The king and the dog helped to improve treatment of street dogs in Thailand
BANGKOK, Thailand––Thai King Bhumibol Aduladej, 88, died on October 13, 2016 with charges apparently still pending against factory worker Thanakorn Sirpaiboon, 28, for having allegedly insulted the king’s dog Tong Daeng by “liking” a cartoon about the dog posted by someone else on Facebook.
Charged in a Thai military court days before Tong Daeng died in December 2015, Thanakorn Siripaiboon was reportedly released on bail and became a monk. In May 2016 military personnel confiscated his computer, but Thanakorn Siripaiboon was not re-arrested, according to Khaosod English senior staff writer Pravit Rojanaphruk.
Thanakorn Siripaiboon “also faces separate charges of sedition and insulting the king,” wrote Thomas Fuller for The New York Times, whose account was censored in the Thai edition. “Thanakorn could face a total of 37 years in prison for his social media posts, highlighting what has become a feverish campaign to protect the monarchy and rebuff critics of the country’s military rulers. The precise insult toward the royal canine was not divulged by the military, according to the suspect’s lawyer, Anon Numpa,” Fuller added.
Thanakorn Siripaiboon was charged under an archaic law which “applies to anyone who specifically defames the king, the queen, the heir-apparent, or the regent,” Fuller explained, but since toppling the former Thai democratic government in May 2014, the military regime has expanded the scope of the legislation to suppress all criticism of Thai royalty, in one case even prosecuting a scholar for allegedly insulting a king who died in the 16th century.
Still, “I never imagined they would use the law for the royal dog,” Anon Numpa told Fuller, calling the case “nonsense.”
“After announcing the death of King Bhumibol on national television, Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha confirmed that Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn would succeed the throne as King Rama X,” wrote commentator Pavin Chachavalpongpun for the Washington Post.
But Vajiralongkorn “does not enjoy the same love and respect from the public that his father commanded,” Chachavalpongpun explained. “He lacks Bhumibol’s moral authority and charisma; Vajiralongkorn has shown little to no enthusiasm for working with democratic institutions or being a democratic advocate. He has enjoyed an eccentric and lavish lifestyle, with no one daring to inspect his spending of taxpayers’ money.”
And Vajiralongkorn does not have a popular dog.
But Vajiralongkorn did have a notorious dog, a poodle named Fufu, from 1997 until her death in 2015.
Recounts Wikipedia, “According to a 2007 U.S. diplomatic cable later published by Wikileaks, Fufu was “promoted” to the rank of air chief marshal in the Royal Thai Air Force. Fufu came to wider public attention in 2007 when he appeared in a leaked video showing the Crown Prince’s third wife, Princess Srirasm, feeding a birthday cake to the dog while wearing only a G-string. The death of Fufu,” the Wikipedia account continues, “was followed by four days of Buddhist funeral rites and the dog’s cremation, images from which were widely shared on social media.”
Using King Bhumibol’s popularity as cover for jailing dissidents, the Prayut Chan-O-Cha regime at the time Thanakorn Siripaiboon was arrested had prosecuted at least 61 people for allegedly defaming the royal family, according to the human rights group iLaw. Several received sentences in excess of 25 years in prison, drawing critical notice from U.S. Ambassador Glyn T. Davies and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, among many others.
“Respectful dog with proper manners”
“The royal dog in question is Tong Daeng, or Copper,” summarized New York Times correspondent Fuller, “who is universally known and widely loved in Thailand. King Bhumibol Adulyadej rescued the mongrel from an alley; in 2002 he wrote a best-selling book about her,” Khun Tong Daeng.
Like the king himself in the book, “The Thai news media use the polite honorific ‘khun’ to describe the dog, a term that roughly translates to ma’am,” Fuller explained.
“The book describes Tong Daeng as a ‘respectful dog, with proper manners,’” Fuller said, who “is humble and knows protocol,” always sitting lower than the king.
“Abiding respect for another stray”
Summarized New York Times correspondent Seth Mydans soon after Khun Tong Daeng was published, “In her abiding respect for another stray who was her wet nurse, Tong Daeng is, the king writes, ‘different from many others who, after having become an important personality, might treat with contempt one of lower status who should be the subject of gratitude.'”
Tong Daeng, 17, on December 26, 2015 “died peacefully while sleeping at the Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin district, Prachuap Khiri Khan, at 11.10 p.m.,” the Bangkok Post reported.
“In the past few years,” the Bangkok Post added, “the female dog had suffered several illnesses due to advancing age. They included problems with her nerves, bones, joints, muscles, liver and kidneys.
Adopted from the road
“Born from a stray near Rama IX Road,” the Bangkok Post recited, “Thong Daeng was brought to live in the Chitrlada Palace after a doctor showed her to His Majesty the King when His Majesty opened the Medical Development Clinic near Rama IX Road. She then became His Majesty the King’s favorite dog and usually accompanied His Majesty.”
Tong Daeng was the second street dog in five years whose heavily publicized rescue helped to reawaken the traditional Thai sense of duty toward animals. Tong Daeng was the daughter in role, though not in actuality, of Mai Thai, a street dog mother whose rescue by American visitor Mina Sharpe was prominently covered in 1998 by Anchalee Kongrut of the Bangkok Post.
Hit by a car in December 1997, Mai Thai struggled to continue to nourish three puppies. She was helped first by a cab driver who bottle-fed the pups when he could. Sharpe, then 16, invested $400 in veterinary care and boarding for Mai Thai and her pups, and eventually found U.S. homes for all of them.
Already known for animal rescue work in Taiwan, her home from age 12 to age 18, Sharpe was lauded for reminding Thais about how animals should be treated. In 2006, however, Sharpe was twice convicted of hoarding animals at addresses in southern California.
Temples & monasteries
King Bhumibol Aduladej adopted Tong Daeng in 1998, while Mai Thai was near the height of her fame. Almost immediately the king began citing her while making recommendations for improvement of Thai treatment of both pet dogs and street dogs.
Historically dogs in Thailand, if found problematic or just too numerous in a neighborhood, have been abandoned at Buddhist temples and monasteries.
Some temples and monasteries function as quasi-no kill animal shelters, providing food, water, and safe places for dogs to sleep, but little else. Others allegedly poison dogs on the sly. In recent decades, street dogs, stolen pets, and even dogs nominally under the protection of temples and monasteries have been collected by brokers who truck them to be butchered at live markets in Laos and Vietnam.
Indicative of Tong Daeng’s influence, King Bhumibol Aduladej in his 75th birthday speech, delivered at the Dusit Palace on December 4, 2002, recommended that money which had been allocated to microchip the estimated 110,000 Bangkok street dogs should instead be spent to sterilize and vaccinate more dogs.
Decha Yimumnuay, chair of the municipal budget scrutiny committee, took the same position three days later.
King Bhumibol Aduladej also asked that a shelter for young dogs be created. Bangkok officials had by December 7, 2002 selected a site and were drafting plans to build it.
The king also asked Bangkok governor Samak Sundaravej to join him in promoting street dog adoptions, and urged that the government should show the way, by training street dogs to do police and security work.
Benjamin Somsin of The Nation in Bangkok reported on Christmas Eve that National Police and Justice Ministry personnel had selected 50 strays from among the 700 dogs in the Bangkok city pounds to undergo 20 weeks of training.
Little of immediate substance came from either King Bhumibol Aduladej’s requests or from the efforts local officials made to fulfill them, but they were the beginning of an evident turnaround in Thai treatment of dogs that continues to gather momentum.
Among modern nations, only India has a longer documented history than Thailand of acknowledging moral and ethical duties toward animals. At that, the difference is slim. The animal-loving Indian emperor Asoka sent missionaries to Thailand to teach Buddhism in the third century B.C., only 250 to 450 years after the Buddha died and his teachings began spreading south from Nepal, his birthplace.
Introducing the first animal protection laws in the Indian civil code, Asoka practiced a form of Buddhism which like Hinduism and Jainism holds that animals should not be eaten, and that an aged or disabled cow or work animal should be retired and well-treated.
These beliefs, later abandoned or ritualized into meaninglessness as Buddhism crossed the Himalayas into China, were incorporated into the Thai practice of Buddhism. Centuries of foreign invasions and other competing cultural influences have subsequently diluted and adulterated Thai Buddhism.
Yet traces of the original teachings remain. Few Thais today are fully vegetarian, for example, yet Thai cuisine includes many vegetarian and vegan dishes.
Stopping dog traffic to Vietnam & Laos
King Bhumibol Adulyadej went on to adopt more street dogs. He celebrated his birthday in 2007 by opening an exhibition of photos of his former street dogs, reported Marianne Willemse of the Bangkok charity Love Animal House, and asked that mercy and compassion be shown to all animals.
The most significant fulfillment of that request came more than six years later, when representatives of the Thai Department of Livestock Development, Vietnam Department of Public Health, and parallel agencies in Laos and Cambodia on February 28, 2014 agreed on plans to intercept traffic in dogs for slaughter along the Vietnamese/Laotian border and the Thai/Laotian border. Most of the dogs were, and are, of Thai origin.
The Soi Dog Foundation had already for more than two years taken custody of dogs rescued by Thai border inspectors, a mission it continues, as Thai authorities have repeatedly seized trucks illegally hauling dogs.
“As the live dog trade reduces we are looking at the potential export of frozen meat,” Soi Dog Foundation president John Dalley told ANIMALS 24-7 in 2014. “Snatchers are killing dogs locally and transporting carcasses to tanneries and butchers in Thailand now,” because “A truck full of ice bins is far harder to spot than a truck with live dogs.”
King Bhumibol Adulyadej shared his love of animals with his elder sister, Galyani Vadhana, Princess of Narathiwat, who died on January 2, 2008, at age 84.
Princess Galyani in 2002 became royal patron of the Thai National Elephant Institute in Lampang, and sponsored three of the resident elephants.
“With the Princess’ support,” recalled Lampai Intathep of the Bangkok Post, “the National Elephant Institute established Thailand’s first elephant hospital, which provides free medical treatment for sick and injured jumbos,” as well as operating a breeding program, and in April 2007 introduced “elephant therapy” to assist autistic children.