Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Waiting it out

The black and white dog with a nicked ear and a filthy coat shows up at the gate outside the house most evenings. I wonder how she stays alive; her body is emaciated but her eyes always radiate a hopeful expectancy as she trots over after seeing me pull up after work. She gets a handful of cheap kibble from the Big C placed on the ground outside the gate that surrounds the house and growls at the younger dogs that try and encroach. This is the life of the lost and neglected dogs of Thailand.

Homeless dogs are everywhere in this country, hanging at the outskirts of markets, playing in parks, sleeping on the medians of intersections, and maintaining a steadfast presence on side streets.  Generally benign, the canines are more concerned with neglected, discarded or dropped food scraps than anything else. They are resourceful and productive survivors.  They dogs are always “intact”, possessing the full function of their reproductive organs and using them as often as possible to create litters of puppies that play in the same public areas.  Last night, I saw a dog surreptitiously uncovering someone’s food offering to the spirit house, nosing the bowl to access the rice inside. 

I’ve struggled to reconcile my conflicting feelings about these canines. I appreciate the way that the Thai people tolerate their presence.  Just last night, I saw a large truck signaling a turn into a parking lot for a noodle stand near Sirijit park. As I passed on the motorbike, four dogs were illuminated in the truck’s headlights as they slept in the middle of the parking area. I suspect the driver would have given a few warning honks and perhaps sent out a human emissary to shoo them away.   However, some dogs are so obviously feral that they appear dangerous and are unpredictable. The pack that hangs around the north entrance to  the Ancient Forest Temple across the Street occasionally singles me out as a target, barking, snarling and running  alongside the bike which results in me lapsing into English curses and pedaling faster.

There are a few dogs that patrol the schoolyard and keep the chicken bones, ketchup smeared plastic bags and other discarded leftovers under control. The cook’s dog just had a litter and she patrols the campus with swollen teats.   The Director’s family has a pair that just sired another litter that was given away to people in the community.  Wazi, a teacher who helps me in a couple of my classes,  brings her ancient canine, Goptop,  in to dotter around the campus.  Goptop and The Director’s male dog both happened to be patrolling the school cafeteria during the lunch hour and got into a showy snarly altercation that resulted in screaming children, adults yelling at the dogs and a rapid intervention by the Phys Ed teacher and a plastic chair that finally broke it up.  Goptop was dragged away by his collar and forced to walk on only hind legs.   The other teachers say, “they never had children, so he is their baby.”   I can relate.
Goptop in the lunch line after the kids have been served.  He is looking at his owner who is serving herself.
Goptop in the lunch line after the kids
have been served. He is looking at
 his owner who is serving herself.

Most of the dogs are so dirty, infected, aloof or skittish that I have no desire to get close to them.  One dog in the Ancient Forest Temple Across the Street has lost nearly all his hair on his back from an unknown condition.  Perhaps there could some potential for one of these dogs to be nurtured into a housepet if they were adopted as a puppy.  Chilidog - my longtime canine companion who died of old age in December 2011—had a habit of placing his head on the pillow next to mine as we slept.  There was more than one night he was spooned up against my back.   Could any of these dogs achieve this same level of princedom?   I was shopping last night and found a plastic dog bowl for only ten baht (30 cents) and struggled mightily with the thought of purchasing it for my canine acquaintance so she wouldn’t have to eat off the ground.  In the end, I didn’t.  It’s better not to get too attached.

Thai Buddhists believe that people who “misbehaved” in a previous life are reincarnated as homeless dogs.  With that perspective, there’s a sense of tolerance and compassion toward these prevalent canines.  In many of Thailand’s temples, dogs are welcomed and fed from the community’s offerings made to the monks.   Alongside of the river vendors set up tables of fish food, where for twenty baht people can make a food offering as a tool to build their own chances at a better life.   In the Ancient Forest Temple Across the Street, there is a old woman on a red motorbike outfitted with storage baskets on both front and back.   Her tiny pet dog balances on the back seat as she makes the rounds, laden  with a couple of 10 kilo bags of kibble.  Every day around sunset the resident dogs make their way to the perimeter road for the hand out.  As the night falls and I make my way back home on the main road, she passes me on the motorbike and waves.

The dogs are just trying to tough it out in the current life.  Perhaps it’s our obligation to ensure that they are treated with kindness and compassion during their relatively short lives.  There is a small but potent power in a gentle word, a tossed scrap, a fleeting thought of well-wishes to bolster them on their long journey up the karma ladder.   Just don’t make eye contact with the leader of the pack when you’re riding by before dinnertime.

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