Monday, June 16, 2008

Who Let the Dogs Out?

These little guys are Soi dogs, Bangkok's homeless dog population (Sois are the side streets that run off main roads). Soi dogs would be in the top 5 list of "Things that Freak Tourists Out". They are pretty mangy and gross. They all perfectly embody the word "Mongrel". You could never pick any kind of pedigree in them. They are usually pretty skinny too and infested with parasites. Aside from scraps in the garbage, they are mostly fed by school kids snacking on their way home and street food vendors packing up for the day. Some of them do have "Owners" meaning they hang round one family/person more than others. A couple even have collars.

It's a bit fashionable in Thailand at the moment to have a puppy. Who doesn't like puppies?? They are cute and little and don't eat much. But of course, puppies get bigger, less cute and eat more. So they get turfed onto the street and get replaced by a newer model. So these poor, house raised dogs have to learn to fend for themselves on the street quick smart or they're toast. They have to fight for food with each other, find somewhere to hide and sleep and negotiate the crazy Bangkok traffic. I swear, some of these dogs are better at crossing the road than me.

Soi dogs aren't as dangerous as most people might think. They are usually too hot and tired to bother with you (Soi dogs will sleep almost anywhere there is shade, including the road with the traffic whirling by). Most of the time you can walk on by without even getting a glance. I would worry if the dog is foaming at the mouth and has a crazy look in it's eyes (rabies is still pretty prevalent here). Lots of people report attacks by Soi dogs every year and get rabies shots. But, on the flip side, most of these people have only been licked by them and then panic. I do genuinely feel bed for these dogs. Sometimes I feel like carrying round a huge bag of Smackos and throwing them out to the dogs like some sort dried meat product wielding saint. This would be completely impractical because a) I'd get followed home and b) I'd get mobbed. They estimate there are around 150,000 homeless dogs in Bangkok.

But it's not all bad for the Soi dogs. The King himself haa taken an interest. He adopted his own Soi dog to set an example for Thai people to do the same. There are groups of monks that go out and catch the dogs and then turn them over to vets who de-flea, de-tick and neuter them before letting them back out into the streets. This has helped to reduce the population of homeless dogs. These vets donate their time and a considerable amount of cash out of their own pockets. They are even starting to use soi dogs as police sniffer dogs. The do put them down, but only if they are very sick. Thai people believe that dogs are people who have lived wicked previous lives so think it's not right to kill them. But at the same time, this is part of the reason people don't feel bad turning them out into the street.

It's nice to see the Thai government and people starting to look out for their animals, in their own way of course. I actually think soi dogs, through all their mange, are quite cute. Thai dogs always seem to look like they're smiling. And if they can be happy with how they live, perhaps we can learn something from them.

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