BANGKOK — The Siberian husky burned in Bangkok, the flames devouring her thick fur. Holding hands in the pet funeral hall, the dog’s owners wept soundlessly.
They had paid $160 for their dog, Friendly, to be cremated in the proper Thai way, festooned with marigolds and sprinkled with holy water at a Buddhist temple, or wat.
Bangkok, a messy city with little green space, is not ideal for pets. A park near where I live is home to nine-foot-long monitor lizards that looked capable of snacking on Agatha, my family’s miniature schnauzer. Pets swallowed whole by pythons are not as uncommon an occurrence as one would hope.
The Bangkok government takes a blasé attitude toward stray animals, so there is little in the way of spaying or neutering. As a consequence, an estimated 100,000 street dogs, in varying states of disrepair, roam the streets of the Thai capital.
A recent rabies outbreak spooked the city. Animal shelters are overflowing, and the city’s zoos are hardly a bastion of animal rights, with elephants forced to perform for tourists.
Still, many Bangkok residents are mad for dogs and cats, and they try to create pet havens in this urban jungle, which is my home base in my role as the Southeast Asia bureau chief for The New York Times. The animal hospital where Agatha got her vaccinations has its own chandeliered lobby, cafe with doggy treats and V.I.P. rooms where humans can sleep over should their hospitalized pets prefer the company.
When it gets cold in Bangkok — by which I mean around 70 degrees Fahrenheit — pet owners dress their dogs in sweatshirts or, if they have the money, Burberry raincoats.
Agatha, more used to northern climes from having grown up in China, was content to venture out with nothing more than her own fur. Unlike the poodle that lives around the corner, she was never treated to a pedicure, complete with red nail polish.
The final send-off for Thai pets can be equally lavish.
Thailand is overwhelmingly Buddhist, and the faithful believe that animals, through a cycle of rebirth into different life forms, can eventually attain nirvana. At our local wat, monks often chant for dogs, cats, hamsters, lizards, snakes and turtles, the prayer hall filling with the murmur of their incantations.
On occasion, pious Buddhists who find deceased strays make merit by helping the animals transition to their next life through a wat funeral. Most animals can be cremated at the wat, although pet pigs present difficulties for the crematory because of their copious fat.
At the Krathum Suea Pla Wat, where Friendly the husky was cremated, employees fold hundreds of ornate paper flowers each day to decorate the animal corpses. Piles of fresh blooms and golden paper await the bereaved.
A young couple once came to mourn their pet goldfish, a Valentine’s Day gift, whose sudden death was feared might imperil the relationship.
Friendly’s owner, Watcharasit Siripaisarnpipat, knew he and his wife had spoiled their dog. In this tropical country, they kept Friendly and six other Siberian huskies in an enclosure with 24-hour air-conditioning, even if they themselves would sometimes make do with a fan. On her birthday, Friendly ate ice cream.
“She enjoyed a good life,” Mr. Watcharasit said, as they sifted through the bones that emerged from the crematory. “She deserves a good afterlife, too.”
A few weeks later, Mr. Watcharasit, his wife and his daughter boarded a boat on the Chao Phraya, the river that curves through Bangkok. With the breeze blowing, they tipped an urn and scattered their dog’s ashes into the water.
As a creature lucky enough to have lived in this devout Buddhist kingdom, Friendly was now free to reincarnate.
Eight years ago, Cassius, our dog before Agatha, died of complications from a tick-borne bacteria. (The blood disease that killed her also decimated American canine units during the Vietnam War.)
We had Cassius cremated at a wat. Monks prayed, and her body was consigned to the fire, a purifying, soul-cleansing force in Thai tradition. Over the years, we transported her celadon urn to Beijing, then to Shanghai, then back to Bangkok. Cassius’s ashes still sit on our bedroom dresser.
But as I watched the ceremony for Friendly, I thought to myself: When it’s Agatha’s turn, I don’t think I can do this again.
It wasn’t the visceral horror of watching the crematory worker shove a poker into the oven that turned me. According to Buddhism, all forms are impermanent, even furry cold-nosed ones.
I was more bothered by how commercialized the pet cremation business had become — with special packages that required choosing which urn to buy or how many monks would pray for your pet.
And then I saw one of the four monks reciting sutras for Friendly check his cellphone as he was supposed to be praying for the Siberian husky. He sneaked a look at his Facebook feed, his finger scrolling frenetically, even as his mouth moved in prayer.
No, I thought, we would do something else when Agatha’s time came, something without monks addicted to social media.
But since our miniature schnauzer was only 6 years old, I didn’t consider the specifics of what we might do instead.
That evening, as I downloaded pictures and video of the pet funeral, Agatha snoozed on my lap, unaware of the images of canine mortality playing on my laptop.
Less than a week later, Agatha was hit by a car on our lane in Bangkok. She died almost instantly.
My family loved our little schnauzer, born in Beijing, raised in Shanghai, transported by airplane to Bangkok last year. In her new home in Thailand, she made friends with local street dogs and learned the pleasures of riding on the back of a motorcycle taxi, the wind ruffling her beard and eyebrows.
Agatha had big ears and an even bigger heart. She had scampered across a section of the Great Wall of China and liked to crunch on cucumbers. Her eyes were the color of dark chocolate. We buried her under a big tamarind tree in the garden of our apartment building.
Our Thai neighbors brought us an armful of orchids. Frogs, worms and shiny plated centipedes now keep Agatha company. Soon, plants will grow from her grave, the tropical earth, always wet and warm, replenishing the Buddhist cycle of life.
Follow Hannah Beech on Twitter: @hkbeech
Muktita Suhartono contributed reporting.
Orignially published in NYT.