By Wendy Haynes Connor
In preparing for a talk on Baba’s pets I recently gave at Meher Center, I reread Mehera’s charming book on this unique feature of His life, Baba Loved Us Too. It was a delight to reread the colorful stories about all the animals that lived with Baba and the mandali over the years at Meherabad and Meherazad. What was so remarkable to me was the attention and care Beloved Baba gave each pet. Mehera writes in her introduction to the book: “Animals have always played a special role in our life with Baba, not only as His pets, receiving His personal touch and contact, but also, it seems, as a channel of His work, reaching out to all the animal world and the whole of creation.”
All kinds of animals were brought into the ashram—ranging from cats, birds, pigs, rabbits, a mongoose, even a snake (which had a short-lived stay), to cows, monkeys, gazelles, and particularly beloved, dogs and horses. Baba often chose the animals Himself, named them, and fed them their first meal upon arrival. Then He would assign the care of each animal to someone in particular.
In many instances, Baba gave Elizabeth the job of looking after certain pets during her stay in India in the ’30s and ’40s. Baba knew of her deep love for animals and the joy it gave her to take care of them. In a letter to a dear friend, Elizabeth describes the various pets Baba put her in charge of in Bangalore:
“Everything has been moved down from Meherabad here, over fifty disciples, including all the ‘pets’ of which I have charge. ‘Kippy’ my dog came in the Buick with me. ‘Lucky’ the miniature monkey came with the passengers of the bus—so each car had a mascot! A disciple was specially delegated by Baba to bring the other animals in the train, namely, ‘Lilly’ the pet gazelle; ‘Bingo’ and ‘Jingo’ the two dogs which we have had since puppies at Jubbalpore; ‘Nutty’ and ‘Gutty’ the pigs which I brought up at ‘Meherabad’ since they were ten days old and are now most tame and run to me from any part of the garden here; ‘Bundy’ and ‘Dundy’ a pair of reddish monkeys that are quite tame but always escaping and create excitement; ‘Snowie’ the white rabbit which was really the first pet which Baba brought one day in a small bag and no one could guess what it really was, moving inside, until he took out this little ball of down, so soft and tender. She would rather anytime be petted than eat. In fact all these animals which come under Baba’s roof have a unique loving quality. Now ‘Silkie’ the black and white cat has been added to the ‘zoo’ since our arrival here. She is the size of a kitten but they say is three years old and a Hyderabad cat, who remains small. ‘Kippy’ and she sleep in my room and have become great friends, if ‘Silkie’ does not come up on my bed when ‘Kippy’ is sleeping at the foot! Also, the two ‘traveled birds’ of mine are hung up high in the bathroom and hold their concerts when the water runs, which has the sound of music to them. So now you see the ‘birds eye’ picture of life in India.”
Anyone who has ever had a pet knows the joy of that unique relationship. In many cases, the give and take of love is so precious that one often feels Baba’s presence and is reminded of His unconditional love.
A significant and unavoidable part of that loving relationship is the death of a pet, which can sometimes be devastating. Two years ago, when Buz and I had to put our dog down, who was ill and suffering with cancer, we were not prepared for the depth of pain (and attachment) we felt. One story that helped us is something Ted and Janet Judson (who are long-time Meherabad residents), had told us years before. In Janet’s words:
“We had a much loved dog which was very, very sick and we were caring for him as if he were in ICU. Every time I went to Meherazad during this period, Eruch would ask me, ‘Have you put him down yet?’ and I would reply, ‘No, Eruch.’ This happened a number of times until he said, ‘Why don’t you do it? Do it! If you love him, you’ll do this for him. It’s for humans to suffer and animals to evolve – suffering does not help them.'”
Another source of great comfort was a beautiful explanation dictated by Baba for a letter Mehera sent to Irene Conybeare. Irene and her friend, Joy Adamson, were quite upset over the death of Joy’s pet lioness Elsa, and had questioned Mehera about it. Some may remember that the movie “Born Free”, released in the ’60s, was about the life of their pet Elsa. Meheru gave me and Buz a copy of the letter and has given permission to print it here:
“There is never a creature, animal or human that is any ‘less’ by dying—it is always a ‘progress’, for life is a continuous chain of many lives, progressing ever FORWARD in evolution. And, however incongruous or senseless it may all seem to us, it is in harmony with the pattern of a great united whole, in God’s plan. We cannot deprive any creature or man of the experience of suffering which makes him always the richer and takes him always forward and closer to the Self within.
“Elsa’s was one of those rare souls which had evolved to the point where human contact was imminently essential to its progress. And because of your understanding and sympathy you were attracted to that soul housed in the body of a tiny lion cub. And thus Elsa’s love and deep attachment to you who gave her so much love will make her progress all the greater.
“You should be happy that you had not simply tamed the wild beast in Elsa, but that you were one of the very few who had had the privilege of making Elsa forget her wild nature. Therefore do not mourn your missing her, do not weep for yourself; Elsa having made so close a human contact from the wild, it was natural that she could no longer remain in her present animal form. So rejoice with Elsa in her leap forward towards greater freedom.”
Neatly and sweetly tucked within this inspiring and profound explanation is the comforting reassurance that only Beloved Baba can truly give concerning all of life’s challenges: “however incongruous or senseless it may all seem to us, it is in harmony with the pattern of a great united whole, in God’s plan.”
Through this timeless explanation, and through Baba’s dedicated work with animals, He gives us a minute glimpse into how the Lord of Love leads each soul one step at a time to the final goal of God’s infinite Love.