Bangkok Street Dogs

A place to learn about the lives of street dogs in Bangkok, Thailand, with emphasis on the individual characters of the Bangkok street dog community and their stories of hardship and humor.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Introducing Gramps: Street Dog Patriarch

Nowhere is the intense grind of a life spent scrounging out a living on the streets of Bangkok more apparent than on a stray dog's face, many of which bear scrapes and scars from past brawls and wrinkles from the tropical heat and sunlight. Street dogs aren't known for their longevity either -- in fact, you may have noticed that none of the dogs I've profiled previously are older that four or five years of age. Even if they don't fall victim to the fast-moving traffic on Bangkok's notoriously crowded roadways, stray dogs oftentimes succumb to disease, other predatory dogs, or worse, to malevolent humans.

That's what makes Gramps, a ten year old skinny brown mutt who hangs out near Wat Po, such an unusual study. Gramps has seen Bangkok change dramatically during his decade on the streets, and although he's not getting around so well these days, and his eyesight is failing, he's always eager to tell a story or two about the old days.

One of Gramps' favorite horror stories is about the chaos that gripped the street dog community in early 1997, when the city began construction on the BTS Skytrain system. "One minute, I was snoozing peacefully on the sidewalk, and the next, my reverie was smashed apart by the appearance of the gigantic, noisy construction machines," he laments. "My afternoon naps were never the same after that."

But not all his memories are bad ones. Gramps told me his favorite memory is of the year 1995, when he was just a puppy. He's a huge rock music fan, and that year an unprecedented number of high profile bands came to Bangkok to perform. Gramps used to be quite the athlete in his youth, and he was able to use his quickness and elusiveness to slip past security and gain access to several concerts all over the city that year. "I got to see the Beastie Boys, Pearl Jam, Sonic Youth, Foo Fighters, Smashing Pumpkins, Phil Collins, and even Michael Jackson," explains Gramps, with obvious excitement.

But then, his smile fades and he becomes melancholy. "It's a shame what's happened to Michael... I can't imagine he would do such awful things," says Gramps.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Introducing Bruiser the Bully

So far in this blog, most of the dogs I've profiled have been either friends of mine, or friends-of-friends. Well, I'm going to break with tradition here and introduce you to Bruiser, a nasty bully of a dog who has a well-earned reputation for causing trouble wherever he goes. This 3 year old mutt from the wrong side of the tracks just oozes aggressive canine machismo, and he backs up his trash talk with a tenacious fighting ability acquired during the almost daily brawls he instigates with dogs all over the city.

All a dog needs to do to provoke Bruiser is to make eye contact. While I was taking the above photo the other day, Bruiser was already growling and making threatening overtures, even though I had my buddy Spike (a.k.a. "The Enforcer", whom I profiled in an earlier blog entry) with me as a bodyguard. Spike's not one to back down from a challenge, and the two dogs quickly became engaged in a classic canine staredown, with hackles raised and teeth bared. The air was electric, and a crowd of street dog onlookers quickly converged on the scene.

Then Spike said "Hey Bruiser, aren't you afraid of getting your little booties dirty?" -- a reference to Bruiser's white paws, which look oddly cute and out of place on such a mean-looking dog. Bruiser immediately lunged forward with a ferocious snarling attack, and the fight was on. Now, Spike is a much larger dog than Bruiser, but in a dogfight, anything goes, and the two battled on for several minutes without the emergence of a clear victor. Eventually though, Spike managed to wear down Bruiser with his superior endurance, and forced the bully to flee. Bruiser ran a few hundred meters, and then looked back at Spike with an expression that said "I'll get you back, just you wait."

It seems kind of strange and stupid to me for a dog like Bruiser to be so aggressive and want to fight everyone all the time. I chalk it up to excessive macho energy and an inflated self-image -- a potent combination that has led to the downfall of many a man and beast.

Friday, April 01, 2005

Introducing Max the Temple Dog

As I mentioned in an earlier post, Thailand is a fervently Buddhist country, and for us street dogs, that means the government doesn't have an official policy of rounding us up and putting us to sleep. Also, many Buddhist temples provide food and shelter for street dog populations of various sizes. Max, a 2 year old brown dog with pointy ears and a friendly personality, has lived in a Bangkok temple compound since he was a pup, cared for by the local monks, and surviving on food donations.

In exchange for the privilege of living at the temple, Max makes himself useful by serving as a kind of 'tour guide' for first time human visitors. Although he obviously can't speak, and his knowledge of the temple's history is a bit spotty, Max has become quite popular with visitors, who appreciate the kind and cheerful attitude with which he greets them. Sometimes, people even queue up at the temple entrance for the chance to experience his unique tour guide style.

If things continue to go well for Max's budding tour guide career, opportunities outside of the temple could very well arise. Several local museums and parks have expressed interest in his tour guide services. However, Max told me that he's not ready to consider these options, as he has grown very attached to the temple's monks as well as the other street dogs that reside there. There's not always enough food, and life at the temple isn't luxurious, but fame and fortune mean little to this well-grounded young dog. He's happy where he is, and I wouldn't be surprised if he lives out the rest of his life in the temple.

As Max is fond of saying, "Want nothing and you shall have everything."