Saturday, July 31, 2021

Now I lay me down to sleep

I think the bedroom is viewed as "sacred space" in America.  We decorate, light candles, read articles advising us to keep the TV's and clutter out of that space.  Proper Feng Shui comes to mind.  Throw pillows.  Color schemes.  Things like that.

I've been thinking a lot about bedrooms.  

About personal space.  

About what is comfortable.  What is "normal".  What is...not.

I have 3 bedrooms in my house, and they are all rented out thru airbnb...ALL THE TIME.  A lot of professionals who come to Worcester for internships, medical rotations, and short term jobs.  They need a place to sleep and cook.  A hotel is expensive and doesn't offer you much beyond a dorm sized refrigerator...maybe a coffee pot.  An apartment won't have a lease for someone looking to stay for just 2 or 3 months (and usually aren't furnished).  So...airbnb is where these guests go to search for a place.

I began by renting out one room.  Then two.  Then it occurred to me that I travel so much (well, pre-covid) and didn't really need my I depersonalized it and moved out of the room 3 years ago.  Where to go, though, right? I split my time between my  house and my dads, but when I'm home I live in...the basement.

It's not a pretty basement.  

It's not a finished basement.  

It's...a basement.  With spiders, mice, water leaks, and exposed piping.  If the dehumidifier conks out, the air changes within hours, and plants start growing within days.  I hear the furnace kick on, the washing machine running, the toilets flushing.  I hear the floorboards above my head creaking as guests walk about the house.  

Having traveled a bit, and living in India for much of the last 14 years, I have come to understand that there's so much more to our lives and our spaces.  Mostly, I stay in hostels and share bunkbed situations with up to 15 other travelers to save money.  You share bathrooms, kitchens, common areas.  You bring earplugs.  You do the best you can to get a good nights sleep and then go out to explore every day.

In India, entire families sleep in the same room.  They lay out modest mattresses in the evening, sleep together, and then put the mattresses away in the morning so that the room can be used for other purposes.  It may be the only room they have.  There IS no personal space. 

I am by no means a world traveler.  I tend to go back to the places I love over and over and over...there are so many places I haven't been.  But I have often thought that our notions of what our homes should be, what our lives should be, is the USA.  

When I first began to shift my house situation, sometimes the subject of sharing a house with strangers would come up in conversation.  I'll admit, at first I was opposed to sharing my space.  At all!  Over time, I have seen how sharing space has changed my perspective on a lot of things...and that I'm not stuck on particular ideas about personal space anymore.  It's fun sharing my kitchen, my yard, my home...with travelers.

It's been a freeing experience.  It's also been a life saving experience.  The truth is, if I hadn't begun renting rooms, I would not be able to even afford to live in my own house.  I'm grateful, and happy that I gave myself the opportunity to try.  It's made my life more interesting, and more flexible. 

I can't say this approach would work for everyone, but it's the best thing for me.  

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Front of house over time

May 22.

June 3.

June 5.

July 15

July 16

July 23
July 26 July 29
Aug 5

Aug 9
Aug 14

50th birthday fundraiser!!! I want dog food.

Will you help me support these dogs?
I volunteered with Helping Hands For Animals for 5 months recently. One of the most helpful things that we do on a daily basis is feed the street dogs. There are many other responsibilities (medical help and scheduling spays and neuters), but feeding them is always going to help them. Mama dogs trying to nurse puppies are skin and bones because it's so stressful for their bodies, and there's not much food available on the street.

I'd like to encourage everyone I know to go to our Amazon wish list and order food. I have a significant birthday on August 22nd (I turn FIFTY, good lord) and this is what I want to do. It will all be delivered to Ashish in Dhrangadhra, India, and will help to sustain the dogs and puppies that I have grown so fond of during my time there.

Many of you have followed the stories of the dogs we have cared for...Merry, Pebbles, Paulie, Max, Papaya, Harry, Tom, Theo...and many others. I think about these dogs daily (I am now back in the USA) and I want them to all continue to be fed. Our dog food inventory is desperately low. Ashish needs food for them.

Go to the Amazon wishlist and sort by priority (high to low), and the food selections will come up at the top if the list. I may be unable to travel back to India right now, but I'll do anything I can to continue to help.

Thank you!!!

Conversion USD to Rupees is 75 Rs per dollar.
500 rupees = $6.67 USD
1000 rupees = $13.34 USD
1500 rupees = $20 USD
2,000 rupees = $26.68
2,500 rupees = $33.35
3,000 rupees = $40
Wishlist link: donations to Ashish Thakker, via Paypal. is email that links to Paypal.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Volunteering at Helping Hands For Animals in Dhrangadhra, India

Orore, me, Ashish, and Laurent

Since my first trip here in 2007, India has become my second home.  Usually I come here for about 3 or 4 months in wintertime (my off season from wedding photography) to volunteer at Animal Aid Unlimited (AAU) in Udaipur, Rajasthan.    

6 weeks into this winter’s trip, I was invited to a dinner reuniting some AAU employees with two volunteers from France.  Orore and Laurent had been to AAU for many months over the last 2 years, but this trip they had gone to help at a new shelter in Gujarat, Helping Hands For Animals.  Helpng Hands is an NGO begun a few years back by Ashish Thakker.  He went to Animal Aid for training, and then went back to Gujarat to help the animals in his hometown of Dhrangadhra. 

In 2018, I had met him myself at AAU, but was incredibly distracted by a maintenance project and didn’t spend any time talking with him.  (Sometimes I can be VERY antisocial) All I knew was that he had a job at a bank (that’s nice) and wanted to help street animals (oh, great, good for you!) and off I went to strip and repaint a door.  We connected on Facebook, and every once in awhile I’d see a video of a rescue that he had posted.  

Anyway, we were all sitting around, having dinner and listening to their stories about helping Ashish, when something Orore said really struck me.  I actually turned and stared, put down my glass of wine, and then burst in to ask for clarification. 

“He’s doing everything himself”, Orore had said. "We're his first volunteers."

“EVERYTHING?!?” I asked, my eyes wide.

“Yes.  Everything.”

After 14 years as a veterinary technician, plus 11 years volunteering at AAU, I know that there’s an awful lot involved in running a hospital or shelter.  It’s a whole day of feeding, cleaning, treating, surgery, more cleaning, laundry, pick ups and releases for animals, paperwork, buying supplies, MORE cleaning, etc. How do you do this alone? At the time, there was one young teenager working there, but after a few weeks he stopped coming to work.  (This is very common in India)

I went home that night and thought about it.  It was December 30th.  Within hours, I had made a decision, and by January 3rd, I was on a bus and on my way to Gujarat.  And aside from going back to Udaipur quickly to get a few things, I’ve been here ever since.  It’s May 7th as I write this, and I'm here for 3 more weeks.

Dhrangadhra is in Gujarat, on the western side of India.  The terrain is a dry, flat desert.  The most comfortable times of year for a visit would be between September and April.  The closest city is Ahmedabad, 135 km east of Dhrangadhra.

The city is very old, and has many beautiful, if crumbling, old buildings.
I came to Dhrangadhra on January 4th with no expectations, just curiosity and a willingness to help in any way I can, and planned to stay for a week or so.  It’s an old fortified city, with about 75,000 people.  You can easily get around it all on foot, most of the roads are fairly wide, yet crowded, with vehicles, animals, people, and vendors carts.  Cows, pigs, dogs, and people gently jostle for position in the streets all day long.  Compared to Udaipur (a much larger city, with a lot of tourists), Dhrangadhra is a small town with a local market and a few restaurants.  No tourists. 

Orore and Laurent brought a cart from France for our paralyzed dog, Tom.  
I brought my camera equipment, thinking that he could use some social media help at the very least.  (I was right, the camera came in handy) and as the days passed, and I got accustomed to the routine and the needs of the shelter, I began to put the camera down and help with treatments, cleaning, and general running of the shelter. 

What impresses me the most about Ashish is his absolute determination and passion for this shelter, and helping the street animals here.  He's adamant that this is what he will do, and having a permanent shelter of his own is the goal.

Our day is usually between 8 and 12 hours of work.  It's all broken into sections during the day...shelter work, in city errands and picking up injured animals, lunch, more shelter work, then night time street treatments between 8 and 11pm.  (At the moment there are no street treatments due to lock down) Everything is done using Ashish's motorcycle (although he will eventually need to purchase a small vehicle for picking up the animals he's helping)...even bringing the animals back to the shelter for care.  I've gotten pretty good at balancing myself on a bike, with a full backpack, a dog in my arms, often with a dog food container on the front of the bike, and Ashish driving.

As we drive around the city, one of the things you absolutely can't miss is how many dogs remember and LOVE Ashish.  They hear his bike coming and jump up, howling with joy, and chasing him down the street.  Invariably, he stops and gives them some gentle words and attention.  It's amazing to see.  He knows them all by name, and there's a story to go with every dog.  

Administering IV fluids to a cow that was having trouble giving birth.
He is absolutely unwavering in his desire to help street animals, and at this point has left his job at the bank in order to do this.  It’s a catch 22.  The bank provided a steady paycheck…but kept him away from the animals all day long.  Now he’s with the animals all day, but has limited resources available to buy food, medicine, and supplies.

Theo is one of our favorite puppies.  He was at the shelter for a couple of months, healing and getting stronger after an attack left him with a huge wound on his neck.
Over time, I discovered that he had some serious plans for a permanent shelter, and we have had many conversations about how to accomplish his goals.  The factors that will determine the shelter’s future are multi-faceted…and have to do with a new physical location, funding and staff. 

At the gate to the shelter, all the dogs come running to greet Ashish.
The current location is in an old, abandoned vegetable oil factory.  A small corner of the property has a few rooms and is surrounded by a high wall. There’s no electricity, but it does have water, and there’s a personal connection to the owner so there’s no rent.  BUT…the owner has other plans for the space, so Ashish needs to relocate.

This area is where the future shelter would be located.
A piece of government land has been selected, and multiple levels of permissions and paperwork have been completed.  The very last permission was slated to happen this summer…but due to India’s lock down and the virus concerns, everything has come to a standstill.  This land deal may happen in the future, but right now, if indeed he needs to leave the old factory location, Ashish needs a temporary place to bring the animals for treatment.  

Surgery for a puppy (Theo) with a neck wound from being attacked by another dog.
Puppies often come in dehydrated and emaciated.  Living on the streets in India is hard enough for the dogs, but with lock down in place, it's even harder.  There's no food for them.
So, what sorts of cases do we see?  There are many dogs suffering from distemper and parvo, but we’ve also had several rabies cases.  Dogs and puppies all suffer accidents and need help with broken bones, abscesses, and open wounds.  Sometimes, dogs come in and it’s not entirely clear what the problem is, so we provide supportive care and hope they can pull through.  Almost all the dogs that come in are starving.  Their ribs and pelvic bones are clearly showing, and they’re dehydrated.  It can be very frustrating to see them at this point, knowing that there’s possibly not much that can be done for them.  Their little bodies are shutting down. 

Charline had a broken leg from a man beating her with a stick.  She healed and was released after about a month.  She is a sweetheart!
Night time street treatment, for a puppy that needed fluids.
The dogs that do pull through, though, those are the ones that keep you going!  There have been so many cases where they were able to turn around, get better, and put on weight.  We vaccinate them for rabies, make sure they’ve been wormed, and in some cases we are able to get them spayed or neutered. Then they get released to their neighborhood under the watchful eye of the person that had originally called to report the case. 

Ashish treats between 40 and 50 dogs and puppies every month.  There are seasonal shifts, but when you look back on his meticulous records, that's a typical number every month.  Costs to run/maintain the shelter reach around 60,000 rupees ($800) every month.

The days have been long, and the work has been all-consuming.  My roles here have included vet tech work, laundry, photography, cleaning, organizing, dishwashing, and feeding.  It's been really exciting to be doing work that's so vital to each of these animals lives.

We're definitely open to having volunteers come to help at the shelter, if you are interested!  If you have specific skill sets that are relevant (veterinarian, veterinary technician, photography, videography, prior animal rescue work) please get in touch and tell us about it.  Let us know approximately when you'd like to come, and how long you're able to stay.  Even if you don't have specific skills in the field, the animals always need love, physical therapy, baths, etc.  There's always cleaning and organizing to do.

Because it's such a small town, lodging options are very limited, so what we're going to do is rent a house that can accommodate 3 or 4 people at a time.  It will be fully furnished and have a complete kitchen.  Meals will be an option (we could hire someone to cook on site, or have tiffens made).  There will be wifi.  I also have my own scooter that I am happy to share or, at the very least, give you rides for shelter time and errands.  I'd like to have the house up and running in September, but check with me on the progress, and what the costs will be.  I'm hoping to come back around the middle of October 2020 for several months.

Please donate to Ashish if you can.  I've never met anyone so deserving, and as much as we hate to admit it, it all comes down to supplies and money.  Ashish can accept monetary donations thru his Paypal account, and the email to connect to it is

We have also made an wish list with items that can be ordered and shipped to Ashish in Dhrangadhra.  The link is here:  Amazon wish list

Thank you!!

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Tower Hill Botanical Garden: Caterpillar Exhibit!

Yesterday and today, Tower Hill had a special exhibition (from The Caterpillar Lab in Marlborough) about caterpillars.  When I was at Tower Hill a few weeks ago for a formal photo shoot, I saw the poster promoting the event and knew I had to go.  I shot a wedding yesterday...but today was a free day!  I headed over and had an absolute ball photographing these little guys. 
As a kid, I would collect caterpillars, feed them, and then when the hatched from their chrysalis, I'd let them go.  It was magical.  Sometimes I'd have dozens of Black Swallowtail or Monarch butterflies all over the place.  My mother would have squealed with delight to see this show.  I thought about her all day. 

I've never wandered through Tower Hill if it wasn't for work...weddings, engagement photos, and corporate work have all been photographed by me here.  I took a break, had lunch and a glass of wine, and ventured out again.  It was a GREAT day.