Who Let the Dogs Out?

Posted on July 13, 2016

It’s 3:00 a.m. and I’m awake. Not entirely sure why I cannot sleep, but think some of the reason is the 2 hour nap I took yesterday afternoon. And now that I’m awake I’m having trouble getting back to sleep at least in part by the chorus, not better call it the cacophony of dogs barking outside. This is a regular feature to the night sound scape of Thimphu. Barking dogs. Every night. Most nights I sleep through this, but I doubt there is a night when the sound it absent. This is certainly another one of those only in Bhutan experiences, though it’s not one that ever gets a glossy treatment by the Tourism Council of Bhutan, unlike so many other of the unique experiences this country provides, this one cannot be spun in any manner that would make it seem an attraction, so it gets ignored. Locals do not find it objectionable, or if they do I’ve never heard anyone say so. When visitors complain or remark about this, Bhutanese say something along the lines of “oh that’s right, the dogs do bark at night” in the same sort of voice they might say, “true the sun does rise in the morning.” Like an established fact of nature, one that cannot be changed and warrants no special mention. When a visitor mentions this they’ll confirm, but act almost puzzled, seeming to wonder why a person would even think to mention such a thing. The sunrises, it sets and the dogs bark, next topic please. These chilips (the Bhutanese term for foreigner) are as everyone knows a bit odd, but we’ll forgive them their strangeness, for the most part they’re nice people.  Really, wanting to have a conversation about dogs barking at night.


With the arrival of daylight the same dogs are sprawled about town. The common chilip thinking is that they are exhausted from barking all night so sleep all day. This may be nothing more than lore, perhaps dogs have nocturnal ancestors and in the west we insist our animal companions keep us company during the day, so have adjusted to our human schedule, here they keep the more biologically normal schedule. I’ve seldom heard a dog bark in the daytime here, unless it’s a dogfight, and these seem not infrequent, though never full fledged fights, just a sort of short lived eruption of aggression, over almost as soon as it begins, and what begins to look like a nasty fight fades before 10 seconds have passed. Like so much in this by and large peaceful and harmonious society, even the dogs seem to subscribe to the let’s all get along nicely credo.


Buddhist Bhutan feels empathy towards living creatures. Summer now it’s fly season, and the café where I spend a lot of my time is full of flies. Using pesticide or even a fly swatter is unthinkable. I was describing flypaper to a Bhutanese, the reaction was that as if I was describing and advocating a public execution. I realized that I saw strips of flypaper (something not much used at home any longer, I suppose we’ve switched to pesticides that leave nothing visible) as something less than pretty, but a necessity that was tolerated, thought the sight of flies stuck to paper not a pretty sight, my Bhutanese friend reacted in horror at the idea, my glib description of the loss of many lives. How extremely brutal and violent. What sort of society would countenance such a thing? Here the homeless dogs roam and get feed, the flies are caught by hand and released outside and the monks in the local monastery forbade the import of a fumigator to exterminate the paper eating creatures consuming sacred texts. Pretty much everything is altogether different in Bhutan.