A Passage From India

By Dick Anderson

How far will Joellen Anderson ’11 go to find forever homes for 10 stray dogs? 8,000 miles by air—and another 1,600 miles by land. Here’s the incredible tale of the Canine Caravan

Under gray Los Angeles skies December 5, a Qatar Airways jet from Delhi, India, touched down at LAX after a 16-hour flight. Among those on board were 10 passengers of the four-legged variety, ages 4 months to 2 years, and their two-legged chaperone. “When you are a girl and you’re alone and you have 10 dogs, people take pity on you,” says Joellen Anderson ’11. “Almost everyone loves dogs.”

Even so, finding forever homes for the strays that find their way to Peepal Farm—the animal recovery center and organic farm near Dharamsala, India, that she and cofounder Robin Singh established in 2014—is a constant challenge. While the shelter treats a multitude of animals—including dogs, cows, cats, pigs, lamb, goats, and the occasional monkey—“There’s really no outflow,” Anderson says. “There are very few people locally who will adopt a stray dog.”

Thanks to the global reach of social media, Peepal Farm has enjoyed some success in placing dogs farther afield, including England, Finland, Germany, Israel, and Scotland. And only a few months ago, with the help of a dog lover in Vancouver, British Columbia, Anderson hatched her most ambitious plan.

“I had this crazy idea since we get a lot of interest from people in adopting in the U.S. and Canada—why don’t we just take the dogs there?” she explained in a YouTube video. With Anderson leading the way, the “Canine Caravan” would transport nine dogs from Dharamsala down to Delhi, put them on a flight to Los Angeles, and deliver them to forever homes in Seattle and Vancouver. Total distance: more than 9,600 miles. “I might be out of my mind,” she admits in the video, which raised nearly $4,700 to help underwrite the trip. “But this should be fun.”

The incredible journey was a team effort from start to finish. A veterinarian in Delhi experienced in relocating pets accompanied Anderson to the airport, the vet’s husband handled all the necessary paperwork, and five additional people assisted in wrangling the canine cargo. (Nine dogs became 10 when Anderson chaperoned another dog for an acquaintance at the last minute. “He ended up being the biggest handful,” she says.)

Anderson has been working with dogs since she was 15, beginning with the local Humane Society in her hometown of Tucson. She picked up spending money as a dog walker at Occidental—among her clientele was Polly, a Boston terrier belonging to Tamara Rice Himmelstein in the Office of Student Life—and majored in urban and environmental policy.

After graduation, Anderson spent close to eight months traveling the world, including northern Africa and Europe. Along the way she met Singh, who had grown up in Delhi and was stepping back from E-Junkie, the e-commerce business he had founded nearly a decade earlier. He was planning a trip in Auroville, in the south of India, to help a woman who was running a shelter for abandoned dogs. “I kind of invited myself on the trip,” Anderson says, and the duo would spend several months in Auroville cleaning up the shelter and putting systems in place.

Their work planted the seeds for Peepal Farm, located in the Himalayan foothills less than an hour from the home of the Dalai Lama. (It’s named for the Peepal tree, “which takes root and dismantles existing structures—we subvert the cultural status quo to foster compassion and good work,” according to the farm’s website.)

“Robin had been looking at living off the land there for a long time,” Anderson says. “Then the search became about building something like Peepal Farm.” The farm has given sanctuary to scores of strays, including cows. “Despite India having the reputation of holy cows, the way they are treated is really bad,” she notes. Once their milk production declines, “Most cows are abandoned, since slaughter is illegal in our state, or they’re hit by trucks and left to die.”

While Peepal Farm has managed to facilitate both a cow and a bull adoption nearby, the bulk of its energies on Facebook and Instagram go into profiling the dogs who come there in need of healing. “When people read the stories of these dogs, and the situations they’ve been trapped in, they connect with an individual dog and they want to adopt them,” Anderson says.

“This trip has really been about making connections,” she adds. The success of the caravan has been instrumental in freeing Peepal Farm up for the sterilization and post-operative care at the core of its mission. “We are always over capacity. Right now we have seven dogs in trauma recovery, 13 adoptables, eight puppies, and four dogs in post-operative care. The caravan gives us an outflow.”

After delivering the first four dogs to their owners on a rainy day in downtown Seattle, the remaining six crossed the border into Canada for the caravan’s final stop in White Rock, British Columbia. Five of the dogs had been placed locally, Anderson says, and “We put the last one on a flight to San Antonio.”

From travel crates to rest stops, “I was blown away by how well-behaved the dogs were, despite not being trained,” she adds. “I definitely had a positive experience overall.” Already, people are asking her about a second canine caravan. “Maybe later in 2019,” Anderson says—only “I think I would take a few fewer dogs and a different type of van next time.”