Bangkok Opens Up as Virus Caseloads Drop, and Pretty Pups Benefit

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BANGKOK — When the coronavirus lockdown in Bangkok eased a bit after six weeks, the first appointment my family made was not for a medical checkup or a walk in a park.

Instead, we called the pet salon. Caper, our 9-month-old miniature schnauzer, was desperate for a trim.

Thailand remains under a state of emergency through at least the end of May, with almost no international flights in or out. But because of the country’s low confirmed caseload of virus infections — about 3,000 cases and 56 deaths, as of Saturday — certain businesses have been allowed to reopen under strict social distancing and hygiene limits.

Businesses given the green light are most restaurants, cafes and street-food vendors; markets; dining-in sections of supermarkets and grocery stores; public parks and outdoor sporting complexes; hair salons and barbershops — and pet grooming salons.

Yes, that’s right, pet salons are important enough an industry in Thailand to merit their own category, alongside parks and restaurants.

Bangkok is crazy for purebred dogs. All over town, you will see Labradors and Weimaraners, Pomeranians and pugs. There are too many Yorkshire terriers. Some wear nail polish, and many wear clothes.

Thailand’s king favors poodles, in white. Occasionally, they gallivant through royal abodes in black booties. A previous pooch of his wore a uniform with epaulets but that’s because he held the military rank of air chief marshal, according to a leaked American diplomatic cable.

A puppy hair cut might seem frivolous but let me explain. It is the hot season in Thailand, when temperatures hover around 100 degrees. The schnauzer’s natural coat, thick and woolly, is more suited to the Black Forest of its native Germany than a tropical metropolis like Bangkok.

Caper was hot. We were hot just looking at Caper, whose coffee-brown eyes were disappearing underneath prodigious, professorial eyebrows.

All her panting was, frankly, a little unnerving. I worried what people might hear during phone interviews.

I tried trimming her, as my husband held her down, a project that went as well as you might expect when two journalists with zero expertise attempt animal topiary. (In my defense, I am left-handed and was using right-handed scissors.)

When I heard that the lockdown might be relaxed a bit, my husband quickly called the pet salon. We secured an appointment for 4 p.m. on Sunday, the very day certain businesses were allowed to resume operations under certain conditions. There are no walk-ins; the premises have to be cleaned every couple hours; and workers have to wear appropriate personal protective equipment.

Our Sunday was much like the previous 42 days under lockdown. We played board games with our children, and we ate no-knead bread. But at 3:50 p.m., my husband grabbed his mask and a very fuzzy dog. He hopped on the back of a motorcycle taxi, Caper’s beard billowing in the breeze.

When they arrived at the Tender Loving Care Pet Wellness Center, there was a cancan line of chow chows awaiting their treatments. A bulldog idled, too.

An employee was hosing off the driveway. My husband had his temperature taken and filled in a health form. Caper, after six weeks spent only with my family, was overwhelmed by the bustle and promptly urinated on the floor.

The salon has a swimming pool, to blunt the heat for the wintry breeds that are unaccountably popular in Bangkok — all those huskies and malamutes and Samoyeds. A paddle in the pool, with a life jacket and personalized trainer, followed by a bath and blow-dry, costs $10 for a toy breed and $25 for a heftier one.

A grooming session with hypoallergenic shampoo, brushing, blow-dry, cut and nail clipping goes for just over $20 for a Caper-sized dog. Cat grooming, inexplicably, costs less.

The price of $20 may not seem like a lot by the standards of New York or London, but it is roughly equivalent to the average daily wage in Thailand, which has one of the widest wealth gaps among the world’s major economies.

In the two weeks after the Thai government unveiled a coronavirus relief fund for workers in the informal economy, more than 27 million people in a country of about 70 million applied online. Tourism, an economic mainstay, has been hit hard. Most unemployed workers have not received their relief checks.

The Soi Dog Foundation, which tries to find homes for the large number of strays roaming Thai streets, has begun an emergency appeal because the international flight ban has disrupted overseas adoptions.

With unemployment rates climbing and more mass layoffs expected, some Thais are shedding their purebred pets, with their expensive haircuts and taste for imported kibble. There are also worries — unfounded, scientists say — that pets can transmit the coronavirus to their owners.

Since reopening, though, the salon has been booked solid. There are Shih-Tzus who can barely see because their bangs have grown too long and Dobermans who need their teeth brushed.

“We’re really busy because a lot happened to the dogs during those six weeks,” Ms. Patcharapan said.

“Well, I mean, not a lot happened,” she added. “But their hair grew way too long.”

Caper, with her new cool cut, would likely agree.

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