Our social media abounds with photos of adorable dogs. They are “man’s best friend,” indeed. Many people bestow more love, time and conversation on their pawed friends than on their families.
But in Thailand, street dogs roam in packs and are flea-infested and starved. Abandoned in staggering numbers and breeding uncontrollably, these stray animals overwhelm the streets and the system. According to Thai Press Reports in October 2007 – the most recent data I could locate – in Bangkok alone, over 120,000 dogs were homeless. Imagine the number today. Every town and city in this country faces this problem.
Most often these mongrels sleep in the middle of the street oblivious to cars and motorbikes. They barely lift their head when a truck drives within inches and often lose a leg. The misery of their existence shows in their weary eyes. They often survive on rice and scraps found on sidewalks or on garbage piles. With their diseased, ravaged skin and boney frame, no one dares approach them. The pack hounds represent the other extreme. Dogs are territorial and will defend their turf aggressively. Cyclists and runners arm themselves with everything from sticks to ammonia to defend against the rabies-infested creatures.
I’ve heard every explanation for their ferocious behavior: that they confuse cyclists for horses which triggers their hunting instincts; that runners/foreigners smell different. Regardless of the reason, the moment a bloody, scabby dog barks and bears his teeth, you had better protect yourself.
The solutions are few.
Because Buddhism teaches respect for all life, Thais often bring dogs to the temples in the belief that the monks and nuns will take care of them. They do what they can. Sick-looking mutts of all shapes and sizes freely roam most temple grounds. These “temple dogs” live a little better.
In Hua Hin, more than 2,000 dogs are cared for at a dog shelter created in 2003 by the King of Thailand who has a summer residence there.
Volunteers with organizations such as Project Street Dogs (http://www.streetdogshuahin.com/eng/) dedicate themselves to caring for these unwanted animals. They feed them and raise funds for neutering and vaccination.
They nurture the untouchables back to basic health and try to find them homes.
Education, as always, offers the long-term solution. Animal lovers teach monks and nuns to apply flea powder to their four-legged guests. School teachers instruct children about the responsibilities of being a dog owner. Volunteers educate people on what to feed the mutts and how to detect rabies.
Still, I can’t help but be disturbed by the appearance of pet stores offering toys and upscale luxury doggy items. On the beach, homeless dogs now sniff “dolled up” pooches until their owners arrive in a panic to save them.
How do we encourage people to adopt the dogs that need care and healing, instead of promoting more breeding?