When I first started a nonprofit in India to help street dogs and community health (rabies), I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I certainly did not imagine all of the amazing people I would meet along the way.
I met like-minded folks when they volunteered at Dharamsala Animal Rescue (DAR). Many continued to support us even after volunteering by becoming monthly donors and helping our dogs find homes. I am lucky enough to say that quite a few have even become friends.
Marilou David, is one of these people. She volunteered at DAR twice, and she took it upon herself to find homes for many of our dogs in Montreal. She is now one of our Rescue Ambassadors, and I am happy to say, a very good friend.
After meeting up with Marilou in San Francisco to see the film, Pariah Dog, I asked Marilou about her journey with DAR. She surprised me with many of her answer so thought I would share. Read below and get ready to be inspired.
Deb: How did you first hear about (DAR)?
Marilou: Somehow, truly I don’t know how, I was following DAR on Instagram. I had no idea where the rescue was located. However, I kept seeing pictures of really critical cases, and I wondered “Where in the world are these awful things happening?”
So I googled “DAR animals” and it brought me to DAR website. I had not been thinking of visiting India anytime soon, but when I saw the “be a volunteer” page with a picture of a blond girl holding a puppy in India, I suddenly felt really enthusiastic about the idea! Four months later, I was heading up to Dharamsala!
Deb: That is so nuts. The power of social media! Have you always been a dog lover? Animal lover?
Marilou: I have always had a connection with animals. When I was young I had cats, dogs, fish, a turtle, a rabbit, hamsters, and mice. One day my mother had enough though and decided that having one cat was enough! As an adult, I kept ending up with alley cats. I live in Montreal and cats would appear on my balcony, starving. I couldn’t resist. I also did a lot of dog sitting, but never thought: “Now it’s time to adopt a dog.”
That came when I was traveling in Chile. I saw a little ugly, old, dachshund wandering on the streets looking very scared. I gave her the rest of my sandwich and she started following me, so I took her home with me to Canada.
Deb : Oh wow! I have not heard that story before. What a lucky pup! Now it makes sense. You are the only volunteer we have ever had who came with the intention of adopting a dog. Why did you feel this was important?
Marilou: After my Chucruta, the Chillean dachshund, passed away from old age, I was looking to adopt a new dog from rescues organizations in my city. Surprisingly, it was difficult for me to find one. I was not going to a breeder, so I decided to wait until the right one showed up. Since I adopted my first dog from Chile, I was aware that it was easy enough to import a dog to Canada. You just need a rabies vaccination, a good crate, and money for the airline company. When I planned to go volunteering at DAR, I knew right away that at least one dog would steal my heart!
Deb: And you adopted Chizo. I remember that you fell in love with quite a few dogs when you were volunteering. Why did you ultimately choose Chizo?
Marilou: Ha, yes you are right. I fell in love with Johnny, Beauty, Mutki, Asha, but I discovered it would be hard to take an adult dog home because my flight was stopping in Paris. This meant my only option was to take a dog who can fit under a seat in the cabin, so it wouldn’t have to pass through customs in France (where regulations are stricter than Canada).
So, the main reason why I chose Chizo was because she was one of the only dogs who was small enough to travel with me in the cabin! Everyone at DAR insisted that I take her, so I did. Now she is a healthy funny naughty girl, really special. The best poster girl for Indian female dogs in Montréal!
Deb: She really was such a funny pup with an amazing personality! You have helped DAR (and me) so much by starting Stand By Me. What were your reasonings for starting this? How many dogs have you helped so far? How many just from DAR.
Marilou: During my first volunteered stint at DAR, I met many wonderful dogs, puppies, older dogs, and disabled dogs. I soon realized that some of the dogs had been there for 4 years or more. I also learned that the hope to find a local family was almost 0% because they were female and/or disabled. That is what sparked the idea. I know many people in Canada who would love to adopt these dogs: beautiful, peaceful, female, medium size dogs. I started thinking: how can we do this?
So I started documenting them. I took pictures of the resident dogs while being there and wrote a bio for each of them. I worked with the DAR team to put a “dogs for adoption” photo album on Facebook. Over the last 2 years, some of those dogs have even been adopted in India: Beauty and Mataki, Asha, Simi, Ooni, Shamboo, Muffin, Abbu, Meera, Boris. I am so happy if somehow I helped them get a forever family.
Back in Canada, I started the Stand By Me page on Facebook. I wanted to have a platform where I could promote adoption of street dogs all over the world. I wanted to offer an alternative to people who are not finding the right dog for them in rescues but didn’t want to adopt from a breeder. There are so many stray dogs around the world needing homes, so why not?
Since 2017, I have found twelve families for Indian dogs around Montréal and I organized their transportation. Five being from DAR (six if we count my Chizo!). Two came from Kannan Animal Welfare in Noida, five from Indian Street Dog in Delhi. I also helped those Indian rescues connect directly with some adopters and rescues here in Montréal. So far, I think I had helped the adoption of 20 Indian dogs in Canada since my first trip in India.
Deb: That is just amazing! I know DAR is forever grateful to you for finding homes for our dogs! Not only are we elated to see how happy they are, but it frees up room for new rescues that cannot survive on the streets and won’t get adopted locally. What is your vision with Stand By Me?
Marilou: Whilst looking for a way to promote DAR dogs for adoption in Montréal, I was thinking a lot of the relationship between pets and humans. For me animals are equal to humans, you don’t “own” a dog, you have a partnership with him. You offer them shelter, food and care, and they give you loyalty, a healthy lifestyle, love, play, and security. It’s a win-win relationship. So I like the ‘’Stand by Me’’ expression (that doesn’t have an exact translation in French). It means “you can count on me”, but it also means “stay by my side.” The reciprocity of the relationship we have with animals is really important to me. Dogs are good to humans and that’s why we must be good to them. “The ones we rescue rescue us”.
Deb: Beautifully said my friend. You invited Veena, one of the DAR team members in India, to your home in Montreal? Seems that it is also about the people? Can you expand on that?
Marilou: In just a short time, I realized that helping Indian street dogs also became about helping human beings. When I met the DAR team, it was after months of traveling in Asia, yet it was the first time I really connected with local people. I learned about Indian culture. I learned to understand the Indian sense of humor, and the way of life in the small village of Rakkar where DAR is located.
I ended up living in a shared apartment with Veena so we go to know each other well. We are the same age, 39 at the time, but she had such a different life than me. At 39, she was the mother of 3 young adults. She was married at 15 years old and forced to stop school and work. I also learned that this was the norm not the exception for women her age.
I felt so lucky to be born in Canada as a woman. I was happy to discover that DAR was not only a rescue for animals, but also a safe place for workers. It is a place where cast and gender doesn’t count. Everyone is treated with equal respect and women are invited to stand up for their rights.
Deb: Thanks for saying that. I really do try to bring that to DAR. We’ve had two deaths at DAR both a result of both caste and gender issues, as you know.
Marilou: Yes. When Veena’s daughter was found dead in a suspicious domestic violence case last year, I could not believe it. I knew her daughter since she also worked at DAR and I could not even imagine what Veena was going through. We had kept in touch, so I invited her to come to Canada thinking she needed something to look forward to. Her enthusiastic reaction made me take action, and one year later, she is at my place. We are having so much fun!
She is cooking Indian cuisine and playing Indian music, it’s like traveling in my own home! I am showing Veena my city and lifestyle and she is really curious. She asks many questions that had never crossed my mind. Indian culture and Canadian culture are so different. It’s constant amusement to talk about the differences and the similarities.
For me, dogs are a fun pretext to meet great people and to travel. The network of Indian dog’s lovers is worldwide and we all work together as a big team. It has brought me so many amazing experiences so far, fun with dogs is the icing on the cake!
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About the author
Founder/Executive Director Dharamsala Animal Rescue
Deb Jarrett, at age 40, decided her life needed some shaking up. In fact, she needed to rattle her brains a bit. She was done climbing the corporate ladder, paying mortgages and internet dating—so she quit her job and moved to India to help animals. Not to be confused with Elizabeth Gilbert, at this point in her life, Deb had done just about all of the self discovery she so desired on therapist couches, yoga retreats, and spiritual workshops. In fact, she Eats very carefully, due to the risk of bacteria and parasites. She no longer Prays after experiencing the harsh reality of the developing world on a day-to-day basis and believes compassionate action is the answer. However, she did find Love with an Indian man. She started Dharamsala Animal Rescue in 2008 after her first trip to India.