The life of Stray Dogs and Cats in Chiang Mai

Whenever I get to a new place on my travels, I always check out the local cats and dogs, I can't help it. I know lots of other people do the same. I've met lots of them in Chiang Mai doing great volunteer work with the 3 big dog rescue groups here. In fact the Care for Dogs organisation now has a regular flow of visiting overseas vets keen to come and immerse themselves in the diversity of animal problems that they rarely see at home.

When I arrived in 2007 I checked out dog and cat rescue and came up with Care for Dogs. I became a volunteer for a day and stayed with them 3 years. There have been so many changes since that time, most of them led by western influence but with local Thai people firmly onboard and looking for guidance in animal care.

Street dogs have been part of Thai culture for hundreds of years. In general, Thai people like their street dogs and are very amiable towards them. Most of the dogs aren't owned in the way one would think of it in the west. The dogs just 'hang out' on the streets, but they have their own territory. To stray from it could mean trouble from other dogs on neighbouring properties so they tend to stay very close to home. The temperament of the street dogs is, generality speaking, calm. I've worked with street and temple dogs for 5 years and have never seen a dog fight. They seem to police themselves by staying within their own territory and so keeping out of trouble.

 

Street dogs are fed and cared for by locals in the neighbourhoods and temples, and by street food vendors. This means that most of the dogs are fairly healthy, but you'll still see dogs in very poor condition. Over time, the situation is improving. In the winter the locals like to put dog coats or old tee shirts on them to keep them warm at night when the temperature can drop from a scorching 40c in the daytime to as low as 10c at night. One particular type of Thai dog has fur so short you can see through to the spots on its skin, hence, they definitely need their coats at night!

 

Cats are a different story. There are thousands of them here, but unlike the dogs, they are almost invisible. They are inclined to stay out of the way of people and dogs. They live on rooftops and in derelict buildings, coming out only at night to hunt or look for food. It's possible to leave Chiang Mai without knowing that the streets and temples are home to thousands of cats. Some are feral, some friendly and some, sadly, in very poor condition. There are a few temples in town where the monks seem to favour cats over dogs. Here you'll likely see lots of cats basking in the sunshine, the lucky few who are usually very well cared for. Cats tails are a bit of a novelty here. Some cats have short stubby tails or tails bent into odd shapes that look broken, others have tiny bob tails. There are many stories about why this is. The most popular is that Thai people think the cats are too beautiful so they cut off or disfigure their tails to spoil their perfection. In truth the kittens are just born with these cute short or bent tails. Sometimes a whole litter will have these odd looking tails, sometimes just one or two of them. I've been told by vets here that it's just caused by inbreeding.

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