Going beyond puppy love: Tahoe woman works to save the lives of India’s street dogs
Special to the Bonanza
How you can help
For more information about donating to the Karma Animal Trust, email Nikki Mares at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Mares’ North Tahoe-based dog care business, Dog Adventures of Tahoe, visit www.facebook.com/daoftahoe. Twenty percent of the revenue from her bookings goes toward the Karma Animal Trust.
INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — On a recent Saturday morning at High Altitude Fitness in Incline Village, Nikki Mares is holding perfect balance in a yoga class. Appearing relaxed and serene, Mares looks graceful and present as she goes through the poses.
After the hour-long class, I learn she just got back from a two-week trip to Rishikesh, India, where she checked on the animals she helped earlier in the year through the Karma Animal Trust.
Mares, North Lake Tahoe native, went from being a professional soccer player in Spain to finding a calling in helping the street dogs of Rishikesh.
“I was working as an English teacher and a pro athlete (in Spain), but there are so many barriers for women being supported in soccer,” says Mares. “When you take it down a notch, it’s hard to compete.”
She says she suddenly lost her passion to compete and went through an identity crisis where she didn’t want to be a professional athlete anymore.
Keeping up her spiritual practice, Mares was meditating one day when she experienced a strong calling to go to India.
“I never had a desire to go there, but then when I was meditating, I heard it audibly — like I was getting a phone call and the person on the other line said ‘Go to India’,” says Mares.
FINDING HER ROLE IN LIFE
Although she had no idea what she was going to do when she got there, Mares knew she had to eventually make it to India.
She spent about six months in Alaska working for a dog-sledding adventure company to make money, and then went to India in January 2016, when she felt like the time was right.
In Rishikesh, she spent six weeks devoting herself to her yoga practice and meditating when she started realizing what her purpose there was.
“In retrospect, I realize it was an emptying for what was to come,” she says.
She went to her friend to get a hair wrap one day and noticed a malnourished dog that seemed to be living in the ashram (a center for spiritual study).
Feeling an overwhelming need to assist, she helped secure medicine for the animal, potentially saving its life. The experience soon sparked Mares to start rescuing the street dogs of India.
Soon after the incident, she found a puppy that was emaciated and full of fleas and ticks. When Mares picked him up, the puppy immediately passed out.
She started doing whatever she could to save the animal and bring it back to life.
Mares ended up adopting the dog (named Soldier) and brought it back to America, where he is happy, healthy and loving Lake Tahoe.
‘THE TIPPING POINT’
However, trying to save street dogs in Rishikesh definitely has its barriers.
Once, she found a dog that had been hit by a car and it seemed to have a broken pelvis, yelping in pain. Mares called all the animal hospitals, but since it was a Sunday, no one answered. She watched the dog die and then went out and buried it.
“That was the tipping point. A dog that I had never seen before came to me to die and (I helped) her into the next life,” Mares said.
She dedicated the next two months to rescuing dogs in Rishikesh and acting as the mediator between the sick dog and the veterinarian.
“I would see the ones in need, identify their problems, call the vet and then administer their treatment,” says Mares.
Working with the Rishikesh Animal Rescue Project — and now with Karma Animal Trust — Mares helped countless dogs and some cows, but she admits that not all cases end well.
“It makes you question — when do you play God or not?” Mares asks herself.
After her 3-month stint in India, Mares came back to the U.S. and started a crowdfunding campaign to raise money for Karma Animal Trust.
She received $930 in donations, which pays for about three weeks of spaying and neutering five dogs a day, plus all emergency services.
“Our dollar really goes far there; it takes care of a lot,” Mares says. “It can be hard living in Tahoe because you don’t see the full spectrum of life. It’s such a paradise here, you don’t realize how good you have it. But our society is starting to realize that there’s more out there.”
“It’s amazing to give life to something that doesn’t have it, whether it’s a dog, a person, or a community,” Mares adds. “But to see a dog go from lethargic to its full power of life- the transformation is insane.”
Kayla Anderson is an Incline Village-based freelance writer with a background in marketing and journalism. Email her at email@example.com.