Walking Dogs in Thailand
Ten years ago this month, I was in Thailand with Brian. As in, right this minute, exactly ten years ago, I was there. I find this hard to wrap my brain around as I sit here, in Maine, looking at a foot of snow and thinking of the thousands of days that have passed in between that trip and this month.
Back then we didn’t have any pets, not because I didn’t want them (I looked at dogs the way other women looked at babies), but because we were in a state of flux. Before heading to Thailand we had spent almost four months on the road, driving cross-country, and had purposely not adopted any pets prior to our travels, so we’d be free to go.
Lucky for me, when I travel I always find a dog to walk with, and this was true even in the hills of Thailand. When I got home from that adventure, it was clear to me that my day with a handsome dog in Southeast Asia was one of my favorite times in a trip filled with special days.
I wrote about my Thai dog friend for the Philadelphia Inquirer. Then I started my dog walking business.
Here’s what I wrote a decade ago:
Bordering on obsessive, I keep detailed journals of my travels, jotting down what I ate, the type of transportation I took around town, and how much it cost to get into the museum. Remembering where I’ve been in gory detail helps me to recapture the more elusive emotions of being in a foreign place. There is, however, one trip that wasn’t recorded in my journals. Now, a year later, I can’t recall the name of the river I cruised down or find the names of the guides who took me there. But I remember what matters most – how I felt.
When our group of sun-poisoned, sweaty backpackers arrived at a Lisu village, as part of a guided trek through northern Thailand, the villagers weren’t particularly thrilled about our arrival. Still, trying to show our gratitude for their hospitality, we spent hours teaching the Lisu children the most effective way to throw a Frisbee. But the only one who was interested in us was a mutt we dubbed Rusty. Continuing our hike the following day, I took my usual place at the back of the group, where I was surprised to find none other than Rusty the dog. Always a pushover for a handsome guy on four legs, I was excited that he had joined the trek.
Rusty and I were a perfect match; he waited for me when I crossed rivers, and ran next me through poppy fields. He occasionally mistook the group for cattle and tried to herd us into a pile, but otherwise he stayed by my side. Rusty was my own personal tour guide for the remainder of the trip.
On our final morning, the group scrambled onto bamboo rafts for the ride back to civilization. As the group drifted away, calling for Rusty to follow, he hesitantly dog-paddled towards me. Leaning over, I hauled a shivering Rusty onto the raft, relieved that I didn’t have to let him go so soon.
Floating down this river, which I can’t name or find on a map, Rusty and I splashed and played and soaked up the sun. I was totally immersed during those hours, absorbing everything and, for a rare moment, living simply in the present. As we sat together at the front of the raft, the rest of the world faded away until it was just me and my dog.
I’ll probably never know the name of the river we were on that morning. But, one of my best memories is of that raft ride – hanging on to a great dog, my face being licked clean with appreciation.
I’m beginning to realize that knowing someone will remember you, like the girl who might grow up to be a champion Frisbee player, or finding a perfect afternoon in the sun with an unlikely friend, is far better than knowing all the facts.
– Jessica Dolce lives in Philadelphia, where her landlord won’t permit a dog in her apartment. (2012 note: that was my byline back then. Oh how the times have changed!)
P.S. After re-reading this, I had a panic attack that I left a dog in the wilds of Thailand, lost and confused, post raft trip. Brian assures me that the guides knew Rusty and helped him get home via truck. Phew.