Thursday, March 22, 2012

"Dog Days" Come Early, And For More Dogs Than Usual

The sun poking through the haze above Nonthaburi signals the start of another hot day.

While the hottest days of July and August are normally referred to as "the dog days of Summer" in the U.S. I couldn't help but think perhaps they'd been on holiday in Thailand the past few weeks, as it was the most hot and humid February I've ever experienced there.  I mean HOT; the kind of heat that makes any level spot with a modicum of shade look like a good place to just lie down and rest as the dry dust raised by traffic and the odd breeze leaves you with a fine patina of grey.

When the window of your hotel room at 06:30 is still warm to the touch from the heat of the previous night and now warming further by the orange orb of sun cutting through the dense, damp layer of haze to the East you can figure it's going to be a day best spent somewhere where the aircon is functioning properly, or at least in the shade by the poolside with a book, watching the pool boy attempt to keep ice in your glass - a fool's errand at best when even the breeze is languid and hot... when the air moves at all.

Still, some of us (I admit, sheepishly raising my hand) can't seem to stay put while on holiday and somewhat foolishly give in to the compulsion to venture out into the heat in an effort to get the most out of a vacation that already passes far too quickly.  One example of that was a visit to Rama II park last July, and though I know we've already covered the folly of being out in the mid-day heat before this story has a slightly different slant to it I thought worth sharing.

A neglected dog who'd taken a daily post near my hotel

There was a comment left on the March 12th post asking if I'd seen residual evidence of the flooding in Thailand, and while I actually didn't see much more than piles of sandbags still held in reserve there did seem to be far more "stray" dogs than usual.  When I asked my friend about this he said that when the waters came through many dogs had been separated from their owners.

Most of us have heard "Incredible Journey"-type stories of pets traveling great distances to be reunited with their human(s), but according to my friend the sheer numbers of animals and the sometimes great distances they'd been carried by the flooding meant that many were still on their own.  He'd read in the papers and heard on the news how there were tens of thousands left high and dry in more ways than one when the waters receded.

One of the challenges was not the fact that they'd been physically moved themselves by the water - or whatever they'd managed to hitch a ride on as it floated by - but that they'd lost their "trail"; the scent you see dogs sniffing along at as they make their rounds in their usual areas.  Now that those markings had been washed away they were unable to follow them, making things difficult for even some not all that far from home.

During my days in Nonthaburi, an area only partially flooded, there were lots more dogs wandering aimlessly around than I'm used to seeing in, say, Bangkok; unkempt, thin, dirty and struggling in the heat.  Many could be seen on their sides in the shade of shrubbery in vacant lots, their chests heaving as their tongues stuck out in an attempt to cool themselves off, looking up at you as you walked by but some without the energy to even lift their heads to question your motives or bark to protect their turf.

I'm not a cat person. Kittens are tolerable but unfortunately they grow up and become cats, so I don't invest any more time than necessary with either of them than I'm socially obligated to to humor friends who for some reason think that being owned by an animal indifferent to their existence is worthwhile.

Dogs, however, are a completely different story, so when I see a dog in distress I tend to make an effort to respond to the situation.  In the case of these lost and somewhat bewildered creatures in Nonthaburi I came up with an admittedly impractical temporary stop-gap measure of helping, but perhaps it's still going on there today.  I'd like to think so.

BigC Nonthaburi
While standing on the elevated walkway over the highway near my hotel one morning, taking photos of workers loaded in the back of open trucks (you'll see those images another day soon) I noticed one of the stray dogs nosing around in a small pile of refuse, looking for food or water.  Seeing I was just a football field from one of those enormous Big C monstrosities I got an idea and headed down the stairs and inside.

There I purchased two dozen small plastic bowls - about 10 inches across and around three inches deep, sort of like you'd see in a traditional hong nam - and two large (4 liter) jugs of water. Leaving the store I back-tracked along my route to my hotel, past construction folks working on a new BTS station and lots of open area where the dogs were scattered around, trying to stay cool.

Keeping what I thought was a safe distance I'd approach one dog after another, set down a bowl and half-fill it with water.  With only two exceptions the animals immediately got to their feet, came to the bowls and went about emptying them, lapping their chops.  One dog barked a warning so I left their bowl further away, but when I looked back they'd come to drink, too.  One was either too weak or ill to rouse himself, and I hope he got to it later.

Using my pocket knife I cut the bottom off of a bottle and left a little more for a dog I'd noticed tied to a motor scooter alongside a stairway that was there in the same spot all day every day I was staying there in Nonthaburi.  You can see him in the photo up above. Evidently he had an owner, but he was still happy to see the water each day I passed by and he became my favored animal, which got him the occasional snack.

Kindness can be catchy, if you know what I mean.  While walking to the 7-Eleven for more water on my last morning there I noticed there was already water in some of the bowls, and some dry dog food next to a few others.  That made my day.

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