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tara.jpgWhen Buddhist nun Kunzang Drolma joined Sedona’s Tibetan center, Kunzang Palyul Chöling, never in her wildest dreams did she think she’d live a dog’s life.
By Nate Hansen
Larson Newspapers

When Buddhist nun Kunzang Drolma joined Sedona’s Tibetan center, Kunzang Palyul Chöling, never in her wildest dreams did she think she’d live a dog’s life.

Seven years ago, Australian native Drolma moved to KPC’s 148-acre retreat in Dakini Valley to act as the caretaker.

For five years, Drolma lived off the grid, five miles from anything remotely close to “civilization.”

It was a refuge in the middle of Tonto National Forest, she says.

Still is.

In 2005, things at the Dakini Valley retreat shifted.

“Life changed overnight,” Drolma says.

As a response to the effects of Hurricane Katrina, KPC formed Tara’s Babies Dog and Cat Rescue — now Tara’s Babies Animal Rescue — to provide a safe haven for the animals separated from their owners.

Volunteers from Sedona’s Buddhist community went to Louisiana and Mississippi to set up temporary shelters.

In addition, they began working with Best Friends, an animal sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, to coordinate transportation of dogs and cats to Payson — the closest town to KPC’s Dakini Valley retreat.

Before they knew it, more than 130 animals basked and bayed within Arizona’s once quiet oasis. The howling ceased with the sanctuary’s promise to remain a no-kill shelter.

Recently, KPC and Tara’s Babies adopted 10 dogs from Taiwan.

The intercontinental adoptions came serendipitously,  Drolma says.

Last year, California resident Melanie Freeberg was on the Internet searching for animal adoption agencies.

After a few clicks of the mouse, she eventually found herself looking at, a nonprofit organization by the name of Asians for Humans, Animal and Nature.

The mission of AHAN, as proposed by founder Vicky Lynn, is to “educate the public on animal and environmental welfare.”

Though AHAN is headquartered in San Francisco, dogs come from Asia and are flown to the largest nearby international airport in the United States.

Freeberg didn’t know AHAN was located abroad until she finally spoke with a woman who originally began saving dogs in Taipei, Taiwan.

“Ms. Wu,” as Freeburg and Drolma refer to her, was a high school teacher who started saving stray animals and housing them in the school’s courtyard.

Unfortunately, her recent retirement and pressure by a new principal unsympathetic to the needs of the animals threatened the canines with euthanization.

Knowing this, Freeberg sought out anyone who could help — thus Tara’s Babies offered 10 adoptions.

Drolma estimates there are 14 dogs still on “death row,” for which Freeberg, KPC and Tara’s Babies all pray they’ll find homes soon.

Of the 137 animals Tara’s Babies saved after Hurricane Katrina, eight to 10 percent went back to their rightful owners, Drolma says.

Some moved on to other no-kill shelters while others were placed in foster homes or adopted in long-term placements, she adds.

Today, less than 40 dogs wait for homes.

Dakini Valley retreat’s mission changed overnight but justified its purpose, Drolma says.

She says after exposure to suffering, she sees it as an opportunity to save lives.

Thanks to a regular dog trainer from Young, the animals are learning behavioral skills.

“This isn’t a holding pen. It’s more of a caring environment,” she says.

August will mark two years since one of the country’s largest natural disasters, but Drolma refuses to concentrate on the negative.

“Tara” isn’t only the name for the animal refuge, it’s the name for the Buddhist mother who oversees all living beings, she says.

Tara looks over people as she looks over pets.

Tara hopes her babies will soon find a home.

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