Soi Dogs in Thailand

Sign the petition

I know about twenty Soi dogs in Thailand (so named because they hang out in alleys, or sois). They’re not well cared for  and, if this story moves you, sign the petition to improve their lives. If you’re in Chiang Mai you can volunteer or adopt a dog from Care for Dogs. They do heroic work caring for lost dogs who need homes.

I walk two miles around my neighborhood at dawn each morning. The streets are quiet and empty except for dogs. Soi dogs in Thailand are an independent lot. As far as they are concerned they have as much right as any Thai to walk or lie on the road and they expect humans – especially drivers – to respect that. Thais generally do, though there are enough limping, three-legged, and even two-legged dogs around to suggest that their rights are not always respected. though they do a fine job of barking at strangers, they have limits. If it is too early in the morning–before 5 am–or late in the evening– after 11 pm–they prefer to sleep. (Thai cats are well aware of this, as are the pigeons who know the cats will vanish when the dogs appear). Thai dogs will not bother you if it is raining, or chase you if the grass might wet their paws, or if it is too hot, or too cold, or if you are accompanied by a dog bigger than them.

People who’ve never gotten to know dogs find Soi dogs in Thailand frightening and I suspect that they’re responsible for most of the negative stories about them. If you like dogs you won’t have a problem with them. They’re more assertive than house dogs, since dogs are territorial animals and the soi is their territory and they have to hustle for scraps every day. Happily, Thais love dogs – though they rarely pet them, which Thai dogs are OK with – and I’ve never seen an emaciated one.

They’re numerous because Thais don’t commonly spay or neuter dogs. One reason that there aren’t too many dogs is a big market for dog meat in northern Vietnam. Dog-catching has been privatized by dog catchers who smuggle thousands of them across the border every month.

Like everything in Thailand, there’s a dog hierarchy, too. At the top are companion dogs: well-groomed, well-fed, often purebreds that are allowed to socialize with street dogs for a few minutes each morning under their owners’ watchful eyes. These are the friendliest dogs I meet each morning. They approach me fearlessly and enjoy being petted and talked to.

Below the companion dogs are guard dogs: serious looking and larger than the companions. They run loose in the yard and, in return for a protected space and regular meals, bark at passersby and, presumably, bite intruders. Below them are ‘gate dogs’ who  have adopted a house, live in the street by the gate as auxiliary guards. They stick so closely to ‘their’ gate that I assume that house owners feed them on a ‘no obligations’ basis. Both householder and dog retain their independence while deriving benefit from the relationship.

Next down are real soi dogs who live entirely in the street. They live in strictly hierarchical packs for mutual protection are most vulnerable to dog catchers since they’ve nowhere to hide. It is these guys who accompany me on my morning walks and whose social arrangements keep me entertained. When I arrive in their alley they congregate around me, apparently simply happy to be acknowledged by a human. At first they all wanted to be petted but, over the months, the novelty of petting has worn off. Now our greetings are largely verbal: warm words from me; yipping and tailwagging from them. Then we set off for a block or two so they can show off their human friend to the guard- and house-dogs. Then, with their status raised, they peel off and start exploring the exciting new smells that the morning brings. They’re as individual as any human and I find their interactions a constant source of interest and amusement.

Below soi dogs are the wretched of the earth: the strays. These poor creatures have neither turf nor a pack to protect them. Something has displaced them and they literally have nowhere to call their own. They slink around, ears pinned back, with anxiously wrinkled brows desperately looking for food and temporary shelter. Packs of soi dogs pursue them and, if they catch them, attack them viciously. Here’s a video I made of my local dog pack. Sometimes they accompany me for a few blocks; sometimes they ignore me:

The Vinegar Cure

The worst dogs I’ve encountered are the racists (surprised?). They ignore Thais but hate foreigners and feel it their patriotic duty to attack them. There’s one guard dog on my morning route and I would walk quietly past his house, enduring his bloodcurdling snarls and barks. One day his gate was left open and he came after me. I escaped unharmed but my morning was ruined. Happily, Thailand is the home of the water pistol. Thais consume more water pistols per capita than any nation on earth because, in Thailand’s climate, they’re fun, s’nuk. After choosing a compact, high capacity weapon (60¢ at the supermarket – always on sale) I loaded it with diluted vinegar. The next morning I heard the same racist threats but I had my equalizer ready. A few squirts (avoiding his eyes) followed by the sound of baffled, indignant whimpering. He seemed as much upset by our switch in status as anything! He was no longer the aggressor and he obviously hated smelling of vinegar which, to his doggy nose, must have been intense.

I repeated the treatment on Soi dogs in Thailand the next morning and that was the end of it. He still barks at me, of course, but his bark lacks conviction. The racist insults and threats of dismemberment have ceased. We encountered each other out in the street last week and, after a few halfhearted barks he backed defiantly into his open gate.

Prevention

  1. Let sleeping and eating dogs alone.
  2. Don’t approach dogs you don’t know. You’re probably entering their territory and dogs are territorial.
  3. Don’t go near dog hangouts at night, like temple grounds, abandoned buildings, building sites, car parks and empty spaces.  Darkness is their friend, not yours.
  4. Carry an equalizer. A rape alarm works fine. Umbrellas and pieces of bamboo are fine. Often picking up a rock is enough to discourage them.
  5. Don’t run. It excites their hunting instinct. Walk purposefully as you draw yourself up to your full height
  6. Fold your arms or raise them slowly above your head. This keeps vulnerable hands away from sharp teeth.
  7. Don’t smile or squeal. Your smile resembles aggressive teeth-baring and squealing sounds like a wounded animal. Command them in low, strong tones.
  8. Be wary of turning your back on them. Don’t hang about.  Commotions attracts other dogs. Walk on, possibly backwards.

There are tons of Soi dogs in Thailand, but Deputy Dog is a favorite. This golden labrador is a well-known character around Chiang Rai, the beautiful town 5 hours drive north of Chiang Mai. Richard Berry, who combines an idyllic Chiang Rai life with manufacturing the ultra-natural English Organics cosmetics (you can eat them – literally) snapped a few shots with his cellphone.

Dog-Scooter-Waiting-vertical-400x535

On a Lighter Note

There are tons of dogs in Thailand, but Deputy Dog is a favorite. This golden labrador is a well-known character around Chiang Rai, the beautiful town 5 hours drive north of Chiang Mai. Richard Berry, who combines an idyllic Chiang Rai life with manufacturing the ultra-natural English Organics cosmetics (you can eat them – literally) snapped a few shots with his cellphone. There’s no story behind this as far as Richard has been able to discover. This is simply how the dog likes to sit while waiting for his master to finish shopping. Here’s how deputy dog looks when he sees his master approaching:

Monks Kindness to Dogs

Thai temples are a traditional refuge for stray and hungry dogs and the monks beg for food for them every morning as they walk the streets, barefoot. Here’s what happens at feeding time:

 

 

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