Lone Dog on the Tibetan Plateau

The strange case of the Kailash canines
By Lisa Wogan, August 2011, Updated February 2015

I recently read a review copy of Tibet: Culture on the Edge by Phil Borges (which will be published by Rizzoli in October). Through otherworldly portraits and measured prose, Borges captures a truly rarified place and people caught in the grip of Chinese expansion and modernization.

It’s a fabulous book, and although not a book about dogs or for dog people per se, there was one photo of a dog that stopped me in my reading. Perched on a riverbank, Merda looks noble and self-contained in a stark valley near Mount Kailash. Her story is equally stark, and I share both here with the permission of Phil Borges Studio.

Phil Borges writes:

My guide told me that Merda’s mother survived a dog massacre carried out by the local authorities. Three years ago the large vultures that are instrumental in Tibetan sky burials mysteriously disappeared from the Mount Kailash area. The monks who perform the sky burial began to rely on dogs to dispose of the deceased’s remains. Having developed a taste for human flesh the dogs became dangerous and actually attacked and killed a pilgrim. Not knowing which dogs were responsible, all dogs in the Kailash area were ordered to be killed. Merda’s mother was shot but survived. Merda faithfully followed us for three days as we walked the Kailash Kora.

Such a striking story, it's almost like a fable, a tale of unintended consequences. We enlist dogs in the activities of our lives (and deaths) in so many different ways, and there they are, always, following us faithfully.

Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom.

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