Saturday, 23 August 2014

Howly the Toughest 7 11 Soi Dog on the Block

Known far and wide on Koh Phangan, Howly was the toughest soi dog any of us had ever seen. His prowess at chasing cars outside the 7 11 in Ban Taai was legendary.

howly the koh phangan beach dog
Howly in his previous incarnation as a beach dog
He was fiercely territorial of the 7 11 doorway. It was his prime position to scavenge all those scraps, sausages and packets of ham. Or anything else us crazy farangs thought he might like to eat today.

He won the affections of many of us island regulars, and he was known by many names. He was Chopper to some who loved him, Lucas to others. The fried chicken man's family called him Laai. But to us, he was always Howly...

Howly the Haad Rin Sunset Beach Dog

We first met Howly when he was still a young dog, about 18 months old. He was hanging out on Haad Rin Sunset, getting beaten up by the pack of beach dogs there. (This was long before he became the legendary Savage Beast of the 7 11, known all over the land.) He came for shelter under our bungalow. Badly attacked, besieged and near death, he howled in agony by the light of the moon. That's how he got his name. Howly.

He refused to come out from under the bungalow for days. Pablo fed him chicken, and over the weeks and months we nursed Howly back to health. He loved us like saviours. When we left that season he chased our taxi over the Haad Rin hills. Tongue panting, he was running after us for his life. He seemed to give up with every hill, then he'd catch sight of us and set chase again. As if to say, "Don't leave me." It was heart-breaking. We loved that dog as much as he loved us.

"What did you do?", Papa said, 
"Call him on the telephone and tell him you were coming?" 

beach dog and bunglaow koh phangan
Howly hanging out in his favourite spot underneath our bungalow
The next season when we returned to Koh Phangan, Howly was underneath our bungalow again, waiting for us in his old spot. We'd been gone around 9 months. But the funny thing was, he'd pretty much left the same time as us. And the Thais hadn't seen him since, in all that time. Now he had reappeared, on the very same day that we returned to Haad Rin Sunset. Papa said to us in Thai, "What did you do? Call him on the telephone and tell him you were coming?"

It was an emotional reunion. "Howly, I thought you were dead!", I cried, as I held his head in my hands. The dog and I stared into each others eyes for a long moment, as a beach full of bungalow guests looked on, thinking, crazy farang. Not for the last time, we were convinced Howly would be dead by now. Soi dogs never seemed to have a long lifespan on the islands. We were sure the weak, needy dog we'd left behind wouldn't have survived the season. 

But Howly was a Survivor.

beach dog and sunset koh phangan
He was much more independent the next season. He'd learnt to scavenge for litter and he was adept at digging for crabs. In the lean times, we guessed they must have been a good food source for him. 

Now he just took to digging the crabs up and playing with them: nipping off their pincers, and tossing them in the air for fun. He loved to play, and he was the funniest beach dog

Howly was moving up the beach dog social hierarchy, but he still wasn't Top Dog. Not yet.

Although he was starting to show signs of the wild, savage beast he would become...

He became fiercely protective of us, his No. 1 food source. He took to savaging any other beach dog that dared to come anywhere near our bungalow. I think that's where he got his territorial streak. The day he growled at Papa, we knew his days as a beach dog were numbered. We were leaving again soon, and we made the decision to stop feeding him. It was either take care of him and end up with a problem dog (and no doubt a dead dog), or let him go hungry and maybe he'd survive.

Pablo went away for a few days and that was my chance.  I didn't feed Howly for a few days, and when I did it was only
a bit of rice and omelette, nothing like the chicken legs he was used to being fed. Howly left home that day, the littlest hobo, and took off down the beach for pastures new. Never to be seen again. Pablo never forgave me.

We heard there'd been sightings of him on Leela Beach, and we walked that beach calling his name before we left that season. We were sure, once again, that he must be dead. But little did we know, Howly would show up again next season. Tougher and bigger than ever before, Top Dog not only of the beach - but of the primest spot in all Haad Rin. The doormat of the 7 11...

psychedelic artist colins painting of our beach hut
Howly taking centre stage in our painting by artist Colin Thomason
Coming soon: How Howly became the toughest 7 11 Soi Dog on the streets of Koh Phangan. 

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