I don’t think my current circumstances could be any less social. Apart from passing chatter with shopkeepers and waitresses, and a lovely Skype call with Beth, I haven’t spoken with anyone other than Nathan since we left Hanoi over two weeks ago. We have a daily routine of cooking and swimming and cross-stitching while listening to podcasts, and it’s lovely.
We’re also sticking to a routine, started in Hanoi, of evening walks. Here on Koh Samui, we’ve been walking along the beach, starting out from the big, long hill near our apartment building, which is littered with dogs.
There are dogs everywhere on Koh Samui, despite the efforts of a local desexing local program. Yesterday we took a short-cut through the temple and there were dogs comically strewn all over the concrete furniture and various temple displays. They’re in various stages of disrepair, but generally, look healthier and happier than dogs in Vietnam. Dogs in Vietnam have had their spirits completely broken, and seem to be less dogs and more meat products. They show no interest in humans at all – you can coo and cluck at them and they’ll look away – and little interest in other dogs. They know that it’s best not to make eye contact with anyone or anything.
Here, the dogs pursue crabs on the beach, and frolic together on the sand, and trot at your heels imploringly when you’re eating a snack. It’s been really nice to see dogs being so dog-like, even when the other day we saw one eat an ancient, leathery squashed frog it had peeled off the road.
But like the Vietnamese dogs, the Thai dogs aren’t particularly interested in humans either, just very interested in each other. When one dog trespasses onto another dog’s patch of road, it’s all-out dog war. We’ve seen dogs transform from idly sunbathing puppies to dog-shaped torpedoes the second they spy an unwanted canine visitor. We’ve seen retreating dogs with their tail so far between their legs, they look like the letter C.
It’s been getting me thinking about a really great article that Adam Gopnik wrote for the New Yorker. In it, he talks about the social contract made between man and wolf 30,000 years ago, to which all dog-owners are “living witnesses”: I’ll be your friend, and protect you, if you look after me. He cites an author who debunks the Dog Whisperer’s thesis that dogs are just frustrated pack animals, looking for a leader, noting that dogs are so far domesticated, they’ve long outgrown the need for such a model in their relationship with humans.
When you look at these Thai neighbourhood dogs, you can see exactly what he’s saying. Sure, these dogs are getting to express their dogginess, their wild, unrestrained animal instincts, roaming the neighbourhood in a pack, but I’m certain they’d give it up in an instant for the life of an Australian poodle. They would say, “Leash me, fence me, train me, tell me not to bark, I don’t care, just keep on feeding me and cuddling me and letting me sleep in your bed”. There’s no need to feel sorry for the cosseted Western pooch. They’re on to a good thing.
Gopnik’s article was really helpful to me in nutting out why it’s not okay to eat dogs, even if it is okay to eat other animals. It all comes down to that social contract, which Gopnik characterises as “love given for promises kept”, made by the first wolf who approached the caveman’s campfire. A contract like that should be honoured. It’s as simple as that.