Friday, December 12, 2014

Dogs of Bhutan

I love dogs. Bhutan is a great place to see lots of dogs. Dogs napping on the streets:

Dogs hanging out on bridges:

Dogs trotting through parking lots:

And nosing around under stadium seats:

Dogs are absolutely everywhere in Bhutan. In the countryside:

In towns:

In the fields:

On mountain trails:

In monasteries:

 And temple courtyards:

But the reason why it's so easy to see dogs in Bhutan is there are far too many of them, and they are almost all--every one of them--homeless.

It's a very hard life, being a dog in Bhutan.

Sure, they do the regular doggy things, like playing:

And scratching:

And hanging out with other dogs:

And looking cute-tastic:

I repeat myself, but Bhutan is not a good place to be a dog.

In the nine days I was there, I saw only two dogs who looked like pets--they wore collars and were on leashes, going for a walk. The vast majority of dogs in Bhutan have no real owner, no reliable source of food, and nowhere safe and warm to go at night. They roam the streets of the city:

They roam the countryside:

They roam because they are looking for something to eat, somewhere to stay safe. I saw dogs nosing through flaming piles of garbage, risking a burned nose or paws in their attempt to find something to eat. I saw dogs drinking from dirty gutters in the cities. The lucky ones find a running stream with fresh water:

At night, in the city and the country, I saw dozens of dogs, curled up on concrete sidewalks, on stone doorsteps outside shops, or in the middle of trash-strewn empty lots, trying to get some sleep. Trying to stay warm.

I'd been warned before I went to Bhutan that dogs bark all night long. But until I went there, I didn't realize why. They bark because they are hungry and cold and uncomfortable. They bark because they have nowhere safe and warm to go, where they can sink into a deep, dreamy sleep:

Many of these dogs have matted, filthy coats. Some suffer from mange. A few had open sores. And yet, they are surprisingly, heart-wrenchingly sweet. Approach one slowly with a soft voice and a kind hand, and they will let you pet them. Sometimes they follow you, hoping for more. Hoping for a handout.

In town, a few lucky dogs have attached themselves to a restaurant or hotel. If they can avoid ticking off the kitchen workers, they might score some scraps tossed at them when the kitchen closes.

In the countryside, some dogs have figured out to watch for groups of tourists led by native guides. When the groups stop for a picnic lunch, the dogs drift close, hoping for handouts:

In town, I snuck out of a restaurant many times, pockets laden with scrambled eggs and bread and chicken, to give to the city dogs. In the country, the dogs that attached themselves to our entourage during an outdoors picnic always got some leftovers. And head scritches:

Our guides told me the Bhutanese government pays veterinarians to run free local spay/neuter clinics. The clinics pay $50 per dog to whoever brings one in. The clinics do the operation, clip the tip off one ear to show the dog's been fixed, and send it on its way. To most Bhutanese, $50 is a small fortune.

Sounds great, right?

But in the nine days I was there, I only saw a handful of dogs with a clipped ear. Not this one:

Not this big, silver beauty:

Not these babies:

And not this mother dog, who'd just had a litter of puppies. We came across her on a chilly day when our group stopped for some hot tea and cookies at a mountainside café. 

Most of the puppies were hanging around, being cute, drawing "Awwww's!" from our party:

But one of them was lying by itself, coughing and trembling. I wrapped him/her up in my jacket, picked up another one, and just sat with them:

For 15 minutes, two puppies had a warm, soft place to sit. They immediately fell asleep:

And then we had to go, and it almost broke my heart to put them down.

That evening we went back to our hotel, where this sweet female has made sort of a life for herself.

She is fed scraps by the Western guests and is tolerated by the staff as she hangs out on the porch. Of course, the young guests loved her:

And so did I. (By the way, she's one of the lucky ones who's been fixed. You can just see the little notch in her left ear, below):

But she is filthy, like most Bhutanese dogs. I parted her fur a bit to find that, under her dingy gray outsides, she has a beautiful, pure-white coat:

At night it gets very cold. This is where she sleeps, under a corrugated metal roof that overhangs a fence. On a bed of leaves. And she's one of the lucky ones:

I don't want to sound like a whiner.

I am grateful for having the ability to travel. I am grateful for having seen the Himalayas. For having hiked some of the most beautiful trails in the world. 

But I will never understand a country that does this. That makes the typical American pound dog--with two meals a day, a cot to sleep on, and a roof overhead--seem like it's living in Heaven. 

Compared to this: 

All through Bhutan, I kept thinking of this quote by Jeremy Bentham

The question is not, "'Can they reason?' nor, 'Can they talk?' but... 

... 'Can they suffer?'" 


  1. how very sad. This must have been very hard for you to report on.

    1. Thank you, Lisa. It was, and I pondered a long time over whether I should or not. Ultimately, I decided to speak my truth, regardless of what other travelers who love Bhutan have said.

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  3. Some areas that are more rural or remote may not have pet stores and they may end up having to drive a large distance and locate one. There's an easier way to purchase pet supplies online. click here



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