Anyone knows me knows that I love to run. Over the past several years, it grew from a way to stay in shape post-college, to a routine, to a hobby, to a full-blown obsession. Last year, I made it a goal to run a thousand miles, which I accomplished by running four to five times a week. I’m not really sure what it is about running that I like the most – the opportunity to be alone in nature with my thoughts, the sense of satisfaction I get after completing a run, or the opportunity to brag to my friends and family – but at some point, I made the transition from “a guy who runs” to “a runner”.
Being located in the Pacific Northwest is probably a big contributor to my growing love for running. The weather is rarely too hot or too cold to go running – ask most runners if they like running in forty to fifty degrees with cloud cover and they will be all over it. There are always trails and pleasant neighborhoods to run through, with evergreen trees never too far away. There is a big culture of running, so you’re always sure to see many other runners out there to help keep you motivated.
There are really only a few things that ever keep me from having a good run. Extremely hot or cold temperatures (say, above 90 degrees or below 10 degrees) make me question my sanity. Luckily, that rarely happens in the PNW. Very windy days are also very bothersome to me, especially when combined with any amount of rain. I usually love running in the rain (and snow even more), but the type of wind that seems to be always in your face no matter which direction you’re facing, and causes every raindrop to feel like a pinprick on your face…yeah, that’s not fun. And of course, a mile into a long run and getting the “low battery” indicator on my iPod is pretty annoying as well.
But above all of those, by far the thing that I detest more than anything else while running, are unleashed dogs. Don’t get me wrong, most dogs are great. Back in the states, if I see a dog on a leash while running, I might pass the dog and owner with a little more distance than I would give just a person. Most leashed dogs don’t even bat an eye. Some will wander slightly my direction as I pass, mostly out of curiosity. Every once in a while, a dog will lunge out a bit and even bark, but the owners are always quick to hold them back from reaching me.
But those aren’t the interactions that bother me. If anything, they add a little variety to the run, and I always try to give a little nod of appreciation to the owners who keep their dogs on a leash. It’s the unattended, unleashed dogs that treat anyone that steps within a fifty yard radius of the entrance to their master’s house as a burglar of the highest threat level. These are the type of dogs that look like they were rejected from K-9 college for being *too* aggressive. They may or may not have rabies, but one thing is for sure: if they got a hold of any part of me, I would be in for a very bad day.
Thankfully, it’s very rare to encounter such dogs in the Pacific Northwest. In fact, I can only recall two times where I was legitimately chased away from a property by a snarling dog, and both times were when I was vacationing elsewhere in the USA (once in West Virginia, and once on the Oregon coast, for those curious).
Chiang Mai is another story. We see unleashed dogs everywhere. And i really do mean, everywhere. Whether we’re in the Old City, in front of the shopping mall downtown, even on our moped ride up Doi Suthep, dogs are sure to be wandering around, or laying out on the street to keep warm (yes, even though it gets up to ninety degrees here, the dogs are still cold during January and have to bask out on the street to stay warm). Our tour guide Nooh told us that dogs don’t really have owners here. People just let them go, and they’ll come back for food and sleep when they feel like it. He told us that if you ever see a dog on a leash or a chain, it isn’t because that dog is dangerous or will run away, but because the dog is worth money and the owner doesn’t want the dog stolen. We see some dogs wearing sweaters or collars to mark them as “not stray”, but we also see many dogs with no collar or anything walk up to a person as if they were their owner. So basically, it’s impossible to tell whether a dog is a stray or not – and even if they have an “owner”, they are unleashed and unsupervised for most of the day.
In our first week in Chiang Mai, when we spent most of our time in the old city, I didn’t think about the dogs too much. They didn’t really bother anyone, maybe lifting their head as you passed by, but nothing else. I never felt anxious while near dogs, partly because of how docile they all were, and partly because there were so many people around that even if something happened, I would at least have people nearby to help me.
Now that we live out in a more rural area, however…it’s been tough. On my very first run in the area, I had two separate instances where I had to turn around because of potentially aggressive dogs. And also unlike the Old City area, there were no humans nearby in either of those instances. It’s really unfortunate, because I would love to explore the streets and houses back away from the arterial roads, high rise condos, and Western bars. Running is one of my favorite ways to explore a new area when I travel somewhere, but I really don’t want to take the risk of a nasty altercation with a dog (plus, it’s a lot less likely that dogs in Thailand have had their rabies shots).
Since that first run, I’ve found some routes that keep me away from dogs, but unfortunately they are on some pretty busy streets. I still do love running here, and I’m not going to let loose dogs keep me from running completely. Luckily, the mild inconvenience of being forced to run on busy streets is more than offset by all of the other wonderful things about being here.