Westerners coming to Thailand are often shocked by the animals they find here. We have stray dogs and cats roaming the streets, exotic animals sold openly in markets, and the dog meat trade continues to raise Western eyebrows (despite Western tourists driving the industry in many parts of the world) From the outside, and with a culturally relativist hat on, this all makes Thailand look less than caring about it’s animals. In fact, nothing could be further than the truth – as the rise in pet popularity in Chiang Mai testifies.
Pet Culture Changing
Chiang Mai has always had a love/hate relationship with dogs and cats. We throw them scraps when we see them on the street – but also throw stones at them when they’re being a nuisance. We might adopt a puppy which follows us home, but wouldn’t hesitate to yell at its siblings when they’re grown up and scavenging in the bins. However, recent years have seen a distinct change in our attitude towards non humans. The world in general is growing more environmentally conscious, which naturally translates for many into a heightened concern for (and therefore interest in) animals. Then there’s the fact that globalization and the internet is bringing the pet-friendly attitudes of many other nations to Thailand. Cultures both West and East value the companionship, love, and emotional support of pets – and the people of Chiang Mai are starting to see their point of view.
Pet Friendly Chiang Mai
Particularly popular in Chiang Mai are cats. Cats have long been tacitly valued here as excellent sources of pest control. However, their prolific presence on the streets has not always been welcome – particularly when hormonal males and females yowl and fight at night. Increasingly, Chiang Mai’s cats have been coming indoors. Cute cartoon cats like ‘Hello Kitty’- who has some interesting roles in Thailand – may have influenced Chiang Mai’s newfound love of cats but, as any other cat-loving country will tell you, once a culture has fallen for cats, there is no looking back. Chiang Mai’s cat lovers have given full vent to their passion, even going so far as to open cafes where patrons (both human and feline) can enjoy a convivial coffee together. The pet industry in general is booming, with sales of cat food and cat accessories doing particularly well, Dogs – ‘man’s best friend’, however, are not far behind.
Chiang Mai Dogs
Chiang Mai is in many ways ideally suited for dog owners. While the strays may present a problem (and cause some people to have a generalized fear of dogs), the city is also home to several large parks (ideal for dog walking), and the attitude towards animals in rental accommodation is fairly relaxed. In the past, people have been cavalier with the dogs of Chiang Mai – putting down poison, for example, when they become a nuisance. However, the general pro-pet change in attitudes has seen people increasingly taking issue with practices such as these. The tide of public opinion is turning in favor of dogs – as can be seen by the increasing number of rescue centers dealing with the strays, the expansion in dog-based services (dog groomers, walkers, and sitters are definitely in on a growth market!), and the campaigns for things like dedicated dog parks where dogs can run and play off-lead. Dogs haven’t always been Chiang Mai’s favorite animal – but they are fast gaining a place in our hearts!
Of course, there is a dark side to this new love of animals. Unfortunately, where there is a market, unscrupulous individuals will always try to exploit it. Puppy and kitten mills, which breed baby animals in appalling conditions, essentially torturing the parents of the cute puppies and kitties they tout, are popping up everywhere. If you are an animal lover in Chiang Mai, and want a pet of your own, do be sure to get your furry companion from a reputable source. If buying a baby animal, try and see them with their parents first, so you know that they have come from a loving, caring home. Animal welfare issues are still a problem upon which Thailand has some work to do. You can help out by refusing to buy from cruel breeders.