The Hard Life of Dogs in Thailand

This morning the air was cool and the sky was just layers and layers of gray clouds.  Jai Dee and I headed out for our run while the sun...

This morning the air was cool and the sky was just layers and layers of gray clouds.  Jai Dee and I headed out for our run while the sun was still hidden, but there was light enough everywhere and the street was already awake with motorbikes and cars.  Just up the road from us is a “resort” hotel (as it is called) that has a seemingly endless schedule of huge tourist buses dropping off and picking up groups of Chinese tourists.  This morning a cluster of four buses were being poorly organized to move in and out of the driveway and it clotted the traffic on the road for a few minutes.  Jai Dee and I shuffled past on the edge of the road, much too narrow for any motorists, and made it to the other side before the road was cleared.

There are a lot of dogs on the soi (residential street) and not all of them are friendly to Jai Dee.  He’s dumb and tries to play with all of them, periodically getting nipped on the back legs or on his back while he wiggles around at the most tense distance his leash will allow.  This morning there were no dogs around, which was a little strange.  The whole street felt sleepy.  At the far end, where my soi T-bones into another small soi that will lead out onto the highway, there is a group of three young dogs that Jai Dee plays with and at about 200 feet farther up there is a group of five adult dogs that generally put an end to any playing as soon as they see it.  There’s a long fence with barbed wire along the gaps between posts that separates the road from a big empty lot.  I’m not sure what it’s for, maybe a parking area for a big restaurant that’s behind it, but the dogs can play in there away from the road sometimes.  One of Jai Dee’s buddies trotted up and started doing the run-up-and-dart-away game while Jai Dee did the front-legs down and jumping around thing he does when he wants to be chased.  I kept pulling Jai Dee along, trying to move both dogs to the end of the fence so that I could let him off leash and they could do their face-biting game in the open lot.  Jai Dee was not being helpful and there was a bit of traffic, mostly motorbikes, as the buses must have finally cleared the road.  I yanked at Jai Dee to keep him on one side of the road and out of the street, trying to keep the dog playing with him on one side as well, but he kept zig-zagging across the street.

Finally I told Jai Dee to sit, to stop his leaping around, trying to calm them both so that we could get to the end of the fence.  As I did this the other dog kept looking at Jai Dee and frolicked back across the street.  I saw a pickup truck full of workers coming, moving slowly enough that they could have stopped and I hoped the dog would clear the truck to the other side.  He didn’t.  He got slowly pushed under the car, yelping and to my horror the truck kept rolling all the way over the dog and then kept driving along the road.  My hand was covering my mouth in utter disbelief – like part of my mind thought that it would be like the movies where it’s a close call but everything is okay. It wasn’t okay at all and all the workers on the back of the truck just looked at me as they disappeared down the road.  The dog was in the middle of the street now, his mouth gushing blood and his body curled, making the most horrible whining sound.  I ran over to him, not knowing at all what to do, and Jai Dee didn’t understand the situation at all and actually grabbed the back of the dog’s neck with his teeth and started tugging back and forth on him, as he does when he’s playing with the dogs at O. Meekhun gym every night.  I ripped him off of the dog and tried to hold him in one arm while I reached down with my other hand and tried to comfort the yelping dog.  The hoard of five dogs up the road started barking and charging down the road at the injured dog.  I looked around for help.  I didn’t know if I could run back to the apartment and get my motorbike to bring the dog to the vet, but even if I could I had no way of holding the dog on the bike.  I’d have to get my husband out of bed and have him hold the dog, and then what do I do with Jai Dee?  Did I even have time to do any of this?  Could I move the dog at all?

I know that the dog lives right there by the empty lot, so I carried Jai Dee with me as I moved back down the road a bit to see if I could find anyone home.  There were two old Thai men walking slowly out from the apartments, probably called out by the sound of the dog.  They walked with their hands behind their backs, like they were strolling, no urgency at all.  I got close enough to one of the old men and asked him, frantically, if anyone was home.  He looked at where I was pointing and said, mee (“have”, meaning there’s someone there).  I told him the dog belonged to them, was there anyone there?  He just nodded at me and asked me where I live.  I pointed down the road and he nodded, then said, “it’s okay,” and then called to the other old man that the dog had run in front of a car.  Nobody was doing anything and I didn’t know what to do.  I turned around and all the dogs from the street were now circling around the hit dog, some licking the blood off the street and others just sniffing at him.  I could smell the blood, something that I had recently smelled when I saw a woman fall off the back of a moving motorbike after having a seizure and I helped carry her over to the sidewalk and just held her hand until she woke up.  She had blood oozing out of her mouth also and had slowly recovered before any medics arrived, badly scrapped and bloodied.  When you have blood dripping down your own throat, from your nose maybe, it’s a very metallic smell and taste.  Like sucking on copper or pennies.  But when you smell large amounts of blood it’s very sweet smelling, not at all the sharp metal of the taste in your own mouth.

One of the big tour buses started to round the turn and thankfully they have a very hard time making these turns and they had to stop for  moment.  I signaled for the driver to wait and ran back toward the dog, hoping to drag him out of the middle of the road.  He would be crushed under the bus for sure.  The pack of dogs hurried away as I ran over and the injured dog actually got up on his own and struggled over to the grass on the side of the road, where he curled up and laid down.  The bus passed and the man and woman who live there finally came out of the house and looked at the dog.  They didn’t come over, they didn’t seem to have any urgency either.  I reckon the dog isn’t their dog so much as that it’s considered a street dog and they feed it and put water out for him and the other two dogs that live there.  It’s not a “pet” or companion in the sense that my western sensibilities see dogs.  I was losing my mind and the people who actually took care of the dog – more or less – just watched him.  The man walked through the gate and slowly made his way over to the dog.  I called out that he’d been hit by a car and the man nodded at me.  Then he talked to the dog and kind of patted him, somewhere between a friendly pat and a swat on the butt you’d give a dog while telling him to get out of the trash, and said something to the dog that sounded like a “stay out of the street” kind of thing.  The dog’s nose and mouth were still covered in thick red blood, but he acknowledged the man and wagged his tail.  He was panting hard and his eyes were unfocused, clearly in a state of shock.  He seemed to be right in between the possibilities of getting worse and dying there on the grass, or being at the very first stages of needing a long few days of rest to recover.

The old man gestured for me to go and I didn’t know what the hell to do.  I couldn’t do anything standing here, so Jai Dee and I went on up the road and started running.  I was crying the whole run, looking like a crazy person to all who we passed, I’m sure.  Jai Dee had a spot of blood on his front leg from where he’d stood over the dog and I had a spray on my own leg from being close to him, I guess.  I couldn’t get the image out of my mind and the thought of Jai Dee getting rolled over was like a waking nightmare in my mind as we went along.  I was furious that the truck hadn’t stopped at all – it was moving slow enough it could have stopped for the dog, could have stopped once it had gone over the dog, could have stopped to help.  Any of those things.  But I was hit by a car on my motorbike a few weeks ago and that driver stopped to see that I was alive and then drove off.  They don’t stop for people, fat chance they care to stop for a dog that isn’t considered a soul the way they are to many from the west.  It’s strange, really, because the Buddhist mentality gives respect to all life and killing is certainly a karmic sin, but there’s an acceptance of pain and death and injury that feels apathetic to my own sentiments.  Street dogs are so numerous out here that they hold a complicated position of being dirty animals that we might liken to rodents in big cities in the US – rats in NY don’t get much affection – but they’re also fed and cared for in a communal manner as a way for people to make merit.  Feeding a dog is good for your Karma.  Putting an animal down is not done out here the way it is in the West – we see it as mercy, but passivity is more commonly the way out here and an old, sick, or injured animal will be left to “nature” to time its demise.  This seems inhumane to some, but we don’t generally put people down in the West – it’s illegal and Dr. Kevorkian was not a widely loved man in his mission to allow persons to take control over their own deaths.  So, for what it’s worth, the mentality toward death in both the West and in Thailand is complicated and non-universal.

We got home from the run and I washed Jai Dee off, then tried to calm myself down.  I felt very shaken up and couldn’t stop thinking about that poor dog.  The horror of the fact that he was playing with Jai Dee when he was hit just couldn’t be let go.  I have to drive up this road on my way to the gym and I was scared to do so, knowing that I’d either see a dead dog on the side of the road or I’d see him not-yet-dead and not knowing how well he’d make out overall.  Kevin woke up and I told him what had happened.  We talked about how hard the life of street dogs is here; it’s a life we took Jai Dee out of when we took him from the garbage pile, but it’s one that all his brothers and sisters and his parents – wherever all of them are, since he was alone when we found him – are still left to.  Even those dogs at the end of the street, while they are fed and given some shelter by the people that live there, are not fully free from the life of a street dog.

When I drove past the area where I had last seen the dog, he wasn’t there anymore.  This means one of two things: 1) the man and woman took him to the house where he is recovering in some shade and will hopefully be okay; or 2) he expired and they moved his body.  I believe it’s the former.  I’ve seen several dogs out here that have clearly been hit by a car before – dogs that have broken jaws or are missing part of their lower jaw, missing eyes, broken legs that will never heal.  It’s horrible, I know and I hate to be writing about it because it’s such a fucking depressing thing… but it’s also really beautiful that these dogs go on.  They go on living as part of little packs with the other dogs; they’re fed and have access to water and a place to sleep.  It gives me hope that this dog can recover.  Dogs are built to survive with strong thresholds for pain and the ability to endure an incredible lot.  Even that woman who I saw fall off the bike a few weeks back, while I held her hand and watched her mouth bubble over with blood and her breathing stopped for a moment – I thought she was dying; I thought I was watching her die – she recovered.  She actually sat up and was talking a little bit before the ambulance arrived.  Life is at once very fragile but also incredibly resilient.  I hope I see that dog in the next few days.  I will give him so much love if I do.  Whatever difference that might make to either him or to me.

This experience is an illustration of the way in which the surface friendliness, sunniness, and smiles of Thailand is not at all the whole of it.  Well, that experience is in the context of a hundred other experiences that explain how a gentle, passive, Buddhistic and very hard-working nation of people can also be so harsh.  Obviously this is true of any culture – the “hospitality” of the American South is also a performance under which very strong connections and familiarity with violence is present.  The way in which the old men on the street were unaffected by the dog; the way in which his non-owner “owners” were calm in the face of this situation – part of it is performance, as I’ve seen crowds gathered around human death and injury with similar flatness – is partly what allows a culture where a sport that is considered one of the most “brutal” in the world is practiced (professionally) by children.  There’s a degree of desensitization – folks who come from the Colorado mountains above where I grew up were never very upset when their 4th or 6th family cat was, yet again, eaten by a mountain lion or disappeared into the woods.  When you’ve seen dozens of traffic accidents, when they print full-color images of dead bodies in the newspaper, there’s less of a shock response to seeing it again. It’s part of life.  Maybe my sensitivity is something to be grateful for.

[Update: a week after this terrible accident I saw the dog that was run over, walking around the lot where he lives.  A week after that, he was looking great.  He stays out of the road all together now, which is good, but otherwise seems unaltered by this event.]

If you liked this article you may like these:

Adopting Jai the Jungle Dog – Love and Complications of Having a Dog in Thailand

Dog Love in Thailand – Feeding the Stray Puppies on the Lake

“Glap Maa” – The Comeback Dog

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A 100 lb. (46 kg) female Muay Thai fighter. Originally I trained under Kumron Vaitayanon (Master K) and Kaensak sor. Ploenjit in New Jersey. I then moved to Thailand to train and fight full time in April of 2012, devoting myself to fighting 100 Thai fights, as well as blogging full time. Having surpassed 100, and then 200, becoming the westerner with the most fights in Thailand, in history, my new goal is to fight an impossible 471 times, the historical record for the greatest number of documented professional fights (see western boxer Len Wickwar, circa 1940), and along the way to continue documenting the Muay Thai of Thailand in the Muay Thai Library project: see patreon.com/sylviemuay

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