Showing posts with label Dogs. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dogs. Show all posts

Wearing a Smile ...

The temperature hung in the mid twenties this morning.  The clouds hung low and heavy in the sky as etherial wisps hung even lower than seemed possible, like fingers gently caressing the slopes and treetops.  A light rain texturized the surface of the pond as Cookie slipped excitedly into the water sending a torrent of ripples to the far bank.  Adding to the spectacle was a flock of swallows flying low over the water both observing and participating in this dance of life.  The only players I truly missed were the Pied Harriers that I love so much but this is their time of year to be elsewhere.

A freshly brewed cup of coffee in my hand, I settled into a comfortable chair sheltered from the rain in our pond-side sala, while Cookie tried in vain to catch the monstrous fish that swarmed around her.  Our catfish resemble my lower leg in girth and length, and their six inch whiskers and gaping mouths torment our four legged daughter, disappearing just as she lunges at them.  Her antics are something between that of an otter and a bear, swimming, splashing and diving with total abandon.  Her childlike joy is catching and fills the air, warming the heart.

She has grown from a naughty child into a more respectful young woman who loves her mommy and daddy to walk with her and sit with her while she swims.  These days she refuses to wander off and do things on her own when she is off leash.  While she enjoys interacting briefly with other dogs, and her young son the cat, we are clearly the focus of her attention.  As long as she can see us or sense our presence in the room contentment reigns.

This is a lovely time of year.  The weather is always changing.  The fields are greening up nicely.  The trees are lushly decked out in their formal forest colors, dark and rich and varied.  The trails are sometimes a bit muddy but not enough to deter my running.  Thirteen weeks into this new phase of my life and I have settled into a consistent five kilometer run with an occasional seven kilometer run, all the way to the dam and back.  The 5k can be done even when I don’t feel at my best while the 7k leaves me limp and lifeless but awash with endorphins and a sense of accomplishment.

To avoid injury I try to stick to an every other day schedule but recently weather, darkness and illness have added a few extra down days.  Probably not a bad idea to have a little extra recovery time occasionally, considering that I am no longer a youngster.  I have even started to lose a few kilos though building my strength and endurance has been the main focus.

Travel plans are shaping up for next month so I am determined to do as much training as I can before then.  A break of a couple weeks from my routine should not be a problem and may imbue me with renewed determination when I hit the trails again.  I hate being away from my wife for even a day so this separation, however short, will be far from joyous.  The long hours in transit from here to there become more tedious as I grow older.  Filial obligation beckons me away from my home to the far off shores from whence I came, with a call that cannot be ignored.  A time for introspection, and examining the push and pull of different emotions.

Perhaps I have spent enough time with you today and I should return to the real world for the remaining hours.  Now where did I place that smile and inner glow I was wearing this morning?

Welcoming 2011 ...

After a brief flourish of posts to finish off last year, I find myself making another slow start to 2011.  Life has been more wonderful than usual and I as lazy with my writing as has come to be expected.  A bit of unseasonal rain has interrupted my recently rediscovered joy of mountain biking but only briefly as the trails are quickly drying out.  Since getting the Ninja in June, the Trek has been sorely neglected.  With over 9700 km on the Ninja and nearly zero on the Trek over the same time period, I found myself compelled to hit the trail again under my own power, for a change.

I have been sticking a little closer to home, looking for and finding new but difficult trails in areas one would not wish to visit in the rain.  Compared to the speed and distances one covers on the Ninja, at first glance a ride on the Trek might seem too tame and limited.  However, I soon rediscovered the joys of slowing down and watching the world expand around me, in direct correlation to my pace of movement.  Rice paddies, hillside orchards, rubber plantations, forest trails overgrown and neglected, expansive views of the distant mountains, rivers and nearly perfect trail conditions (before the rain hit).  An occasional stop for a cool drink, and to drink in the silence and solitude of the moment, leaves me refreshed and eager to move at a brisker pace once again.

Cookie and the other dogs have also benefitted from our walks, now including going off trail and meandering through the fields on the way back from the dam.  Though things are not as green as before the increased traversable terrain more than compensates for the seasonal change in the way things look.  After a warm spell, the weather has gotten chilly once again and one awakens each morning, not knowing if there will be a clear view of the fields and mountains that surround us or if we will be shrouded in a thick soupy fog.

On a different subject the heady rush of an engaging social life this winter season, has got my wife wondering what it would be like to reside closer to town and thus closer to friends.  Last evening as we sat surrounded by our dogs, watching the sunset and seeking warmth from each other to fend off the evening chill, I pointed out that my choice would be to make the drive into town rather than give up any part of this pastoral setting.  She gave me one of those cute little annoyed looks and agreed that what we have is too good to give up, despite a few drawbacks.

I suppose it is, at least in part, due to a difference in age and experience as well as a difference in personality but I look for ways to adapt and perfect what we already have while she plays the ‘what if’ game with completely different scenarios.  Though I wish she could focus a little more on what she has over what else might be out there, I understand that much of what I love about her would not have developed without a bit of dissatisfaction with the status quo and a need to grow and experience new things.  So I continue my role of the ‘rock’ that forms the foundation of our relationship, while she is the ‘rock 'n' roll’ who stirs things up and keeps things interesting.

This year seems to hold even more promise than the last but only time will reveal whether any of us are able to make good on that promise and take advantage of the opportunities that come our way.

After a Long Absence ...

In the clear blue, late afternoon sky, the moon hovered above the wispy etherial clouds, hanging motionless above the distant mountain range, lording over the tranquil expanse of the valley in which we live.  All was reflected in the still calm water, that surounds our front field on two sides.  The field recently seeded with rice, is developing a faint lime green hue, as the seedlings break from the mud and extend their slender forms toward that clear blue sky.

Usually my preference is to sit pond side on the west side of the house, watching the fish feed and the sun setting behind the hills.  A couple hours before sunset, it is far more comfortable however to be seated on the front slope, looking East.  Sitting in the shade on the grassy slop, the dogs are more entertained by the goings on of the village.  People returning home from the fields on foot, bicycles, motorcycles, e-tans and e-toks.  Other dogs barking, chickens feeding, birds flittering from one perch to another.  A crab walking awkwardly over the mud and a frog with only his bulging eyes protruding above the reflective surface of the water.

So there we sat, Cookie and I, with her three canine brothers and the cat.  As it so happens, directly behind us and oh so conveniently located, is my wife’s relatively new Thai kitchen.  From this kitchen came the aroma of what was soon to be our evening meal.  This only heightened our sensual bouquet of beautiful sights, distant sounds, the feel of the lush green grass beneath us and the gentle breeze on our skin.

Soon my wife appeared with food for all the hungry beasts.  Barbecued fish was the menu for all.  Mixed with dog food or cat food for our four legged friends and eaten with sticky rice by us.  Even after devouring their respective bowls of food, our ravenous family could not resist begging for a portion of what we were eating.  My wife is unable to resist a soulful stare or an insistent but gentle tap, and so, much of our meal was distributed among our children.  All in all, a lovely picnic was enjoyed by two happy humans, four dogs and a cat.

I’m not quite sure why I am writing today as apposed to any other day.  There have been many, more noteworthy days than today.  Perhaps it has something to do with my morning ride on the mountain bike.  Until recently the pollution and heat were unbearable and I found myself unable to indulge in some of the things that bring me the greatest pleasure.  So perhaps I am awash with endorphins after my 35 km this morning.  Even more so, since that has not been a regular occurrence for some time.

No mention of new friends, recent trips, the wedding and breakup of the sister-in-laws marriage in less than three months, funerals, the sale of my phantom and plans to buy a new motorcycle for my 56th birthday.  Instead I find myself compelled to write about the pastoral setting of my evening meal.  Go figure.  It seems my muse has a peculiar, if not perverse sense of humor.  Sorry for my absence and hope I won’t be gone so long this time.

Yearly Visa Renewal in Mae Sai ...

We don’t often have the occasion to drive the 111 km to Mae Sai on the Burmese boarder, but at this time of year, it is a necessity. The yearly visa renewal thing, you know. Well, an extension of stay based on being married to a Thai, would be more correct. Events normally proceed quite smoothly with a little patience and a smile. With very few people there on the day, no waiting in line this time.

Chiang Rai being the small yet spread out place that it is, we were not overly surprised to bump into a couple we know. Being able to visit a bit while the wheels of bureaucracy turned heavily but surely, made things that much more pleasant.

Finished before noon, we headed back to Chiang Rai, with an eye out for someplace to eat. Have to keep the wife well fed or she gets moody. Some things change little on the drive. The mountains, sometimes more visible than others. The tobacco growing in the fields beside the road. Vendors selling strawberries, pineapple and other fruit from their roadside stalls. A price check, confirming that the prices are better at Makro and the roadside scales are a little light.

The proliferation of new trendy coffee shops along the way is apparent after not having passed this way for a while. Some are modern, of glass and steel, while others are more arty and boutique like. We stopped at a place we like more for the decor than anything else in particular. Across the highway we noticed a shop and decided to visit there after lunch and coffee.

As fate would have it, there was a sign of interest to us, between the u-turn and the shop. It said Golden Retrievers, so we turned up the soi and found some of the most adorable GRs we have seen. It was all we could do, to leave there without adding to our collection of dogs and a cat. The two puppies were so cute at two months old. The owners were quite interesting too and we had a lively and entertaining visit, before escaping the tug on our heartstrings.

With a little time to kill, we decided to take a new way home. It ended up being more of an adventure than a viable shortcut. Much of the way was very narrow and required pulling over, to pass an oncoming vehicle. At one point we came upon a bridge so narrow that one could not possible open the doors and get out while crossing. We nearly turned back at that point but a farmer assured us we were on the right track, so we continued. Afterwards we very much regretted not having the forethought to document our crossing of that bridge with a photo.

Home at last, we will have to make the trip again in twenty-nine days, to pickup the completed visa extension. We are already considering which side roads we might explore at that time.

Pictures to Begin the New Year ...

The lush sea of green that so recently surrounded the house has faded to a sandy, slightly ruddy brown, with burned out patches of ash.  The once narrow trail, turned roadway to the dam, has yet to show signs of regrowth along the edges.  The drainage gates on the floor of the reservoir are no longer visible but the water level is still precariously low with little sign of recovery before the middle of the next rainy season.

Cookie and I are, however, free to walk where we will.  Along the road or through the fields, there is little impediment to our progress.  With still cool temperatures and clear skies the year is starting off good.  Here are some updated photos of house and trail and dam.

Being Owned by a Dog (Golden Retriever) ...

With all ideas for household chores or carnal adventures exhausted for the day, the wife suggested we pack up Cookie in the truck and head to the Saturday Walking Street in Chiang Rai.  Feeling a slight chill in the air we dressed in long sleeves only to find things a few degrees warmer in the city.  Sleeves were only comfortable when we once again neared home later in the evening.

As it was just the three of us, Cookie was not banished to the back of the truck but happily sprawled on the floor, with the backseat up and out of the way.  The only thing that got a consistent rise out of her, was the sound of the turn signal.  That sound seems to trigger something in her mind, so she was up and checking out whether we had arrived, I suppose.

Being a free spirit and only put on a leash for control or restraint, she takes the leash as an invitation to advance and propel my forward motion.  Forty kilos in four wheel drive can produce a tremendous amount of torque, I assure you.  Finding herself in an unfamiliar and somewhat constrained walking environment she actually performed quite well and refrained for jerking my arm out of the socket.

At home visitors are often treated as puppies or chew toys as she wreathes in joy and bashes the furniture with her tail.  Surrounded by vendors and ambling shoppers she took on a whole new demeanor, as she ignored all those around her.  Most people seemed to ignore her as well.  Of course, there were those who stepped aside while pressing their arms to their sides or raising their hands to their chest.  Children were admonished by anxious parents who sought to teach them to fear all animals, I suppose.  Many not looking down, seemed to have no idea she was even there.

There was one amorous street dog who was briefly smitten by Cookies charms, but most of the four legged friends we met, belonged to vendors and resembled more the pocket or handbag varieties.  True dog lovers, some released their diminutive charges to share a proper doggy greeting and sniff.  We bumped into a couple we know, who said they really only recognized us from a distance because of Cookie.  I guess you know you have arrived when people see you as an extension of the dog, instead of the other way around.

A couple hours of roaming around and all our purchases made, it was turning quite dark and we still had a long drive home.  Opening the back door, Cookie eagerly leapt to the comfort and familiarity of her place on the floor, happy to enjoy a quiet, uneventful ride home. 

I can hear a cynic out there saying, “It’s only a dog.”  Well, for you that might be true, but for us she is an integral part of our lives.  She fills the void with love, charm, humor and constant companionship.  You don’t know what you’re missing, until you are owned by a dog.

A Dog’s Life ...

It was once possible to stroll down the forest path to the dam, extend your arms and find your hands had vanished from view amidst the lush foliage on either side.  Sure there were ruts and rocks, thorns and mud puddles to be navigated but that just added to the sense of accomplishment at the end of the trail.  After a recent upgrade, the term trail is no longer appropriate.  Two lane highway, now comes to mind.  Sure it is still dirt beneath a sprinkling of gravel but the width and more even gradient makes for a different kind of walk. 

While the distance remains the same the effort expended seems less.  The mental effort is reduced as well.  Hardly any need to watch your step to keep your balance.  With little need to look down I suppose one is freer to look up and across the landscape.  Cookie shows no sign of being incensed by the forward march of progress.  She bounds ahead with her unrelenting enthusiasm, undaunted by a break with the past and intently focused on new sights and smells.  The mental health and balance of a dog is perhaps something to be aspired to.

Speaking of health, we spent much of yesterday in the corridors of an unfamiliar environment.  I am guessing it had been eight or nine years since our last physicals and thought it was perhaps time to let someone check on our internal heath.  I seem to remember a tonsillectomy as a child and a broken leg as an adult but that is pretty much the sum total of my hospital experience.  Since coming to Thailand in 1975 I have been a devout self-medicator (my own word).  A little reading and a close relationship with a skilled pharmacist and I was good to go. 

The recent rash of family and village deaths has left my wife a little rattled and thinking more about things like health and life insurance.  Even with an uncle retired from the business, I have never trusted insurance companies.  I view them in a similar light as the large casinos.  The odds seem overwhelmingly stacked in their favor or they would not be able to build such obscene edifices to their grandeur.

As a first step down the road to helping my wife cope, a checkup seemed the way to go.  We did get impatient by afternoon and left with one remaining procedure for her and the reading of our results by a doctor.  We will reschedule the completion on another day when it might not be quite such an inconvenience.  Overall I found the scene that unfolded around us in the hospital quite foreign and unpleasant.  It reminded me a little, of the time I have spent in my parent’s retirement home.  Unhealthy, unattractive and unhappy people meandering around in a desperate slow-motion dance with death but representing a broader range of age groups, from newborn to very old. 

Perhaps it is all down to luck and good genes but then again my distinct lack of vices may have played a part as well.  Whatever the reason my preference is to focus on getting as much joy and experience out of living as I can.  Trying to avoid or postpone death indefinitely seems to me to be a sucker’s game.  I will, however, find ways to comfort and reassure my wife as she goes through this period of grief, questioning and uncertainty. 

With the inevitability of death, it seems clear to me, that how we live is the only thing we can exert control over.  Accidents do happen and living a “perfect” life is no guarantee of a long healthy existence, but high-risk habits and behaviors are nonetheless, not in ones best interest.  Of course you would not get that message by looking around and observing how others live.  I think I will continue aspiring to being a little more like Cookie everyday.  The here and now of a dog’s life seems pretty good right now.

Storytelling, A Dog’s Tale and More...

So there I was, knees in the breeze again.  Just me and the bike recharging our respective batteries.  Being a two wheeler one must point the thing and move, to keep from falling off, so I was pointed in the general direction of Chiang Kong.  When suddenly, or actually not so suddenly, there was a subtile drop in temperature, rise in humidity, that telltale aroma and the day’s haze turned into something a bit more wet.  Not being one for riding in the wet or on slick oily roads after a light rain, I turned tail and headed back toward dry surfaces and whence I came. 

After a quick mental sort through of the options, I settled on a new direction to point my phantom.  The mountain-front road that I headed down, takes one past a few farang looking houses.  One rather large one is easily visible from the roadside and I will stop and take a look at the progress on the infrequent occasions of my passing by.  On this day a worker notices my presence across the highway, waved and pointed at a shape on a large bench between the front pillars.  It turnout to be the farang owner, who in a big welcoming tone of voice, bid me come forth and introduce myself. 

We have been in our house, for a year and a half by now, but there remains a bond of empathy for those still in the process.  I got the tour and the backstory before being interrupted by my wife calling on the cellphone.  Seems some friends had turned up and it might be nice if I could get home in time to say hello.  I bade my host and new acquaintance fair well as I mounted my beast and headed home with an excuse to move a little faster than usual. 

So after a few unscripted plot changes, the story finds me back where I started and relating recent events to our guests.  The story that most caught the interest on my friend was about our dogs and he insisted that I relate the story to you.  Two of them have on occasion been known to sample the village chickens.  Certain things will kick their predatory urges into hyperdrive.  Namely anything that tries to flee and our walks to the dam, which for them takes on the duty and urgency of a hunt.  They checkout every small herd of cows just to see if they can get a rise.  They bolt down a small lane after a pack of seven noisy little dogs, pulling up just short of confrontation.  They brashly scent-mark the other’s turf, paw the ground and swagger off with a condescending, over the shoulder glance, as the squeaky little dogs express their disapproval.

Because of their boisterous nature and concern for our neighbors feelings, we have taken to muzzling King and Momo on these hikes.  Even with the muzzle they couldn’t resist the chase and lit out after a flock of chickens, free ranging up in the hills.  Being further up the trail I heard the commotion but was too far away to see with any clarity what occurred.  I heard the owner shouting obscenities and laying chase with something in his hand that I thought might be a slingshot, which he later denied.  I can only assume he thought my dogs were going to kick his chickens to death as they most certainly could not bite.  Upon returning home and removing the muzzle I noticed a large round hole in the middle of Momo’s forehead.  As the wound has begun to heal my wife says it looks ever so much like a third eye between the other two.  He is a tough old dog, however, and has previously survived poisoning, snakebite and days without food as he fought for his place line with the local vixen in heat.  As with all other misfortunes he seemed to take this new addition to his face in stride. 

The chicken man showed up later at the mother in law’s house yelling and shouting about our savage dogs.  When asked if they had injured his chickens he admitted they had not but reiterated that he would have shot them if he had a gun nearby.  Our closest neighbors get upset but while some refuse payment others will weigh the dead bird and we pay by the kilo.  I guess we were wrong in thinking the muzzles would appease everyone.  

No doubt one day King and Momo will end up on some hungry villager’s plate, but for now I can’t take Cookie to the dam unless the other dogs are off at the other house.  While Cookie cannot resist any puddle, ditch, pond, stream or reservoir she is in every other way a lady.  Still filled with youthful exuberance yet even tempered and loving.  Her only encounter of note with a chicken was a stroll from the maid’s house up our driveway.  Upon reaching the front yard there appeared from her mouth a soaking wet baby chick that quickly scampered off no worse for ware.  Sensing our displeasure at using the little bird to suck on, she has never done that again.

Home Sweet Home ...

There is no place like home, it is often said.  It sometimes takes being away, to realize just how sweet home is, however.  Gracious hosts, exotic new places, untold new sights sounds and smells, can be wonderful.  Yet be it ever so humble, it is ever so comforting, to once again be enveloped in the familiarity of that place one calls home.  But there I go again starting at someplace other than the beginning, and neglecting to mention that I am talking for Cookie, as well as myself.

On my latest visa extension in Mae Sai it was made clear that I was in need of a new passport.  Fortunately that inevitability only presents every ten years and is thus something one doesn’t waste precious time worrying about.  One doesn’t actually worry about driving a couple of hundred kilometers to Chiang Mai, either.  The when and how and where of it does become a bit of a worry, if one wants it to be fun and not a burden.

Where to stay?  What to do about the house and Cookie?  To make a short story shorter, we stayed with a friend.  We arrived a day and a half before her but her parents were extremely gracious and Cookie received an equally warm welcome from one and all, especially Honey the host golden retriever.  With the weather warming up and much running about to do, we decided to expose Cookie to something new, as an alternative to being dragged around in the heat all day. 

A lovely Dutch lady presides over a kennel not far from our friend’s house and it seemed an ideal learning experience and worth a try.  So the first and last night Cookie was Honey’s guest and two days in the middle she stayed with another golden retriever at the kennel.  Having never been away from her, for the eight months she has lived with us, we were nervous parents, calling for regular updates.  Reportedly, our normally quiet little girl was quite vocal during her time away from us.  Her first night back with us, it was impossible to escape her presence or gaze.  We were watched like a hawk, for fear that we might get lost again, I presume.

For us, there was of course the obligatory shopping for the house in addition to renewing the passport.  Our friend has an uncanny knack for finding quaint little shops, arty little restaurants, coffee or tea houses.  Breakfast at the Dhara Dhevi, was more awe inspiring than quaint, and impressed us as much as any hotel or resort that we have ever been to.  Chiang Mai has a thriving art culture with many tight little sois with interesting little shops but we found ourselves along the river in the hours before sending our friend to the airport. 

An unassuming store front opened into an airy tea garden on the banks of the Ping River.  After tea, the girls went off for some last minute shopping, while Cookie and I basked in the beauty of the garden.  There was, just by chance, some unexpected eye-candy for me and additional attention for Cookie.  The place was perfect for that days fashion shoot and I was taken back to previous shoots that my wife did the makeup for.  One lovely luk-krueng girl from the entourage came over to play with Cookie, while the staff fawned over her, bring water and ice in a bowl.  They loved watching her submerge her face in pursuit of ice-cubes, looking ever so much like someone at a county fair, bobbing for apples.

Our friend safely on her way back to Bangkok, we had a pleasantly uneventful drive home.  The back of the truck filled to nearly overflowing, the backseat was folded up and Cookie slept most of the way home, on the well padded floor, with the temperature maintained just to her liking.  Can’t truly say who was more pleased to be home.  Each in our own way, we relished our return to what we love about this place we call home.  For me and my wife it was a once familiar and often experienced wave of emotion.  For Cookie, who knows.  Clearly, however, there was a calm joy that enveloped her as she lounged around the house last night.  Living in the moment as dogs do, today it is all about exploring her yard and fields, playing with her pack and swimming in her pond.

The Chiang Mai Consulate will not mail my passport so in a few weeks I will once again make the drive from here to there and back again.  In the end we didn’t feel good about subjecting Cookie to the trip.  As a one-off it could be seen as a learning experience but she is ever so much more happy in her little fiefdom and it would be cruel to take her away from what she loves.  We will just have to work harder at training the mother in law and our staff to deal with Cookie.  It is one thing to take her to play in nature, but quite another to take her to a city and its confined spaces.  She lives in a natural world with no fences or boundaries and that is the way it should be for her.  And in a perfect world, perhaps that is the way it should be for us as well.  It sure feels good to be home.

A Dog’s Life ...

There have been moments when we questioned the addition of Cookie to our pet menagerie. Our movements have been constrained and our once immaculately clean house, is a puppy playpen. She possesses the strength and energy of three dogs and is only eleven kilos to date. Her love of swimming and roughhousing with King and a neighbor dog leaves her in need of a good cleanup and blow-dry before reentering the house.

Our two older males will have nothing to do with her and dispatch her with a growl and show of teeth. Other adult neighbor dogs, who come to scavenge leftovers from our dog bowls, seem to respect that this is Cookie’s house and not theirs. Mainly they ignore her and she is learning to read their postures.

The professionals talk forcefully of confinement and “crating” and having one handler of a dog. The wife and I share our dogs equally, however, and are a little soft on the confinement thing. Trial and error over the first few sleepless nights, led to Cookie sleeping in a cage in our bedroom at night. At first there were protests but much less than putting her in another room. Again not being overly forceful, we started letting her settle down and go to sleep on the floor before placing her in her cage.

Perhaps it took longer but last night we had a breakthrough. We were not in bed yet, and the lights were not out but I thought to ask Cookie if she wanted to go to bed yet. Like a proud daddy, I beamed as she proceeded to enter her cage and go to bed, with no protest whatsoever. Ah, the joy of small victories. She is also getting very good at letting us know when she needs to go out. We are a little troubled by the fact that she is already aware of the use and purpose of door handles. For now she is unable to reach them and fortunately we have door knobs instead of levers.

As for the two older dogs, they had a bit of a shock yesterday. We had a local veterinarian out, for a bout of Nip & Tuck, for population control and personality modification, you understand. Mo-Mo and Soda had their family jewels removed along with those of the mother-in-law’s cat. The wife and I were a bit squeamish about the whole thing. Just the thought of the “unkindest cut” was enough, but we had to be assistants. It was a very hands-on event.

This action had long been contemplated but things came to a head recently. On one occasion Mo-Mo came home after nearly two weeks of girl chasing, and looked near death. It is that time again, around the village, and the “boys” are all fighting over a chance with the “girls”. Soda was mending a bad bite on his back leg while Mo-Mo’s face has looked better.

Living in a village, none of the “Western” rules apply. Dogs are expected to be loud, aggressive, territorial and protect the house and possessions. Dogs are not confined or leashed. They are however beaten on occasion and those who transgress, by biting people or killing livestock, are served up at a small ramshackle hut on the side of the road. Unlike Korea, it is not the national dish, but it does happen. It even finds its way into local humor as some have teased me about the price per kilo. Enough said on that subject.

King was neutered at a young age, and though he barks ferociously, is not the one to start fights, unlike the other two. Not sure if it will make a difference immediately, but over time, we hope to see improvements in behavior. The locals are skeptical of our relationship with our dogs and no doubt get a laugh out of some of our actions and concerns. Today, Mo-Mo and Soda were quite hungover, and stumbled around like drunken sailors.

Later in the day they were doing well enough, that we drove to the main market in our area for some fresh produce. On our return we were surprised to find our way home block by Mo-Mo, “locked” as it were, in the throws of amour. Presumably he was shooting blanks and it must have been quite painful. He has always been the type to get down to business and save the small talk for the clenches, afterwards. Apparently it will take him awhile to accept his new reality.

Living with animals fills ones life with humor and affection, in addition to all the irritation and destruction of puppyhood. Would we do it again, knowing what we now know? My wife’s answer was fifty, fifty. That is a pretty good assessment for now, but the numbers are moving daily in the direction of “YES” as Cookie incorporates herself into our daily lives.

The Announcement ...

It began as bike rides do, with anticipation, exhilaration and the wind blowing over my face. No one could have known the chain of events that were to be set in motion by this otherwise wonted occurrence. Nearing the end of my ride, I zigged instead of zagged, and found myself on the hilltop, overlooking the ever expanding rubber plantation. Venturing over to talk to the locals, a small shape moved timidly, and caught my attention. When I saw her, my heart skipped a beat.

Returning home I was unable to keep what I had seen to myself. As I suspected, my wife wanted to see for herself. On another day we rode our bikes over for a visit. For my wife, it was love at first sight. We had both been wanting one for a long time but just didn’t feel ready or settled enough to take on the responsibility. As she cast her spell over us, we gathered information as to her origins. Calling the provided cellphone number, we arranged to meet our destiny in a few days.

We are proud to announce a new addition to our family. Unwilling to produce our own or wait 9 months, we took our delivery on her 48th day. Presently she is 54 days old, 5.8 kilos, 30 inches, brown eyes, and a blond bundle of joy. Our little girl came with eyes to melt the hardest heart and lungs that would make Pavarotti proud. At her tender age she already walks, talks, runs and jumps. She has teeth and claws as sharp as razors, a bit of a bladder problem and a noticeable odor, which we of course no longer notice.

She has already contributed to our fiber intake and promises to do more in the future. Like any newborn she is very demanding of our love, attention, patience and time. Sometimes we call her our sweet little Cookie and sometime she is the COOKIE MONSTER. As dutifully proud parents, we take her everywhere to show her off and take countless pictures, slightly out of focus, and email them daily to anyone we have ever met and was foolish enough to give us an email address. Well, not really, but from what we have witnessed, that would seem to be the appropriate behavior for new parents.

Remembering that we already have three young men patrolling our perimeter and terrorizing the locals, why would we want more? We love our boys but we inherited them from others. They are good at guarding but not particularly bright. We have long wanted to make our own selection and get what we really wanted. It has long been clear, that given a choice we both would like to have a Golden Retriever. I have always wanted a big dog and to try my hand at training an obedient companion.

Finally we find our lives situated in such a way, that we can control the living and training environment. With other people around there was no consistency in the limited training given to the other dogs. Cookie is noticeably more intelligent, focused and attentive. During this formative time in her development, I try to be with her as much as possible, and expose her to the wonders of her ever expanding world. We are just doing our best, to be good pack leaders and nurture her development. Will she be the dog of our dreams? Who knows? But finally my unrealized desire for pets has now been appeased after a 35 year hiatus.

As it turns out, she is the perfect anniversary present, and an unequivocal affirmation of our love!

Chiang Mai, again ...

As we turned into the lane, after the long drive back from Chiang Mai, our eyes searched yard and fields for signs of our greatly missed canine children. It seemed we had been gone for a week, when in fact we had left Tuesday, early, and returned late in the afternoon on Thursday. The non stop pace made the trip seem much longer than it was. I suppose they heard us before they saw us and all three appeared out of nowhere. Nice thing about dogs, the way they live in the moment, no pouting about us being gone, just so obviously elated to have us back. We had reports they moped around, while we were away, but things were soon back to normal, as if we had never left.

We stay at a friend’s house while in Chiang Mai and, in fact, only visit our Sister-City of the North, when she flies up from Bangkok. She helps us navigate our way to coffee shops, shopping, great food and puts us up in style and comfort in her beautiful home. With a body of the same general size, and taste similar to my wife’s, they have way too much fun shopping for clothes, furniture and household decorations. They tolerate my tagging along and accommodate my needs, occasionally, by finding someplace for me to get a massage while they talk and try on clothes.

Since both are quite pleasant to the eye, my ego gets stroked by the looks we get. Not being what they expect, in the form of Thai girls and a Farang, I enjoy being able to read the commentary on the faces of strangers, as we go about our business. Not often seeing foreigners where we live, Chiang Mai is a bit of a shock for us, too. Parts of the city feel very much like Bangkok and foreigners are everywhere. Somehow we can’t see Chiang Rai ever undergoing a similar transformation. Sure it would mean a greater selection of goods and services, but making things easier doesn’t always make them better.

The roads were worse than usual on this trip. There is a section in the mountains where the road construction seems stuck in a time warp, with no end in sight. There is a roadside factory, we have passed on several occasions, without the luxury of time to stop and check it out. On this day there was no rush so we pulled to the side of the road, as one does in these parts, and ventured in. The pottery on display out front would be enough of a draw, but my wife likes this stuff, so soon struck up a friendship with the owner. With his children, who normally do the sales, out for the day, he took us on a tour of the kilns, way in the back of the property.

With the feel of stepping back into antiquity we found ourselves surrounded by relics from a bygone era. He has kept old molds and samples from previous generations as reminders. Being a man of action and hard work, more than words, I’m sure he was a bit overwhelmed by my wife’s interest and endless questions. His smiles and openness revealed his pride in what he and previous generations of his family had built. He made a present of a small piece lifted from the floor near the kiln at the back. In good time we made some purchases at the front of the establishment as he called his children to make sure of the prices.  Though our encounter was brief, there was a feeling of leaving an old friend by the time we hit the road again. In my early years this kind of day was much more common. Seeing the world through my wife’s eyes and feeling her enthusiasm often brings back long forgotten memories of things that once felt so new and exotic. I would surely be a boring old fart, by now, without her to inspire me.

Dog, Fog, and House ...

Previously I wrote in, Puppy Love, about my hopes for the future of our yellow lab mix. He is now 9 months old and doing exceedingly well. We chose to move him to the new house in the late evening and fed him here with the other two dogs. For familiarity his cage and bed were brought along and placed in the living room but have since been moved into a spare room off the kitchen. The first night he didn’t mind being locked in his cage. It may have provided some security in a strange environment. The next night he got upset in the middle of the night, thus the move to another room where he could be allowed to move around and change positions without getting into trouble for sleeping on the furniture.

We braced ourselves for the possibility of altercations with neighboring dogs, but to our surprise and relief they have all gotten along quite well. We have gone from a secure walled-in yard to an open area surrounded by rice fields. If I didn’t know better I could imagine that being the resident pack of the biggest and most eccentric house in the area has afforded our dogs an elevated status among the local thugs and bullies.  All three of our male dogs are behaving differently these days and strutting their stuff with a relaxed air of self confidence.

With the success of the move I decided to try, leash free, hiking to the dam. The youngster isn’t as strong as his uncles but makes a valiant effort to keep up. The one dog is an elegant leaper with some very stylish moves. The puppy has tried on occasion to follow his lead up a steep hill or high ledge, to find himself falling in a heap at the base of the embankment. Embarrassing for sure but no damage done.

Without the hindrance of a leash we are all getting a much better workout on our frequent constitutionals. With the foggy, morning temperatures in the fifties these days, the nearly 5 mile round trip jaunt to the dam, is quite pleasant. The locals are no longer shocked when we pop out of the mist on their way to the fields and orchards. We are heading home from the dam, flush from our exertion and enjoyment. No telling how long this weather will last so I’m determined to get out every morning, if possible. After the stress and preoccupation of building the house this aging frame is in dire need of a regular exercise regimen.

As for the house, it has far exceeded what I allowed myself to hope for. After grinding coffee beans and steeping them in the French press, I sit at the table these mornings, savoring this addicting brew. I take in the views of the fields and mountains beyond and count myself among the fortunate few to be living a dream.

Puppy Love...

Dogs in Thailand are not like dogs back home. I was reading another Farang’s story about his dog problems. Namely his neighbor’s dogs trying to eat his dog while on a leash. He was incensed at how irresponsible his neighbor was at letting his dogs out unsupervised to terrorize other animals. Remember, we are talking about Farangs living in Thailand. 

It reminded me of how very different the Thai Village situation is. Until recently, nobody in our village had ever seen a dog on a leash. I’m using a leash to try and train and safeguard our yellow lab puppy and the locals think I am very strange. Being in a distinct minority of one, I feel it is up to me to try and train my dog to deal with the locals.

The village dogs seem half wild and have divided up the sois like LA street gangs. If a dog acts too scared they torment it mercilessly. If he acts too bold they call his bluff and put him in his place. They often limp away wounded but usually have no permanent damage. They bark at everything that moves and strangely seem to be afraid of people. It is very difficult, and takes a long time, to get close to them and win their trust. With some you never do.

At the same time they are extremely loyal to their neglectful owners. Westerners would be appalled at the way village dogs are fed and treated. The thing I realized though is that people treat their dogs like “dogs” and the dogs in turn treat their owners like Alpha pack leaders. Often dogs don’t last long in this environment. Many are lost in road accidents while others are killed if they develop bad habits and the owners are unable or unwilling to pay for the animals they have injured or killed. While many dogs form alliances, others manage very well on their own. A lot seems to do with personality and body language.

Our puppy came into a ready made family of three other dogs. We have two Thai dogs that were given to us as puppies and raised Thai style as we were not around enough. One other Thai dog belongs to an aunt but has adopted us as his family. Although he is treated as the Omega, and chewed on from time to time if he forgets his place, he refuses to go home. He had the hardest time adjusting to the arrival of the new puppy.

I have noticed that the puppy is picking up some bad habits from the adults but there is always a balance of good and bad. Without the adults to help with socialization and act as playmates and chew-toys for the puppy, we would be completely worn out. At first it was quite scary to see the Alpha male on top of the puppy. Now we find it kind of cute. The male growls and snarls and the puppy wags his tail, grovels and inserts his head into the males mouth and licks his tonsils. In-spite of the squeals and shrieks the adults never actually hurt the puppy and are usually very patient with him.

Since he will end up much bigger than the adults we are trying to train him, with pretty good results so far. We also plan to have him neutered at 6 months to help control some of his urges and potential bad behavior. No one around here has done that before so don’t know how it will go down with them. If, however, things go as we hope, we may be setting a precedent that could help the dog population in the future. In the end though our little puppy will grow up and have to find a way to deal with the local dogs. There is only so much we can do to prepare him for that time. The rest is up to him. After-all he is a dog, not a little person, no matter how much we love him.