A lot can be said about a place, its people, its culture or its food. But its animals can tell a tale of their own. Similarly, most travellers have an interest in exotic animals that inhabit faraway places. Tigers in Nepal or India, for example, or elephants in northern Thailand. Perhaps monkeys are your thing and you are keen to get a glimpse of some gibbons in Laos. This is all fine except they are not the critters you will lock eyes on the majority of the time. These animals, although breathtaking and worth every cent you spend to view them, are outnumbered by the many other local inhabitants.
So, who are these locals?
Dogs are everywhere you look at both home and abroad. They are the most common animal without question. After numerous jaunts to Asian countries it always seems to be the dogs that intrigue me the most. Regardless of where I am, they always behave the same, like some kind of canine union is making sure they toe the line.
Every day they do nothing. Zip. Zero. Zilch. The concentration it must take for these fur balls to lay in the one spot all day is mind blowing. Generally they congregate in the middle of either a path or a road to maximise inconvenience. Furthermore, there is no indication that anyone actually owns the dog.
Think back to your life at home. If your dog is out and about, you keep a close eye on it or, at the very least, somebody is willing to claim the dog as their own. If not, some ‘kind hearted’ person will call the pound to help reunite poor lost pooches with their owners. Those are the facts of normality in a western culture. I am far more worried about passing a dog in the street at home than I am in Asia, though. I go out of my way to walk as far from any canine on my street than risk a vicious mauling at the hands of our neighbourhood Jack Russel. That could just be pride talking; explaining that I was attacked by a dog the size of a football is a tad embarrassing.
But dogs on the orient seem to just lie there, occasionally sitting up to either lick their balls (no such thing as a neutered animal here) or move to a new location, preferably under a parked truck. The pack mentality of dogs doesn’t seem to change their behaviour either; it just means that there are more dogs lying about doing nothing. When you walk past them, they will move one of their eyeballs for a brief period to quell their own curiosity and then it’s back to planet snooze. It is entirely plausible, to me at least, that these dogs have chronic addictions to sleeping pills, marijuana or some kind mood suppressor that has been slipped into their food bowl for morning breakfast. If a human displayed the same behaviour, friends and family would be whispering to each other, planning some sort of intervention.
Once the evening comes, however, it is a completely different story.
The shift in attitude is almost instant. Dogs that have lain prone for close to twelve hours suddenly spring into life, like they have to personally say ‘good evening’ to every other dog within a five kilometre radius. Or maybe it’s some sort of dog handshake to commence the meeting of a canine fight club. I say this based on the wild brawls that can be heard immediately following the neighbourhood call to arms.
Dog fight club is easy to imagine. Two dogs facing off- full of energy after sleeping through every waking moment of sunshine. Surrounding them are probably some smaller breeds, the ones that are smart enough to stay away from the larger dogs but dumb enough that they need to watch the fight (actually, humans are kind of the same in this respect). Stray cats would perch up in the nose bleed section of a house balcony or roof top. I’d like to think they take side bets on who will win; cats are sly enough to do this. The chickens of the neighbourhood are usually safely tucked away by fight time, being far too sensible for this sort of violent behaviour. Besides, they would end up being the prize if they weren’t.
The dogs begin to bark madly. Usually this coincides with either dinner or bedtime for us human folk, just loud enough to be distracting. They are probably chanting the rules to dog fight club,
“The first rule of dog fight club is- what's that smell? I’m hungry. Oh look, a cat .”
Dog fight club has to be an international organisation. Every country seems to run on the same agenda. The racket appears to finish up by around midnight. The dogs operate like a person who has overslept; they can function for a few hours but need constant rest spells to maintain energy for the next rumble.
Generally the mutts run their own show, happily wandering around, doing as they please. The only exception to this rule is when sudden loud noises interrupt the peace. Last year, I had the profoundly blissful experience of travelling around the beautiful countryside of Nepal. Throughout every township I visited, I noticed several things happening. The evenings would be perfectly quiet; so quiet that only the oversized cockroaches make any noise (You know the ones. They seem like they can bench press your plate then carrying it away). Then all of a sudden a bell from the closest temple would ring out. This seems like an entrancing picture. However, this occurs at 3 a.m. No bell can compete with every canine in town singing out, in unison, with howls and barks, each time this happens. Earplugs, people.
Dogs may not be the exciting creatures you planned on seeing while away but get used them. They’ll be on the footpath, under trucks, in the middle of the road, on the boat and in the restaurant (under the table, not on your plate, unless specifically ordered). Think about it though; dogs are taking one for the team. If monkeys were as common on the streets as dogs, they wouldn’t be half as much fun, would they.
Wayward Tip: Even though these dogs seem placid, steer clear. The last thing you want is to end up in a third world hospital. But as my doctor told me, “Just don’t get bitten by a dog with rabies.” Seems legitimate medical advice.