RATTANAKOSIN – In a shocking event that may forever alter the social and cultural landscape of the Kingdom of Thailand, His Majesty the King’s royal dog Thongdaeng has abdicated his position as the nation’s ruling pet of state to Foo Foo, Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn’s longstanding dog-in-waiting.
The announcement came during Thongdaeng’s annual birthday event, a public holiday for all dogs in the country. Through one of his aides, Thongdaeng, who has occupied the highest animal position in Thailand since 1998, announced that due to poor health and to ensure a smooth transition to the future, she would be stepping down permanently.
The news was broadcast over state media and television, and verified by a statement from the Royal Dog Gazette, the palace’s official press outlet for pet-related matters. Throughout the nation, dogs and even some cats gathered in front of TVs and radios as the announcement was made. Many animals were reported to have assumed submissive positions when they heard the bark of their beloved Thongdaeng.
With Foo Foo sitting at Thongdaeng’s side, the statement was read by an aide. It stated, in part, “While it has been my honor to serve as your King’s dog for so many years, in the cycle of life everything is impermanent. The Buddha teaches us not to become attached, to our positions, to our wealth, even to our own food bowls. For attachment is the great illusion and the path to suffering; I beseech you now, faithful dogs and animals of the Kingdom, do not let your attachments divide you.”
Thongdaeng, whose declining health has been the subject of much speculation in recent years, further stated that she could no longer perform her duties as Royal Dog, and that she had “great confidence” in her successor, Foo Foo the poodle. Foo Foo’s accession was made official by a statement from the palace at 8pm yesterday. Details of the pet accession ceremony were not yet made public.
According to The Palace Law of Dog Succession, Thongdaeng has the right to declare her own successor, and although traditionally top dogs in Thailand have served their positions for life, many analysts and academics see the pre-emptive move as a way of ensuring a smooth succession amidst rumors that several candidates were being considered for the pet crown.
Although discussion of the royal pet family is regulated by a harsh lese-chien-majeste law, speculations about succession have surrounded the palace for years, with some Thais believing that Thongdaeng would designate Foo Foo’s daughter Fifi as heir, as Fifi was considered more similar in temperament to Thongdaeng. Years of rumors surrounding Foo Foo’s supposedly lavish lifestyle, serial mating with non-royal dogs, and dereliction of duties while living mostly at a vacation kennel in Germany have brought her qualification as the Kingdom’s highest dog into question. In 2009, a video surfaced bolstering Foo Foo’s doubters. Taken at Foo Foo’s seventh-cycle dog years birthday, it shows a spread-eagle Foo Foo having cake licked from between her legs by a pack of soi dogs.
Thais and their domestic animals throughout the kingdom expressed strong reactions to the surprise abdication, with many weeping openly in the streets at the prospect of no longer having Thongdaeng as the center of their lives and as their animal head of state. Many businesses closed right after the announcement, sending their employees home to give them time to adjust to the new reality. Obedience schools also closed early, as did pet shops and dog salons.
“My pet chihuahua Sniffy feels empty inside, he really does,” said one office worker, who asked not to be named. “Of course we respect Foo Foo, but Thongdaeng was his guiding light, like a family member. She will always be our royal dog, the true dog of our hearts.”
Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who has been embattled by anti-government protests aimed at ending her administration and the proxy rule of her brother, ousted ex-prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, expressed her gratitude and love for Thongdaeng, and pledged full government support for Foo Foo, “our beloved new Majestic dog.”
The mass shock of the news was particularly visible at the anti-government protest sites, where anti-Thaksin crowds fell silent as the announcement began, and gasped audibly when the abdication was announced. Many of the protesters began hugging and crying their own pets, as speakers on stage tried to express their feelings.
“Thongdaeng will always be our dog,” protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban shouted to protesters. “But Foo Foo is also our dog. What I mean to say is, no dog can ever replace the greatest dog ever, Thongdaeng. I mean, except Foo Foo, who will be a great dog, of course. Just as great. A great dog.”
He then began waving his arms uncontrollably.
Suthep’s ambivalence was echoed by many protesters, all of whom asked not to be named.
“I support the animal monarchy unconditionally,” insisted one woman. “Foo Foo is our royal dog now, and I will devote my love to her, just as I did once to Thongdaeng, Thongdaeng who I love so much, so much…” she said, trailing off into silence.
“This is Thaksin’s fault!” screamed an elderly man. “His evil grip on this nation is what caused Thongdaeng to be sad and sick, and to leave us like this. Thaksin caused Thongdaeng to grow old. I will kill him.”
“I will never bow to Foo Foo!” he cursed as he was pulled away from reporters by others. “Foo Foo has rabies! Everyone knows it!”
Meanwhile, gathered red-shirted supporters at National Stadium expressed regret that Thongdaeng was unable to continue, but expressed hope that under Foo Foo the kingdom would continue on its progress towards democracy.
“We believe Foo Foo is an open-minded and benevolent dog,” stated one man, who also asked not to be named. “Foo Foo will lead us forward, and bring peace to the kingdom.”
Although the position of royal dog officially carries no political power, recent divides Thailand’s political scene have implicated the palace pets, beginning with the 2006 coup which many of Thaksin’s supporters believed could have only happened with the approval of Thongdaeng. Expression of this sentiment created a backlash against the pro-Thaksin movement by Thais who saw this as proof that Thaksin was envious of Thongdaeng’s influence.
Furthermore, rumored associations between Thaksin and Foo Foo dating as early as 2001 inflamed speculations that Thaksin was essentially preparing himself for a post-Thongdaeng Thailand. Although stories that Thaksin had paid off some of Foo Foo’s debts were never proven, it didn’t prevent yellow-shirt leader Sondhi Limthongkul from presenting Thaksin as a threat to Thongdaeng in 2005 protests that preceded the coup.
According to some analysts, Thongdaeng’s abdication to Foo Foo now puts the anti-Thaksin animal monarchists in a self-contradictory bind.
“For years, the hardline dog royalists have been positioning themselves as pro dog monarchy, when in fact they were really just pro-Thongdaeng,” said Dr Chavalit Sutrapong, professor of political science at Thammasat University. “This conflation resulted in the inevitable collapse of their worldview as they now have to either accept Foo Foo as their leader or reject pet monarchy altogether. Either position is unacceptable, so they’re essentially in checkmate.”
One outcome of the surprise succession seems certain. Like Thongdaeng, Foo Foo, who holds the rank of Air Chief Marshal, will have the unified support of the Royal Thai Armed Pet Forces.
According to psychologist Amarina Thepsikul, the social impact of Thongdaeng’s abdication may be deeper than that found in the military or even palace.
“The Thai social structure of high versus low-ranking dogs was dependent on having a highly regarded canine at the top,” she said. “If Foo Foo cannot command the respect of Thongdaeng, and it’s hard to see how she could, then all of Thai society may have to rethink its ideas about how dogs, and even people should measure each other.”
In the streets of Bangkok, the short-term psychological effects of the abdication are already showing themselves, as average citizens and their pets accept, or deny, the reality of a Thongdaeng-less world. As of today, not one business in downtown Bangkok had removed its picture of Thongdaeng from its place of honor on the wall. Cinemas as well continued to play videos of Thongdaeng before every movie.
“It will be a few weeks before we can create some new videos of Foo Foo,” said a manager at Major Cineplex, who also asked not to be named. “We don’t have much footage of her life, like we did with Thongdaeng. This will require some creativity, and in the meantime I think people won’t mind standing for Thongdaeng for a little while longer, just as a tribute.”
Although there is no official mourning status assigned to abdication, many Bangkokians are treating it like a death.
“I just don’t know what to do, what to say, what to think, and neither does Jinni here,” said a young woman, who had attended anti-government protests for over a week with her Jack Russell terrier but now felt, in her own words, “tired and unmotivated.”
“It’s just not the same,” she decided. “It’ll never be the same.”
Others, however, have taken the abdication in stride after the initial shock wore off.
“For a while I just couldn’t believe it,” said an unnamed student collecting money for charity at the Chong Nonsi BTS station. “No more Thongdaeng. It feel so strange. But then I thought about it and I guess it’s ok.”
“I mean they’re just dogs, right?”