SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

September 25, 2012

Running: A cultural education

I’ve discovered that you can learn quite a bit about a country’s culture when you’re a runner. For example, I’ve recently been struck by two extremes of dog care: the non-interference, leave-them-alone, sometimes-leave-out-scraps-of-food attitude of people in Thailand, and the take-them-to-doggie-day-care, wrap-up-their-poop-in-little-blue-plastic-bags, hire-a-dog-sitter-when-you-go-anywhere protectiveness of people in America.

If you’re a morning runner — like me — you see all sorts of things that late risers don’t. Such as the people who walk their dogs on West Beach in Beverly, despite the “Absolutely No Dogs Year Round” sign at the entrance. In fact, I’ve become nodding-hello-as-we-pass friends with a brown-haired woman who walks her highly energetic collie on the beach every morning. The collie’s name is Max.

Max races up and down the beach, sniffing and panting as though each morning is his first time there, barking with ecstatic urgency at the gulls and plovers. Max doesn’t find me very exciting. Thank goodness.

Dogs can be a runner’s nightmare. They bite, they chase, they bark. They’re unpredictable. And unlike the gulls and plovers, I can’t fly away when I’m chased, an ability that would have come in very handy during the six months I lived in Thailand.

Chiang Mai, a beautiful, modern city on Northern Thailand, is full of dogs, and there’s no pound or animal shelter to keep them in check. They roam the streets in packs, sleep inside people’s doorways and live in temple grounds where monks (and tourists) won’t chase them away. Unlike the dogs here in the U.S., those dogs aren’t pets; they’re mangy, scrawny street dogs. While some Thai people do keep dogs as pets in their homes, most of the canine population lives on the streets.

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