Camera-toting stray dogs join the fight against crime in Thailand

Is this the warm, furry face of mass surveillance?

Stray puppy sitting on step

An advertising firm wants to help change the reputation of Thailand's street dogs. (Photo: Gunnerchu/Shutterstock)

It’s never a good time to be a street dog. That's especially true in Thailand, where the animals are often seen as an urban plague, their lives hinging from one scrap of food to the next.

With more than 70,000 dogs born on the streets every year, many Thai cities resort to poisoning or even crueler measures to curb their numbers.

But Thailand’s got other problems. Like most countries, its biggest cities — tourist-teeming Bangkok, Pattaya and Phuket — are grappling with crime, most notably against foreign visitors.

But what if one big problem could actually be the solution to another?

That’s the idea behind a project that aims to arm street dogs with cameras and create a kind of mass surveillance system that would cover every nook and alley of the urban environment.

The concept, which officially began in March 2017, was developed by the Cheil advertising agency, a subsidiary of South Korea’s Samsung Electronics. Since then, the group has been outfitting stray dogs with special vests with tiny hidden cameras — all in partnership with a dog rescue organization called the Soi Dog Foundation.

The power of a bark

Stray street puppies feeding Nearly 70,000 dogs are born on the streets of Thailand every year. (Photo: Muangsatun/Shutterstock)

"We think that the stray dogs aren’t going to be that different (to a house dog)," Pakornkrit Khantaprap, a member of the team that came up with the idea, told Reuters. "We wanted to come up with a tool that would show the benefits of these dogs and make (people) feel that stray dogs can be night-watchers, so that’s where the idea of making them watchdogs for communities came from."

Don’t expect "My life as a Bangkok street dog" to appear on Netflix any time soon. The cameras don’t capture video all the time. Instead, they only start recording and streaming video to the screens of authorities when the host dog barks in a way that’s deemed unusually frantic — say, the shrill blare of a surprised dog.

A mugging? A murder? Or just another dog getting getting too close to another stray’s home turf.

As you can imagine, there’s room for more than a few false hits to that monitoring system. And, although it was unveiled last year, the so-called Smart Vests have so far only been unleashed as prototypes.

It’s a long way from taking an actual bite out of crime. But maybe the real merit of the idea lies in its potential for saving dog lives — the daily victims of a society that frequently treats them like pests.

"It will make people feel that stray dogs can become night-watches for the communities," Khantaprap adds.

And maybe in doing so, these camera-toting canines might even ingratiate themselves with the locals — going from zero to hero in the blink of an eye.

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