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These Stray Dogs in Thailand Fight Crime to Keep the Streets Safe

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Too much of a good thing is a bad thing. Yes, even if the goodness in question is dogs. In Thailand, stray dogs roam the streets in swarms, but a new initiative could turn the rampant canines from an adorable nuisance into a crime-fighting detective squad.

From Stray Dog to Watch Dog

The danger of having public spaces overflowing with stray dogs is that they may spread disease and generally harass passersby for food and attention. The poor things. How they got so problematic in Thailand, specifically, is due to a few things: For one, spaying and neutering dogs isn't a common practice in the country, which directly leads to — what else? — more dogs. Add that to the fact that many people keep their dogs outside, where they're free to roam and mingle with other unfixed dogs. The result, again, is a booming puppy population that wind up without homes.

The advertising agency Cheil, headquartered in South Korea, took a look at Thailand's stray problem and saw an interesting opportunity. An ad team hatched the idea to turn these stray dogs into watch dogs. The initiative, which was launched in March 2017 as a trial, positioned the animals as a mobile surveillance squad on paws by putting them in "smart vests" that hold hidden video cameras. "What we want to emphasize is that stray dogs can be useful and they can live together with the community," Awika Suyasit, a member of the team that came up with the idea from Cheil, told the Washington Post. "Because every dog already has instincts to protect their territory and also their masters, we decided it would be more convincing to people if we created something that enhanced those instincts."

Not All Heroes Wear Collars

Here's the gist of how it could work: Developers working in conjunction with Phuket-based Soi Dog Foundation fitted the dog vests with cameras. These hidden cameras are activated when the dog starts barking aggressively, and the hope is that these stray dogs will start that serious woofing when something in the neighborhood seems threatening. Once the vest detects this activity, the camera will send a live stream of the scene to a mobile device. If you live in the neighborhood and elect to get alerts from the watchdogs, you could get a smartphone ping to see what kind of danger may be lurking around the corner in real-time, even in the middle of the night.

The teams made sure that you wouldn't get an alert if a stray dog barked at a squirrel, for example. "Normally, a dog will use different voices on different things," Suyasit told the Washington Post. "It's the way they're used to communicating. So, we have programmed it to detect only when they bark with ... certain voices, such as aggressive barking or when they feel insecure." The program may still have kinks to work out before it can scale up, and only time will tell if using strays as security guards will work out in the long run.

Stray Dogs in Thailand Keep Streets Safe

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Written by Joanie Faletto March 15, 2018