An Open Letter to the Dogs of Southeast Asia




OK, I realize that’s a pretty harsh way to start. But I want to make sure you’re listening. This is serious. The other day while I was driving around Bali, I saw one of you dead and bloody in the street. Another dog was howling nearby. That’s what happens when you hang around in the road and aren’t careful.

Look, I get it. The road is flat, smooth, warm, dry. It’s a great surface for lying down on, if you’re a dog. And everyone passes by, including all the other dogs. If you’re looking for the spot in town where you can smell everyone, without the smells getting all overwhelmed by soil or banana trees or whatever, the road is totally the place to be.

But you know who else thinks the road is totally the place to be?


Cars are big and they move fast and you’ll die if one hits you. And I know you think you’re getting out of the way fast enough, but you’re not. We’re hitting the brakes to avoid hitting you. Your brain is obviously evolved for jumping out of the way of things that move slower than cars, and you’re not so good at judging how fast cars are, or how fast you are in relation to cars.


Yes, you have to cross at some point, and like the chicken, you have your reasons. Look both ways and go. You’re usually OK if you remember to pay attention. And I accept that when you’re on your way from one place to another, you’ve got as much right to use the road as anyone else.

Things get bad, though, when you start to relax in the road. It’s worse when you’re with your friends. Someone nips someone else, there’s a yelp, you get startled and you jump backwards — and backwards happens to be out into the middle of the road. Where the cars are.

Or there’s a sexy dog hanging out by the road, and you figure the thing to do is hump. Well, good for you. I’m sex positive, and that goes for dogs too. But the road is not a safe place to do it. (Sir Paul McCartney, the reason why we don’t do it in the road is because cars go there, and you can die.)

But, you object, you’re not really in the road, so much as just chillin’ on the edge of the road. What’s so bad about that?

But the roads in Southeast Asia — the ones where you dogs hang out — aren’t exactly the Autobahn. Shoulders, if they exist at all, are narrow. Turns are tight. And we drivers might have to swerve over — even off the edge of the road — to avoid oncoming trucks and SUVs. And there you are, napping in the sun. And I’m slamming the brakes, trying not to kill you, and hoping the dude on the motorbike behind me is paying attention, because I don’t want to kill him either.

This might all sound like blaming the victim. But the roads were built by people so that cars could go on them. That’s just how it is. Cars are big and fast and they go in the road and they can kill you.

So where should you sleep?

This is Southeast Asia. There’s always a temple nearby, and temples, like roads, tend to have nice flat paved areas where you can lie down. Probably interesting food smells, too, and the smells of all the people and animals who pass by. I’ve seen lots of dogs sleeping at temples, and they seem pretty happy with it. It’s OK even if you’re an atheist. You’re a dog, too, so the priests and monks are probably going to leave you alone about your beliefs.

(I realize this temple advice is less useful in the Muslim countries. If all you have is mosques, you’re out of luck, because you can’t sleep in a mosque if you’re a dog. But then there are a lot fewer of you living in Muslim areas anyway. Malaysia stood out for being mostly dog free.)

So, to sum up:


Good dog.