Bhutan is the topic of many a blogger these days. Beautiful mountains and unique culture keep the average tourist writing and clicking away long after they have left Bhutan. Complaints are few in these blogs but one topic of annoyance that often repeats itself would be Bhutan’s stray dog population. These dogs are not pretty, they bark all night, they have a penance for darting out in traffic, and they run in packs. They scavenge in the trash, laze about on doorsteps, and can be found anywhere. (During the Kings wedding two dogs accompanied many of the dancers on the field)
But this is only one view of the dogs that wander Thimphu. In Bhutan a stray dog is a strange relative, a reincarnated friend, and part of the fabric that makes up daily life. What seems at first to be a stray dog wandering around town actually is someone’s dog. That dog is fed and washed but wanders during the day, seemingly another stray in the area. I was once in a store and made a comment about one of the dogs outside who seemed to be limping badly. He was lying about with several other dogs, all shaggy and without collars. However it turned out that this dog was owned by one of the shopkeepers and the dog had in fact been taken to the vet.
A pack of dogs is usually attached to several families clustered together in an area. They alert the families of newcomers, keep real stray dogs away from the houses, and chase away wild animals that would ruin the gardens. This is not to say that dogs are a welcomed sight in town.
When I first came to Bhutan I first looked for the dog kennels and found none. What I found was a horror story known as the Memelakha dog pound where dogs would go in but not out. Because of the scale and nature of the mismanagement all pounds were shut down. The few organized groups dealing with dogs involve mass sterilization campaigns and rabies vaccinations. However I still wanted to work with the dogs. Enter Marrianne, a fifteen-year Bhutan resident, who currently works with every dog that comes her way. These dogs tend to be covered in mange, victims of the ever-increasing car accidents in town, or debilitating diseases. Once when I was helping her a dog came in that had been attacked by a butcher with his machete (and then probably went back to cutting meat with it), and another time I brought her one of the dogs on campus who had been kicked in the face and lost his eye. The dogs she tends are paraplegic, without fur, blind, and many other ailments that can prove fatal on the streets in the increasingly cold Thimphu.
I leave a blanket out for one or two of the dogs on campus at night. These dogs are covered in mange and don’t have the necessary fur to keep them warm at night. I keep a box of crackers handy for any dog who wanders by. There is no reason to not feed them. There is no reason to not keep them warm at night. The debates about karma always enter into the discussion about helping the dogs. It is your karma to help dogs, or what good karma you are creating. This leaves me torn because the creation of good karma is what motivates a lot of people to feed the dogs and without the food the dogs would not survive. However I also feel that feeding the dogs should be as natural as brushing ones teeth in the morning. If you can help someone or something, you should. This should be the end of any debate regarding social action. People will always feed the healthy, pretty dogs, but what about those who’s back legs don’t work? What about those who’s hair has fallen off? What about those who need it most? Bhutanese dogs are not pretty, but they are the sweetest dogs you will ever come across.
I was once in a heated argument over which animal was better, cats or dogs. My friend turned to a picture of his dog and said, “Look at those eyes, there is a soul behind those eyes.”