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One Way To Help

The test of a civilization is in the way it cares for its helpless members.

-- Pearl Buck, Nobel Laureate


In the true Bodhisattva Spirit, we Zen Buddhists often express a desire to volunteer our help in a worthy cause. While the wish is meritorious, the ability to fulfill it is rarely realized.

The problem isn't "diminished volition" - that atrophy of desire that comes with the morning light of sober reassessment; no, it is usually a question time, distance, qualification, or spousal objection.

We'd like to help in a soup kitchen, dishing out meals or helping to prepare them. But the missions are usually located in poor "downtown" areas of town, away from the residential and work areas most of us live in. Since the poor eat their meals at the same time as the rest of us, rush hour traffic can prohibit a volunteer from arriving in any useful time. Parking can also be a problem. Leaving a car unattended in a high crime neighborhood is often an invitation to damage or loss that we simply cannot afford..

In anything but menial tasks, qualifications must be met; and these can present problems. Someone who volunteers to comfort the dying has to be psychologically fit to deal with the emotional strain. Working with children also requires special training and the ability to keep calm around troubled kids. It isn't as easy as it sounds.

Assisting with the medical needs of the poor, often means being in direct contact with diseases or other afflictions; and our spouse - particularly when children are at home - may not relish the possibility of contagion.

Yao Xiang Shakya, pastor of A Single Thread Sangha in Chicago, found the perfect solution. She ministers to abandoned puppies. Always a animal-lover, Yao Xiang kept pets all her life; but the plight of abandoned animals in the wake of the Katrina disaster, moved her to investigate the possibility of helping. Her efforts led her eventually to PAWS of Chicago.


PAWS (Pets Are Worth Saving) www.pawschicago.org is one of Chicago's largest No Kill animal shelters. It has made a significant difference. In the year (1997) that it was founded, 42,561 pets were killed. By 2006 that number had been reduced to 19,701. PAWS has an extensive foster care program for sick or injured pets that have been abandoned, as well as kittens and puppies who need "infant" care.

Because she has her own pet dogs, Yao Xiang limits her fostering to puppies. "We try to take in several at a time because of the comfort and companionship they can give each other. We once took in a litter of six puppies, all were nearly dead from starvation. They were approximately three weeks old, all bloated and, we feared, moribund. We managed to save five of them. I can't tell you how gratifying it was to see the five of them thrive. When we returned them to the shelter they were quickly adopted."

Her current "canine sangha" is a pit bull/german shepherd mix. "Dogs love the companionship of other dogs, " she explains. "They band together even as puppies; and become upset when one is hurt or frightened. There are numerous subtle actions: yawning, turning the head, lowering the eyes, bowing, rolling on the back, going up on hind legs, opening the mouth…it is complicated communication. They like being together and are a joy to watch.

"We do not get paid. We drive about 45 minutes to pick the puppies up; we get some basic starter food and medicine and puppy pads, but once the pups are with us we pay for all their expenses except for vet care." Yao Xiang has no special facilities to care for the animals. "We have a fenced yard…and when it is warm enough they get to learn to go up and down stairs and to run in the yard. It's wonderful. We keep the puppies from 10 days to 6 weeks, depending on their situation. PAWS is grateful for any time a volunteer can give. The need is enormous."

Although PAWS hopes to expand its operation, anyone interested in fostering puppies and kittens or giving special care to an older sick or injured animal can contact his local animal shelter to inquire about a program.

Here are some pictures of Reverend Yao Xiang's latest charges, a litter of four pups. In honor of our webmaster's valiant dog Remington (a cancer victim who, with the help of abdominal draining procedures, still holds onto life as a happy and playful "little lady") Yao Xiang has named one of the puppies "Remmy."

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