, because there is simply too much suffering to make any positive impact, and you could get swarmed if too many beggars catch on that you might have some money... I just wanted to give them what I had because I knew my opportunities and circumstances back home made basic survival much easier for me than it would ever be for them.
At this time, I had been living in a suburb of Vancouver for a couple of years and I was still trying to adjust to seeing the poverty on the downtown east side. But poor in India was different from poor in Canada, and I was beginning to understand that so many people had it much worse than I’d even realized was possible.
The other major cultural challenge I faced on that trip to India 10 years ago was the stray dog problem. I had been volunteering for a dog rescue organization back home, but I'd never seen anything quite like the stray situation in urban parts of India; there are homeless pups literally everywhere, and most of them are very sick, and/or injured.
A few days into my trip, outside the gates of the Taj Mahal, I found a tiny golden puppy, whimpering as it hovered over the edge of a curb. It was alone, and so terrified to make that short leap; I remember thinking, "OH MY GOD, THIS POOR GUY IS DOOMED!" It was truly heartbreaking to have to leave that poor little pup there, knowing he likely wouldn't survive very long on his own.
And then, something kind of weird happened: I told myself with total conviction and the authentic belief that some day, some how, I would come back to India and bring a puppy home with me. I say that was a weird thing to have happened because I didn't really believe in anything with conviction back then, and being in India in the first place seemed like a bizarre and serendipitous situation for me, so returning felt even more far-fetched. But, still: I said it, and I meant it.
I was forever changed by that first journey to India. Over the following years, though, I didn't think too much about the little golden Taj Mahal puppy or my personal declaration to return to India someday and rescue a needy dog. (I was fumbling my way through my 20s and I had more serious issues of my own for a while, but that's another story for a different blog post...)
Late in 2016, Cam and I began to plan our own trip to India, mainly around the annual International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh the following spring. Knowing that I would be returning to the place where a stray puppy broke my heart nearly a decade earlier, and recalling the strange declaration I'd made all that time ago, I began to look into Delhi-based dog rescue organizations and export requirements. (We had been talking about adopting a dog upon returning from our trip, so the timing was right...)
Within a very short time, I came across a sweet little golden pup, who I was told was very small, even for a runt; this tiny guy had lost his mother and two siblings to infection, and the shelter workers weren't sure he would make it, either... His name was Sugar, and he was the sweetest puppy I'd ever seen.
Again, for some strange reason, I wasn't really concerned about his ability to pull through, and I fell in love with him before we even met. A couple of months later, after chatting regularly with this pup's foster mom (bless her loving heart), Cam and I were able to meet Sugar for the first time, in his New Delhi foster home. He was sleepy and very laid back, but so loving, and after socializing with us for what he deemed to be the obligatory period, he sauntered away to seek a sun patch. I knew he was meant to be with us, and he became our Bowie (aka Mister B).
Sometimes just planting a seed or setting an intention is a more powerful act than we even realize.