The Diseased Temple Dog and Me

Street_dog (2)

Vice and Slate writer Nathan Thompson encounters a disconcerting side of Khmer rural life: the treatment of stray animals

The dog was a right old mess. Its patchy fur exposed grey skin gathered into folds and each eye was blood red. Its head drooped as it crept around the temple.

I first saw it trying to mount the temple bitch, its member extended like a red lipstick. She shook it off leaving the mutt scrabbling in the dirt and thrusting into the air while she trotted off, her saggy teats swinging.

The dog had some kind of disease and I watched with fascination as it disintegrated over the months I spent in the rural temple. No-one else seemed bothered. The monks didn’t notice, the Pali teacher wasn’t bothered and the clergymen didn’t give it a second glance.

The dog became a key feature of the paranoia that pawed at my nerves. I couldn’t speak the language and my hot imagination soon began to come up with unpalatable interpretations of reality. The fact that I was also the only person who seemed concerned that a zombie dog was eating from the same bowls the monks and children ate from only served to strengthen my isolating sense of paranoia.

You can’t just let diseased mutts run around with impunity. In the UK, diseased dogs are euthanized creating some kind of canine super race. It is only in Cambodia that the true state of affairs is apparent. Here, the dogs show the horrific blossoming of disease.

The lack of hygiene was a fact twanging on my thoughts. Some monks had scabies; the bowls were washed without soap using water from the reservoir that often contained water buffalo. Even though I had developed a powerful immunity the psychological discomfort of simply knowing that my bowl could contain any number of terrifying bacteria and parasites was a problem. I was OK in the end though.

Which is more than I can say for the diseased dog. As months passed it began to lose more of its hair revealing scaly, zombie-grey skin. Gaping red scabs began to appear. Its head hung lower. It began to resemble a limping canine zombie. When I caught sight of the thing I was seized with a horror made worse by the fact that I was the only one that had it. I began to question my sanity.

The other temple dogs were comparatively bright-eyed and vocal – particularly at night when they howled in chorus. When it came to their diseased brethren they engaged in some form of Darwinian euthanasia. They chased away the stricken hound from their bowls in an act of self-preservation for the group – they wanted to prevent the illness spreading.

But their efforts were in vain because the pestilent mutt was sustaining its wretched existence by eating the leftover rice and soup in the temple food hall. The monks would eat twice a day sitting cross-legged on the floor with a gold-painted statue of the Buddha at one end. After they had finished, the laypeople, myself included, would eat using hastily washed bowls and spoons. There are less laypeople than monks so plenty of bowls were left on the floor waiting to be cleared. It was these bowls the diseased dog would snarf and lick at.

In between mouthfuls of rice and dishwater-grey soup I was sickened by the sight of the zombie dog licking and munching from the bowls in heavy rotation at the temple. The clergymen and temple urchins who ate with me were troublingly unconcerned giving only languid waves and grunts if the dog ventured too close as we ate near the statue of the Buddha at the end of the hall.

“You know, in England, if a dog looked like that we would kill it”, I said to the temple English teacher one day. “Why would you do a thing like that?” He replied. For the Cambodians the zombie dog was not something to be despised; they accepted it as part of life.

I began to question my reaction – it was not contagious so why should it die for my own sense of aesthetics? A mercy killing seemed to be a cop-out to deny the true reason I didn’t want the revolting animal around. Perhaps it served as an unwelcome harbinger of the fact that my life too will end in a similar disintegration – a fact the Cambodians seemed more at peace with.

The dog died. I wasn’t there for the burial. Now when I visit the temple there are no lolloping corpse dogs to disgust me. But I learned that if you want to enjoy Cambodia in its true insanitary state then you have to let every diseased dog have its day.

Nathan Thompson

9 thoughts on “The Diseased Temple Dog and Me

  1. Joon Reply

    Some good food for thought.

    I can’t help but think that it seems to be basically how the Cambodian society (or any other societies for that matter?) would treat the marginalized. With indifference, and just waiting for them to disappear.

    This dog, left to his own devices in nature, would just die as a result of natural selection. But should humans, who can do a thing about it, intervene to heal him or at least ease his suffering?

    And if we extrapolate, shouldn’t the Cambodian society do something for its diseased, disabled, disenfranchised members?

  2. bob Reply

    You mean cunt … you watch dog slowly die and all you do is take a photo and write some moralizing shite. Hope you come back as a temple dog yourself you heartless fuck. I’d be front of the queue to kick your scabied arse. Why didn’t you DO something?

    • Ina Reply

      I totally agree with you….the writer did nothing to that poorly diseased dog. so sad….what a pity!!

  3. Phil Reply

    So there you have it — Cambodia is in fact NOT a dog-eat-dog society at heart.

  4. Arthur Fannin Reply

    Perhaps the suffering doggie was taken on a one-way-trip to a Korean restaurant?

  5. Arthur Fannin Reply

    Now I think of it, Nathan may have missed a nice little earner here.

    He might have considered registering an NGO, made sure that the tragic doggie was featured on enough sob-story sites, had pay-their-own way volunteers flocking to help and eventually run the NGO from a swanky villa with a state-of-the-art 4×4 with a driver.

    Whyever not? There are save-the-elephant charities, rescue-the-bears charities and probably charities formed to save pubic lice.

  6. jimmy Reply

    Unless your willing to put the hammer to it. Or give it some poison. What they supposed to do?

  7. bob Reply

    Bob – sorry about my outburst. I am sure you are an animal lover at heart, else why draw attention to this. And I doubt you could have euthenased the dog without causing all kinds of trouble, and I doubt there was a decent vet around. I think I should have expressed myself more sympathetically, and for that I apologise.

    Even so, you were there: it may be their country but it is your planet, and through our actions we may change things – I think we should respect the culture we live in but not let us constrain us when we see injustice.

    Anyway, I don’t know you, so I was in no position to judge – but seeing animals suffer does press my buttons.

    I hear you are leaving – go in peace and with my best wishes


  8. William Reply

    There we have it, another insane person lashing out without thought. Bob you should think first, act after.

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