The life and death of Pi Tia: are we projecting too much onto this one dog?

Pi Tia, was the unofficial doggy mascot of CMU. Deeply loved by thousands of students and alumni and a common sight around the university. This is his story.

By | Wed 20 May 2020

You have got to have been living in a cave (oh, wait…) if you haven’t heard of the drama surrounding the death of Pi Tia, a beloved campus dog officially belonging to the department of computer science at Chiang Mai University, earlier this month.

Pi Tia was initially believed to have gone missing on the 4th of May when a notice was posted on his Facebook page (which at the time had over 160,000 followers now grown into 240,000). A street dog, Pi Tia, 8, had become a beloved unofficial mascot to the students, faculty as well as thousands of alumni who have gone through the university over the years. He used to hang out around Ang Kaew Lake, though was often spotted all over the campus. His fans were known to pick him up and take him off on road trips and for weekends away and Pi Tia was always a fully participatory member of campus life, most famously leading the parade up the mountain each year during the annual freshers’ week walk up to Doi Suthep, barking encouragement to straggling students and charging up to the front to lead the masses. If there was a sporting event, he would be seen bouncing around near the cheerleaders; if there was a graduation photo there would often be a beaming Pi Tia in the group shot; but most often he would be found visiting various picnicking and chatting groups of students hanging around the lake.

So when news that he had not been seen for a few days was posted on his page, there was widespread panic. Even in the midst of the pandemic students scoured the campus, organising search groups going room to room across all faculties, thoroughly reporting on searched areas and setting up grids. Pi Tia had become more than just a beloved pet to a generation of students, he had also come to symbolise the plight of Thai street dogs, with the admin of his Facebook page using his popularity to seek justice for abused dogs, find home for abandoned dogs, help find lost dogs and generally raising awareness as to how dogs are treated in this country.

It was announced on the 7th that Pi Tia’s body had been found, his decomposed remains confirmed via microchip. He was found on the other side of Huay Kaew Road from the campus down a quiet soi at the foothills of the mountains. An autopsy performed the next day by the university’s Small Animals Hospital revealed that he had suffered from severe trauma to his back legs and his lower body.

An outpouring of grief took over Chiang Mai, with students and lecturers all professing their love for the dog and swearing to find out what happened to him. His disappearance had already been reported to the Phuping police, and when his body was found students demanded police take action to find out what had happened.

CCTV footage was scoured, those on campus as well as outside.

In spite of the page admin’s plea for people to calm down and turn this tragedy into good by supporting the Management of Dogs in Chiang Mai University with Community Participation for Sustainability and remembering Pi Tia with love, angry netizens were not about to let go. Pi Tia deserved justice, they said.

When CCTV footage was released showing a man driving a motorbike up to Pi Tia around 8pm on the night of the 3rd May and taking him with him outside campus, it was then realised that he had been missing a whole day before previously thought. More CCTV footage was then requested for the previous night and that was when they saw a man driving out of the university’s main gate at the approximate time Pi Tia was picked up. The man was then seen turning down the dark soi off Huay Kaew where Pi Tia’s body was later found.

Following the release of the footage, police corporal Prinya ‘Bank’ Panyabutre, 27 came forward to confess to having been the man on the motorbike. According to him, he was a student at Chiang Mai University many years ago and was very fond of Pi Tia. He was concerned that Pi Tia could be lonely during the many days of quarantine so, he claims, he decided to take him for a drive. Apparently as he was driving, Pi Tia fell off the bike and got run over by the back tyre of his motorbike. He said that he was so afraid of being vilified by society and that he may lose his job and that was why it took him so long to come forward. The police, and corporal Bank’s superior came out to declare the incident a tragic accident and CityNews even posted the satisfactory conclusion to the story, before we had to make a retraction.

“He loves animals,” said his superior of Prinya.

NGO Watchdog Thailand, a foundation working for the welfare of dogs and other animals has taken up Pi Tia’s cause and are not satisfied with corporal Bank’s ‘story’, suspecting nefarious and malicious intent behind the beloved dog’s death.

There is a petition on with nearly 40,000 names signed already, demanding justice for Pi Tia.

Questions abound: Why did the corporal feel the need to pick up Pi Tia at 8pm when curfew was a short two hours away; why did he take him down a quiet dark soi; some CCTV footage caught the corporal wearing a different top and there is speculation that there was more than one person involved; someone told police that they heard the sound of four gunshots and the autopsy revealed small holes in his body (there was no mention of a gunshot wound in the autopsy but there was mention of finding some bbq sticks which presumably could have caused the small wounds); how could he have died from the back wheel of a motorbike, it doesn’t seem logical for a dog which was savvy with riding a bike…the questions are becoming a cacophony of demands for answer, justice and retribution.

Reasons for why Pi Tia would have been murdered range from the corporal being paid by people who hate the Pi Tia page admin to a hired gunman being hired to kill him because Pi Tia was sometimes in the habit of chasing vehicles and may have upset someone who was chased. Frankly the reasoning is at this time pretty thin and nonsensical. But in spite of the apparent lack of motive, it is clear that thousands of people need answers. Pi Tia’s death has hit people very hard. Hundreds of comments have been posted about him dying alone in a dark soi, echoing the helplessness these netizens must feel posting their comments alone in their homes.

All in all, Pi Tia’s fan club is relentless. They are calling for the corporal’s blood with people demanding his resignation and even incarceration.

On the flip side, those who are choosing to celebrate his life, rather than go down the rabbit hole of conspiracies surrounding his death, are having some fun. There is now a competition online to pick Pi Tia’s favourite pose, amongst a slideshow of some dozen photos, as the university is considering erecting a monument to the beloved dog. Pi Tia’s bones will also be proudly displayed at the CMU Veterinary Anatomy and Pathology Museum ensuring his legacy endures.

Whether Pi Tia’s death has become a symbol of our current frustrations, whether it is a way for people to unite behind a cause, whether it is sheer social media sensationalism or whether it is a genuine outpouring of grief by those who loved him, this has been an extraordinary incident shaped by an extraordinary time.

This story has gone viral, not just within the country but has even been featured in English language media as well as Japanese and Korean. Pi Tia’s death hit a particularly delicate spot at this uncertain time. He was vulnerable and reliant on the kindness of strangers, he offered love and support to so many students far away from home and the fact that he died alone in a dark soi while the rest of Chiang Mai was locked up in quarantine has allowed us to empathise with his pain in his final moments.

Pi Tia was obviously a beloved dog whose life, and death, affected thousands. Let’s hope that his legacy is one that the Facebook admin hopes for, one of love. He should be remembered as a dog who brought so many people so much joy for so many years. A dog whose name was used to raise awareness about how street dogs in Thailand are treated. A dog who inspired a university to use community participation to organise its stray dog problems. A dog who brought together people in grief and remembrance during one of our darkest and most lonely hours.

He should not be remembered as a tool to conduct a witch hunt. A man’s reputation and name is already deeply damaged and destroyed. Without any evidence at all, he is being judged and condemned, accused of being a murderer, with demands he not just lose his job, but his freedom. If it is proven that he deliberately took Pi Tia to murder, then we say go for it, give him hell. But at this point there is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that this is anything more than an accident. Talk of gunshots are silly when the autopsy clearly does not mention any bullet holes. Accusations of suspicious behaviour are simply that, suspicious. Who hasn’t done something dodgy in their life? But without any proof of any nefarious intent, we say let it go.

Perhaps we should let Pi Tia die in peace and remember him fondly, rather than with anger and revenge in mind. RIP Pi Tia.