Just as you can tell a lot about a person in terms of how they treat people they may view as being “inferior” to them, whether a waitress, a member of the U.S. Congress or the grocery check-out clerk, you can also tell a great deal about people by how they treat animals. In Bhutan people do not kill animals (unless they have to for sustenance, but that doesn’t provide as many loopholes as you’d think). Apparently very few animals are on social media or travel internationally as otherwise surely they would be moving to Bhutan in droves.
And, lest you be confused, the Bhutanese are not forbidden (by their religious teachings) from eating animals. Although many Bhutanese are vegetarians they do not have to be. They cannot kill the food they eat but they can outsource the butchering, generally to India, and eat meat that others have killed. In fact meat consumption has been increasing in Bhutan over the last 10 years. (Based on Blonde’s dietary experiences that cannot be explained by the meat from India being super yummy.)
Although not killing animals may be admirable it also has its downside. Probably the most obvious one is the packs of wild dogs all over the country. In Thimphu a vacant lot beside our hotel was apparently a popular spot for dogs to congregate and howl all night. And they chased our cars out of town in a manner that didn’t seem to indicate that they were wishing us well on our journey.
But killing animals includes euthanasia so the dog over-population won’t be addressed that way. And, although the government encourages spaying and neutering it isn’t economically feasible for them to round up and “fix” the stray dogs that are all over the country. (Are we back to talking about Congress again and the need to spay old dogs?)
So although all animals are safe from harm that doesn’t mean they will be well taken care of. We saw lots of hungry-looking dogs with mange, particularly in small villages. There aren’t the resources and it isn’t the culture where one buys Fido a bed, a Burberry sweater and feeds him gluten-free doggie treats.
A common misconception is that the animals are not being killed because of a belief in reincarnation but that is not actually a Buddhist belief. However, Buddhists are big on karma which basically says that a person’s “nobility of character” is dependent on his good thoughts, actions, and words. And killing any “sentient being” is a definite no-no and will create an overdraft in the person’s karmic bank.
What, you may ask, is a “sentient being?” Well it probably isn’t Blonde’s brother-in-law but that alone isn’t adequate for a definition. You’re know you’re taking a risk having Blonde tell you what constitutes a “sentient being” to Buddhists or anyone else. But she used the highly respected theological teachings of Ask.com which says: “Sentient means to be endowed with feeling and unstructured consciousness. Sentience is the capacity for basic consciousness. It is the ability to feel or perceive, not necessarily including the faculty of self-awareness.” Buddhism seems to throw in an extra marker which is that the being is “unenlightened”. See why we referenced the brother-in-law?
Somehow all of this results in cows wandering around everywhere. They’re all over the main highway in the country which is dreadful enough without a bunch of cows rambling along it. But the drivers don’t blow the horn or exhibit road (or cow) rage, they just wait for the animals to plod out of the way. In lots and lots of time on the highways over 12 days we never saw an animal that had been hit by a car.
Monkeys are not as common a sighting as cows so we were quite thrilled to see this group from our car one day. But the guide and drivers did not go near the monkeys. Bhutan has a fairly high rate of rabies among the wild dogs and monkeys so take a picture through the car window and whatever you do, don’t touch one.
The most intersesting and hilarious people/animal interaction came the day we were driving along and saw a man with a baby deer. Our cars pulled over and the guide and drivers scrambled out in excitement. Apparently the man had somehow discovered an abandoned baby deer and was planning to take it home and care for it. (Where Blonde and Brunette grew up in western Pennsylvania a suddenly discovered deer often meant dinner to some people. Not us, in case you’re wondering.)
Blonde’s roommate, Shelby, a substitute Brunette, was quick to offer helpful advice on teaching a wild animal to nurse. Shelby is originally from Wyoming, has lived her adult life in Saskatchewan and once had someone drop by her house with a premature, deserted baby elk in need of saving. She clearly was the one with the credentials.
Shelby asked the man if he was going to try to get the baby deer to nurse. He said he was so Shelby forcibly, and many times in succession, informed him that in order to get the deer to “take the nipple” he would need to “lick” it under its tail. Yes, lick and yes, what you think is under a deer’s tail is indeed what is there. Blonde didn’t even laugh she was so astounded, as were the others. The less enthusiastic the man or anyone appeared to be about this advice the more Shelby reiterated it. She also assured the man that it had worked for her with the elk. (The elk died so maybe it wasn’t all that successful….)
Our guide and drivers all took turns holding the deer and even kissing its head. (A few of them may have wanted to kiss Shelby’s too.) We drove off and, in a very rare turn of events, Blonde didn’t have much to say. Later that evening she asked Shelby if she had in fact licked an elk’s, um, under the tail place. Shelby said “licked“??? No, I wiped it. You have to do that to get them to nurse.”
When Blonde tactfully informed Shelby that she had used the word “licked” not “wiped” and had used it repeatedly and insistently Shelby accused Blonde of not being a good roommate by bailing her out of the situation! The nerve! What would Emily Post have done? And anyway it was much more fun the way it happened.
As further proof of the Bhutanese people’s kindness to animals witness the Takin which is pictured above. This huge, hideous creature is the national animal! It was (so the story goes) created by the Divine Madman who ate a whole goat and a whole cow and then stuck the goat’s head on the cow’s body and – voila – a Takin! Now if you had powers of that sort wouldn’t you maybe blend a puppy and a kitten? But a cow and a goat? And then it becomes the national animal?! And if, by accident you made a Takin, wouldn’t euthanasia seem like something worth consideration?
The Bhutanese may be humane but they could use some direction from the Marketing Department of Gross National Happiness in choosing a more appealing national animal. And we only hope that poor deer isn’t suffering from Shelby’s advice….