Going to the dogs.
Our first night in Bhutan. Our first night in the capital town, Thimphu. Of course we wanted to sleep. But that was difficult. As soon as the city life slowed down and people laid themselves to rest, dogs started to bark. Many, many stray dogs. Barking against each other. One dog started, another dog replied and the whole pack joined in. Whole choirs. Amazing what an immense noise that can be. And so it went the whole night on. No wonder we were given earplugs, on our bedside tables.
Later Kate en I were told the story by Jigme our personal guide during our stay. The dogs in Bhutan are a real problem. It is estimated there are about 100,000 stray dogs in Bhutan, largely in the cities. They have no owners and live on the streets. They breed like, well, not like rats, but they do breed like nature wants them to. Bhutanese people, who are largely Buddhist (75%), believe that sentient beings should be cared for. And the Bhutanese do care for them though not in their homes. They don’t kill the dogs, because they believe in reincarnation. This dog, well, he could be your granddaddy, right.
In 2008, Bhutan wanted to clean up the streets in advance of the coronation of their new king, so they reached out to Humane Society International for help. Bhutan had this idea of catching as many dogs as possible, to put the animals into big government pounds and just keep them sheltered that way. Humane Society International told Bhutan it was bad idea. But Bhutan went ahead. Thousands of dogs died. And the Bhutanese learned something else: No dogs leads to more rats. The rats had moved in to replace the dog void and the cities were just inundated with rats. Humane Society International suggested that Bhutan would try something better: a nationwide sterilising and rabies vaccine program. Such a solution takes time, but in the long run it is the only effective solution. And the government agreed. Dogs are released later the same day in the same location where they were captured. Such a solution however will take years…
It is weird to walk around and see dogs hanging around, sleeping on the pavement, in the parks, on the roads even. Dogs without a leash. No one stroking them. And, interesting too, no where dog shit to be seen… But some Bhutanese people do have dogs as pets. Like our guide Jigme. He has a dog and loves her dearly. Recently she has given birth to a litter of seven puppies. Sadly two of them died, but the leftover five are prospering. Jigme is determined to give them a good home.