Dogged by rising fear of strays

  • Letters
  • Sunday, 20 Apr 2003

By M. Veera Pandiyan

BARKING dogs never bite? An 11-year-old boy found out on Wednesday, in a very painful way, the proverb is not necessarily true. 

A pack of 30 frenzied mongrels savaged Ton Attama in the compound of the Pathumwan Institute of Technology.  

The dogs first barked at him as he passed by, then set upon the boy suddenly. 

They ripped chunks of flesh from the Primary Five pupil's face, partially tearing off his ears and leaving gruesome wounds on his arms, legs, back and groin. 

By the time security guards arrived to investigate, the boy was lying face down in a pool of blood and the dogs were still snarling around him. 

Surgeons struggled for hours to stitch the gaping wounds. Ton is likely to remain in hospital for a while and may have to undergo counselling to help him get over the shock and trauma. 

Hunger is a probable reason for the attack.  

Apparently, the mongrels had been trapped in the compound for a week while the staff and caretakers of the institute, who used to feed them regularly, were elsewhere celebrating Songkran, the annual water festival that marks the new year. 

The case has shocked the Bangkok Metropolitan Authority (BMA) that has been trying to deal with the increasing population of stray dogs in the city. 

For city folk who have yet to overcome the fear of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), they are faced with a more clear and present danger – rabies. 

The disease is endemic in Thailand and each year an alarming number of cases of rabid dogs biting people are reported.  

A total of 37 people died last year, including eight within the city limits. 

According to the authorities, there are between 200,000 and 300,000 stray dogs in the city and about 6% are believed to carry rabies. 

Thailand already spends about 700mil baht (about RM70mil) to treat people attacked by suspected rabid dogs while some 350,000 risk-prone people go for preventive shots. 

Given the Thai practice of being kind by feeding scraps and leftovers to dogs, many places have become havens for strays – from street corners and bus stops to the hallowed compounds of wats or Thai temples. 

Just like the case of elephants that roam the urban jungle, it is proving to be a tough job to rid the city of stray dogs. 

City clerk Natthanon Thaweesin stressed on Friday that a vaccine and sterilisation programme was in place and the capital had a dog shelter. 

The shelter, however, can only accommodate between 600 and 700 dogs. 

In reality, there have been no successful government projects to control stray dogs in Thailand because they are breeding faster than the sterilisation plan. 

The dogs may be well-fed with leftovers but most are in poor physical shape. Many have skin problems or are ridden with ticks and fleas. They could well be spreaders of other infectious diseases. 

In stark contrast, pedigreed pets kept by affluent Thais have a luxurious life.  

The pet food industry and supporting veterinary services are thriving as more people take to rearing imported breeds and cute lap dogs. 

And among the latest luxuries being enjoyed by these pampered pooches are canine versions of the Thai traditional massage. 

Dog breeder Anupun Boonchen, 32, who provides the service, says the massages keep the pets relaxed and happy.  

He's got a popular website ( to prove that response is good. 

“A dog massage is something novel that we can do for our animals. If our pet is happy, then we as owners will be happy too,” said Anupun, a graduate of Mahidol University.  

“We start by rubbing the dog's legs, its back, then its head. This takes about an hour. This is the time needed before the dog falls asleep.”  

Anupun charges up to 2,000 baht (about RM200) for the service. 

He also offers specialised aromatic oil and herbal massages for dogs and conducts classes for dog owners. 

While business has been good, he has been getting his fair share of criticism from people who disapprove of such a business at a time when many are finding it hard to make ends meet. 


  • M. Veera Pandiyan is Editor, Asia News Portal, based in Bangkok (e-mail: )  

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