Dog Love – Thailand
I love dogs. Growing up we always had a dog in the family and when I went away for college I felt like a total mess of a human being due to living four whole years without an animal sharing our quarters. It’s just weird and lonely to not have a dog or a cat living with me. And now in Thailand we’ve had to leave our dog (Zoa) with my parents in Colorado. Our cat (Rama) was left with them as well but he already ran away because he’s stupid. He’s one with the world now, being crazy somewhere. There are dogs at the gym – quite a few, in fact – who tolerate my affection to varying degrees and that helps a little, but they’re not devoted to me. It’s unacceptable.
There are lots of dogs in Thailand. Nearly every street has a pack of dogs on one corner and a few individual dogs along the length of the road, kind of “representing” a business or a couple of them at a time, like a mascot. On our block there is a small dog that must be mixed with a wire-hair and a ridge-back, because he’s a scrappy little dog with a brown and white coat and a longer, wire-haired mohawk that runs the length of his back. We call him “Mogwai Dog” after Gizmo from Gremlins. Then there are “Pork Dog,” who is thus named because I gave her leftover pork once and she was on top of that immediately. She’s very fat and sweet. And “T-Bone Dog” who reminds us of our late dog Tiger, who was nicknamed T-Bone and this dog looks a bit like him. He just sleeps all the time. A group of Thai Ridge-backs that live at the temple. “Squatty Dog” who lives at the motorbike repair shop and his associates “Doan” who is one of the prettiest dogs ever, “Happiest Dog in the World” with a super round head, a new brown and white puppy that just hangs out underneath the food stalls; the “Corner Gang” which is composed of “Dart Head,” “Underbite Dog,” “Scrappy Dog” and “Moppy Dog,” as well as “Hyena Dog” and “No Ear Dog” who kind of wander up and down the road but don’t live in any one spot.
These dogs are called “soi dogs,” which literally means a street dog. But they’re somewhere between stray and domestic, but definitely not house pets. They are fed by the vendors on the streets and are taken care of in a kind of communal fashion. When it gets cold in the winter the dogs all sport sweaters – both the kind actually designed for dogs, as well as some made out of old T-shirts and fitted over the dogs to just keep them a little warmer through the night. It’s very sweet. As someone who finds outfits on dogs a completely ridiculous tendency in the west, I see it as a sign of care and affection out here. It’s the “I’m cold, maybe this dog needs a sweater” response that I just love.
When Daeng is available for morning runs he’ll drive us out to the Huay Tung Tao lake on the edge of Chiang Mai and Mae Rim. It’s a 10 km run home to the gym if you come straight back from the lake, otherwise it’s 3.7 km around and you can loop it a few times. There are many dogs up there, which makes sense for a number of reasons: 1) dogs living near lakes is a good idea for the dogs, since they have water and it’s not too hot; 2) there is lots of jungle around where the dogs can section off into packs and protect themselves and do whatever dogs do in the jungle; and 3) there are restaurants that run the entire circumference of the lake and many Thais go there to picnic, so there’s lots of food around. There is also a “puppy season” right as the cold season kicks in and there are more puppies around all the various areas where I run.
A couple weeks ago I was running down the first slope at the lake and a tiny white puppy came out of nowhere and started running along side me. You can’t pet all the dogs in Thailand – some are aggressive but most are just very timid and won’t let you near them. Thais take care of the street dogs by feeding and clothing them, but there is also corporal “correction” and punishment of the dogs, so they’re often conditioned to stay out of the way rather than to be friendly. It’s hard for my western sensibilities to not be able to love up on any old dog I see. But this little guy was tiny, clearly only a month and some change old and he was trying to keep up with me. So I slowed down and he launched himself against my leg for playtime. I held his little paws in my one hand while giving him some pets with the other and he was into it, so I bent down to give him more. Mama Dog wanted to see what was up and she kept her distance, watching me pet her little pup while two more, a brown and a much bigger black pup came up for some affection as well. The white one is the runt for sure. Mama Dog let him run with me a short distance more when I took off but then barked for them all to return to her as I got a little farther away.
The next day when I ran again I got to meet Mama Dog while I was petting her pups. I was wary of her because I was, in effect, all up in her business by touching her puppies. She circled me with curious and warning eyes and I stayed calm, then talked to her a bit and put my hand out. The little white pup bit and rolled around the hand as I left it extended for her and she slowly came up, sniffed me and then received some pets. She’s actually more affectionate than the puppies and I love giving her pets and rubs. She’s very sweet. And beautiful with a feminine face and a brindle coat. If I had a home here I’d take the lot of them.
So on my day off before my fight Kevin and I drove out to the lake with some chicken to feed Mama Dog and her pups. Mama Dog heard me and came out immediately and her pups smelled the food and know me and were all over me without any hesitation. When I put the bag down and opened it the black one had his face inside the bag without pause. All their little heads darted into the bag and took mouthfuls of chicken while Mama Dog slowly made her way around. I handed her a sizable chunk and she took off to hide her treasure and eat in peace – like a dog that’s used to other dogs in the house. The puppies didn’t know, they could kind of scrap among themselves over the last pieces, but they were perfectly happy to just walk a short distance and gnaw on their pieces of meat without much concern. I kept another large chunk in my hand for Mama Dog – she’s quite skinny from nursing, I imagine – and waited for her to come back but she didn’t. So I had to seek her out and throw her the larger chunks out on the grass behind the cars to make sure she got enough. When all the food was finished and I’d pet everyone I washed my hands and walked back to the bike with Kevin. Mama Dog followed right behind me and even kept her back to me while she barked at a female custodian carrying a broom. I was part of the pack, I guess.
That’s one of the most beautiful things about dogs to me: that the inside/outside line is clear and immediate. One of my favorite dogs is part of the “Garbage Gang” on a run near the gym and his name is Bruno. I gave him some love when he was a little pup and he’s never forgotten me. He sees me running and will sprint down the street toward me and jump all over me, even when I tell him to beat it when I have to get back to my run. It’s the same with Mama Dog. She’s a good dog and a good mother so she had to check me out at first, but the moment she realized I was an ally she was willing to follow me and respects me enough to turn her back to me in the face of danger. As a fighter, that means a lot to me. The inside/outside divide is not complicated; you’re either a friend or a foe and your intentions reveal which side you belong on very quickly. And when you find an ally, feed it.