Palace Bitch From The Slums Wins The Heart Of A Nation

Palace bitch from slums wins the heart of a nation
By Andrew Drummond in Bangkok
December 4 2002
More than 100,000 people queued to buy the book of her life on the first day of its sale.
And though she is from the humblest of origins she is now the king’s favourite.
Tongdaeng (Copper), the former Bangkok stray bitch adopted as a pup
by Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, has so captured the heart of the
nation that her story catapulted to the top of the best-seller lists
with sales expected to top a million in a country of 61 million.
Her rise from pariah to palace favourite began the day in 1998 that
she was carried through the gates of Chitralada Palace in Bangkok as a
present for the King from a medical development centre which looked
after strays.
Though born in the slums of Bangkok, Tongdaeng is being hailed not
merely as one of the best-mannered and most respectful dogs, but as an
example to all Thais – particularly politicians – on how to behave. The
King’s adoring subjects have been buying the book for the sentiments
contained in the text, written by the King himself. Readers discover
messages on morality and manners on almost every page.
King Bhumibol introduces Tongdaeng as ‘a common dog who is uncommon’.
Among her characteristics is the ability to marshal other palace dogs
and make them sit to attention in the presence of the King.
When chasing other dogs around trees, she insists that they go
clockwise. Many interpret this as a call for national unity in the face
of a parliament rent by argumentative MPs who reduce the debating
chamber to chaos.
The dog can open coconuts at the King’s seaside palace, though this
can take hours and lead to torn gums as she chews through the bark. The
message here is interpreted as advice to practise patience in adversity.
‘Tongdaeng shows gratitude and respect, as opposed to people who,
after becoming important, might treat with contempt someone of lower
status to whom they should be thankful,’ the King writes. The Thai
people are more than familiar with politicians who, once elected to
office, abandon all principles in pursuit of wealth and aggrandisement.
Tongdaeng has given birth to a litter of nine pups.
She also shows respect. In Thailand it is improper for a person’s
head to be higher than someone of greater status. ‘Other dogs would show
their delight when they meet the King by jumping on his lap. Tongdaeng
would never do that. She always stays lower than him.’
The ultimate message that the mongrel carries for Thais is that, though you may be born into poverty, you can rise to the top.