Sedona Buddhists save dogs left after hurricane

by John Faherty, The Arizona Republic, Oct 5, 2005

Tibetan Buddhists see reincarnation as more of a circle than a straight line.

Sedona, Arizona (USA) -- One past life can lead to any other life, which means a person could come back as a lost dog. That is why Buddhists based in Sedona are now caring for more than 100 dogs at an Arizona ranch. The dogs had been abandoned in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

"The traditional teaching from the Buddha is that any animal could be somebody you love," said Alana Elgin, a Buddhist nun with the Kunzang Palyul Chöling in Sedona.

This particular group of animals has survived the horror of the hurricane, the danger of the flood and being abandoned by their families.

The animals found high land and survived for days or weeks on their own before being picked up only to languish in rescue centers. Most came here after being placed on a plane financed by wealthy people who love animals.

Now the dogs and a few cats are living on a remote ranch about 17 miles southeast of Payson owned by the Kunzang Palyul Chöling.

The dogs will stay on the ranch until they can be placed with Arizona families.

"You can blame this all on CNN," said Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo, the group's spiritual leader and the first Western woman to be recognized as a Tulku, or reincarnate lama in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

Like many people, she was watching the news after Hurricane Katrina devastated parts of the Gulf Coast. The pictures of the animals being left on their own got to her.

"I was seeing the animals, and it was making me crazy," said the leader, who thinks of all living beings as equal. "We have a ranch, we can get food, we have to go get these animals."

Within days, a group from Sedona was driving down to New Orleans and using treats to entice anxious dogs to safety.

The group then loaded up 20 dogs and started heading back to Arizona.

Along the way, two truck drivers at a Texas truck stop demonstrated the wide range of emotions generated by the rescue effort.

Elgin, who was on the trip, says the first trucker, covered with tattoos, took $60 out of his wallet to help pay for food for the animals.

Minutes later, a second truck driver asked why they didn't just take the dogs out and shoot them.

Elgin knows some people think that when it comes to helping animals or helping humans, it's the humans who should benefit.

"We think all beings should be helped. Why aren't they helping? What are they doing?" Elgin said. 'This is what we can do."

Within days of getting back to the ranch, the group decided they could help more animals.

And they received plenty of help from outside their religion to take in more dogs.

Fences to build kennels were donated. Free food was provided by Hill's Pet Nutrition. Local veterinarians have donated their time and services.

The dogs arrived after Texas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens decided to get involved. He leased three 737 airplanes and filled them with dogs. Other people in his tax bracket followed suit, and last week, one of those planes arrived at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport carrying more than 100 animals, nearly all dogs.

Still in their kennels, the dogs were transferred to a cattle car and driven to Young, Ariz., arriving at 4:30 a.m.

There was no way the truck would be able to make it over the dirt roads to their new home. Getting to the Dakini Ranch by car includes kidney-jarring miles on dirt roads, crossing two streams and mile after mile of paths barely wide enough for one car along steep mountain roads. That's when a group of Young residents arrived in their pickup trucks in the dark of night to help.

They loaded the animals onto six pickup trucks and four trailers and drove to the Dakini Ranch, where makeshift fenced kennels were waiting.

Dakini is a Tibetan term for female wisdom. But what's happening at the Dakini Ranch these days is more about mucking and feeding than wisdom.

The Buddhists from Sedona as well as local volunteers from Payson and Young are now spending their days walking the dogs, feeding the dogs, cleaning the dog pens. Then they repeat the process.

The labor is more labor of love than exercise in tedium.

"It has deepened my sense that I should devout myself to all beings," said Cian Fleming, 24, who was raised by Buddhists and originally came to Dakini for meditation. Like the others, he has love and respect for all beings.

What's next for the dogs, all of which seem to be craving attention, is to place them with families.

Each family taking a dog home will do so with the understanding that the original owners may eventually claim the dog.

The animals are listed on, a Web site that helps reunite people with their lost animals. But so far, few families have reclaimed their pets.

For the time being, the Buddhists and volunteers will take care of the dogs and handful of cats at Dakini Ranch.

The difficult work has its rewards, said Rita Anderson of Payson, who came down to the ranch to help for the day. She says the looks from the animals makes it all worthwhile.

"How can it be hard work when you have something saying thank you and nice to see you every time you turn around."