The Land of the Strays

It’s very easy to say ‘I love dogs’ when you’re talking about fluffy, perfect dogs. When you love a dog that does not necessarily look beautiful, then you love a dog.” Lya Battle

We live in a time when everything is expected to be perfect. Our houses are to be perfect, our cars are to be perfect, our bodies are to be perfect, our jobs are to be perfect and the list goes on and on.

Perfection is not possible and I often wonder why we want to be perfect. Personally, I find perfection boring and making simple decision becomes huge because one has to make sure their choices meet their standards of perfection. Perfection breeds unhappiness and if we look all around us we see it. The straight ‘A” student who can’t accept a ‘B’ because they are a straight ‘A’ student. Why can’t a straight ‘A’ student get a ‘B’. What if while writing that paper they were not feeling well or not rested enough or maybe something depressing happened in their lives and they simply were not themselves. Perfection leaves no room for rest, no room for dallying, no room for lingering coffee moments for no other purpose than “just because.” The student would learn so much more from that “B” paper than a “A” but society doesn’t see it that way. To put it simply, we are setting our children up for for failure.

Lya Battle knows that lack of perfection opens the door for humanity. She lives in Costa Rica and she is surrounded by furry beings that society has deemed not perfect. They are mutts, dogs tossed out into the streets by society. Some are missing legs others missing an eye but all have several things in common according to Lya; they are survivors, they are strong, they are intelligent and she is inspired by their resilience.

Costa Rica has an estimated two million stray dogs on the street and Lya has approximately eleven hundred of those stray dogs on her three hundred and fifty five acre farm. She battles the government, she battles her neighbours who will sneak on to her property and poison the dogs. Yet rather than have a hateful, negative attitude, she is inspired by the dogs. They speak to her heart and soul and for the cruelty and suffering that humans have put these dogs through, Lya has this to say: “The cruely and suffering of dogs doesn’t come from evil, it comes from ignorance, ignorance perpetuates rejection and ultimately abandonment and overpopulation. Ignorance can be changed, it just takes enough people to want to change it.” Lya started this change by inviting people to her no kill shelter of 1300 dogs to change one heart at a time. It’s hard not to look at these beautiful dogs and not have your heart changed. One heart changed is many hearts changed and as slow as it may be, one heart at a time is the road to change.

Perspective is misleading, it can lead you on a long travelled road only to realize when you reach the end of that road, you had it all wrong. Many in our western society want to breed the type of dog that meets their lifestyle, dogs that don’t shed, dogs that are the right height, dogs that don’t bark, dogs that aren’t too energetic. As I write this I’m shaking my head as it’s so ridiculous but many do that to their children too, they see their children in a certain light, obtaining a certain education, in a certain career,playing a certain sport and many parents put all these pressures on their children and never ask their children what it is they really want. Again, perfection breeds unhappiness to be perfect means that you are always trying to attain that state of perfection. It’s exhausting and what many don’t realize is that when you accept the mess, the ugly and the not so desirable and walk with that, your life changes, your heart grows, your soul embraces and you learn so much about the world and what your part is in this world.

For Lya it started with one dog, a stray that ended up on her doorstep. She took him in and named him Oso. However, Lya had four dogs already and she was determined that Oso would not be part of her life. She decided to find a home for him and she did find a home for him but every home she found, the adopters sent him back within two weeks. He went to seven homes and each time she heard the following complaints about him: Oso was not disciplined, Oso didn’t listen, Oso chased cats, Oso dug up the garden, Oso jumps the fence, Oso barks too much. Lya agreed this was true but she also recognized that these qualities that irritated everyone, were also the qualities that made him unique. He was unapologetic, a self-proclaimed ruler of the universe and for all those qualities, Lya held respect for Oso and after the seventh person rejected Oso, he became part of Lya’s family.

What Lya found was that Oso came with many headaches and problems but he also brought with him very profound lessons. The most important lesson was that sometimes doing the right thing pushes you so far out of your comfort zone, you might never find your way back. For Lya that was the birth of Territorio de Zaguates, Territory of the strays. She went from five dogs to eighty dogs in that house and then moved all the dogs to a farm with many acres and named it Territory of the Strays and today she has over a thousand stray dogs on that property. All are fed, all have been neutered and spayed, all receive yearly vaccinations and all are loved, not one dog is rejected.

In some ways we are all from the land of the strays as we search for our place and purpose on this earth. May we stop being so pushed to perfection and focus on what is in front of us in the here and the now. May we entrust in the beauty that is within us and not hesitate to share that beauty with all we meet. Our purpose on this earth is to share our souls with one another, we were never meant to hide behind a mask of perfection. Our path is to be unique and to always be our true selves. Being our true self is enough; at any given moment we are enough…

Johanne Fraser

Watch Lya on Ted Talk here:

The Land of the Strays

Website: Territorio de Zaguates

Territorio de Zaguates on utube

Note: Territorio de Zaguates has been temporary closed to upgrade for government regulations. Please check their website for updates about re-opening.


“Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all” Aristotle

I recently read this story on one of the blogs I follow “find your Sanctuary.” Every week I receive these beautiful moments written by Terry Hershey where he preaches that we need a place to refuel, we need to rest, we need to pay attention, we need to breathe and we need to just be. In one of his weekly moments in my inbox this story was included: “A Zen Roshi is dying. All of the monks gather (an eagerness restrained) around the deathbed, hoping to be chosen as the next teacher. The Roshi asks slowly, where is the gardener? The gardener, the monks wonder aloud, he is just a simple man who tends the plants and he is not even ordained. Yes the Roshi replies, but his is the only one awake. He will be the next teacher.”

This story really spoke to me about society today. We live in a world where our senses are deadened by consistent noise. The noise comes at us in every waking moment and the result is that we never rest. Our minds and our beings are fuelled by self-sabotaging thoughts essentially berating ourselves that we are not good enough. Those thoughts are usually carried by society’s unrealistic goals of having a lot of money, owning the best car, the best house, the highest education, the best job, the right clothes and the right look. Writing that sentence exhausts me, we can’t possibly live up to all of those expectations. The reality is that not everyone has the same access to any one of the things I mentioned above and education is just one of them.

I work in education except as a teacher once told me, I’m one of the uneducated ones. I work in the field of support. I am an office manager in a high school and as a support worker, like all of my fellow support workers, we support every niche and cranny in that school. Just like support beams in a building that no one ever thinks about, we are the weight-bearing supports that bridge the values, policies and integrity of our counterparts and ultimately support the structural integrity of all. I would say that support staff are “awake” as we see all and we move between the shadows and understand that our work is done behind the scenes, often unrecognized and never credited.

The uneducated comment is true. In conversation with a teacher, she said that I was uneducated because I did not have a post secondary education, in other words, I did not have a degree, therefore she did not consider me educated. Limited thinking I would say and it concerns me that as an educator she feels that the measure of a human being’s worth is in the degree they obtain. My response to that comment is that I am educated and always will be educated as I believe education has nothing to do with the piece of paper one holds; I believe education is about being in a continual state of learning and that education is present in every moment and in every being we meet on our journey called life.

Like the monks in the story above, this teacher lost the lesson. Too busy worrying about the right car to drive, the right house to own and the right clothes to buy to establish the look only worthy of the educated. My question is this; what about the souls who can’t afford the same kind of education, or the souls who choose to work and educate themselves through experience, or the souls that by the time they work the three jobs they have to pay for their rent and their food simply don’t have the energy for education. Are they not smart or good enough to have what the educated have? It is interesting to me that in many cases of the elite ones, their parents paid their way and they have no idea what it’s like to pay their own way.

This is a sad commentary on society and I sincerely believe that the attitude that I wrote about above is the downfall we are seeing through the pandemic. It’s not necessarily the “educated” that has kept our economy rolling through this Covid. Yes the healthcare workers have continued to push through this difficult time and put themselves at risk as we all work through this global epidemic. However, the support workers of society, the unseen beams that support the structural integrity of society are working behind the scenes to ensure all have the essentials we need to get through this challenging time. The “blue collar” workers in the truck drivers, the grocery store employees, the department store employees all the employees that you can possibly think of who are working behind the scenes to keep this economy moving. It is this structural support that has put food on our table even when the pandemic was at its worst and people were fighting over toilet paper, cleaners, meat and anything else they considered essential; the workers of the world just kept slogging through the difficult times while many of us griped about working in the comfort of our homes protected behind our computers and zoom meetings without much thought of what some of our fellow human beings were facing.

Education has failed us as we have educated minds but we have failed to educate hearts. Personally, I can tell you the amount of times I have walked by educated ones who don’t have the time or day to say hello or a simple smile as they walk by, yet in the very next moment I see them nod and say hello to a member of the educated ones. I always share a private laugh because it is in the moments of grace that we learn the most. My work with a hospice has taught me about life as I work with souls transitioning from this life to the next and the most important lesson I have learned in life is from the lessons taught to me by hearts of the dying. No one talks about their education, their houses, their cars or their clothes as they face death. It is in this learning from the heart that I have gained the most profound lessons. Ironically, there is no fancy piece of paper that confirms my education, nor is there a document that says I am good enough to get a fancy job. However, as I continue to walk this journey called life, I have found the lessons I have learned from the heart journey with me as I step forward and place my foot on the solid foundation of the stepping stones before me. It is the message from each and every soul’s heart that I take with me on my chosen path forward.

Society preaches that the path I have chosen is the wrong path as there are no fancy riches on the path in front of me. Like the gardener the Roshi designated as teacher, it is in the simple things that we continue to ignore that there is so much to learn from. As long as we learn from the heart, teach from the heart and recognize that all souls have value, I don’t believe that this is the wrong path to take and I hope that I can be awake enough to ignore society’s pull to ideas and ideals that have nothing to to with matters of the heart.

Johanne Fraser