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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 02:36 GMT 03:36 UK
Thais prove dogs' best friends
Stray dog in Thailand
Culling stray dogs goes against Buddhist beliefs
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By Jonathan Head
BBC Bangkok correspondent

Thailand is suffering from a population problem - not a human one, but an over-abundance of stray dogs.

No one knows how many there are, but it runs into millions. Many of them are infected with rabies and other diseases, posing a health risk for humans.

We used to use a gun, but it was too powerful for the dogs

Dr Wattana Maneesuriya
However, culling the dogs - usual practice in other countries - is unpopular in Thailand. Buddhist doctrine forbids cruelty to animals, and many Thais are very fond of dogs.

So a vet in Rayong, just outside Bangkok, has come up with his own, more humane solution.

Dr Wattana Maneesuriya scours the streets for stray dogs. His mission, he explains in the grounds of a Buddhist temple where homeless dogs congregate, is to control rabies and overpopulation in the most humane way possible.

Dr Wattana uses an unusual weapon - the blowpipe.

He blows a syringe filled with tranquiliser into the backside of a dog. After a few minutes it sinks to the ground and is gathered up to join several other animals awaiting sterilization.

Dr Wattana finds the blowpipe the perfect tool for the job.

Dr Wattana Maneesuriya aims his blowpipe
A blowpipe is less threatening
"We used to use a gun, but it was too powerful for the dogs - and it frightened people when we walked on the street or through a market. You can walk anywhere with a blowpipe - people here are already familiar with them from hunting in the forest," he said.

On a makeshift operating table next to the temple, a team of vets snips away at the unconscious animals. They get through as many as 50 dogs a day.

But it is an uphill task. In this province alone the stray dog population is thought to be more than 100,000.

Rich pickings

In Buddhist Thailand, though, simply culling the animals is not acceptable. Even sterilizing them is hard for many Thais to swallow, although a growing number of pet-owners have seen the benefit of bringing their sometimes reluctant pooches to Dr Wattana's outdoor surgery.

Even the stray dogs get fed by the people in the streets

Kulwadee, dog owner
Thailand's long-standing love-affair with dogs has only grown stronger, as the country has grown richer.

One owner, Kulwadee, is a successful professional woman who is unmarried, and, she freely admits, who has instead chosen to lavish her affections on her Pomeranian dog Dukie, who even accompanies her to eat out in restaurants.

But she believes her doting attitude is not untypical of Thais from all walks of life.

"It's in our religion and in our culture because the Thai people were taught to be kind to all the animals before. And we have dogs in many houses - not just pure-breeds but also the hybrids, so you can see that even the stray dogs get fed by the people in the streets. So I think by nature Thai people are kind to animals," she said.

It's a dog's life, but in Thailand - well, that's not so bad.

See also:

21 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Thailand offers cheaper Aids treatment
17 Apr 01 | Asia-Pacific
Thailand acts on holiday road deaths
03 Jan 01 | Asia-Pacific
Hundreds of holiday deaths in Thailand
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