One of the biggest problems in many Thai neighborhoods and communities is the vast number of stray dogs that roam about. On November 7, 1998, a stray dog was born on Soi Soonpaetpattana on Rama 9 Road behind the Rama 9 Medical Development Center in Bangkok, part of a litter of seven. Given the name Tongdaeng (ทองแดง), the puppy was presented to His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, Rama IX, on December 13, 1998, and thus became the most famous dog in Thailand. The female copper-colored dog was but one of the pets owned by the king, but soon became his favorite. Her name means “copper” in Thai. All the names of the dogs owned by the King start with the word “Thong” (literally, “gold”).
King Bhumibol called her “a common dog who is uncommon”, and in 2002 wrote an affectionate biography of her titled The Story of Tongdaeng (เรื่อง ทองแดง). The 84-page book, published with both Thai and English text, quickly sold out of its first edition of 100,000 in Thailand. Since demand was so high, the book became an esteemed gift and has been reprinted many times. The book is commonly referred to as a parable on many social topics. For instance, the King wrote that “Tongdaeng is a respectful dog with proper manners; she is humble and knows protocol. She would always sit lower than the King; even when he pulls her up to embrace her, Tongdaeng would lower herself down on the floor, her ears in a respectful drooping position, as if she would say, ‘I don’t dare.'”
Tongdaeng was also featured on the Royal cards His Majesty the King sent out to dignitaries and regular citizens alike at the beginning of each New Year. On September 1, 2006, the dog was honored on a set of four stamps (Scott #2243-2246) and a souvenir sheet (Scott #2246a). The souvenir sheet sold for 17 baht at Thai post offices. That December, the souvenir sheet was reissued bearing the logo of the MonacoPhil 2006 stamp exhibition with a sale price of 26 baht (Scott #2246b). These were printed using lithography on granite paper and perforated 13½.
A film based on Tongdaeng’s biography, Khun Tongdaeng: The Inspirations (คุณทองแดงดิอินสไปเรชันส์), was released in November 2015.
In December 2015, a 37-year-old factory worker named Thanakorn Siripaiboon was charged with insulting the King through a “sarcastic” post about Tongdaeng on Facebook under the strict lèse majesté laws in Thailand, His lawyer, Anon Numpa, informed the International New York Times that the charge “had not detailed the precise insult towards the animal”. The Bangkok-based printer of the International New York Times removed the story from the December 14 print edition of the paper. If convicted, Siripaiboon would have faced a maximum of 37 years in prison.
According to the BBC, a prosecutor said Siripaiboon had posted several photos of the dog on Facebook in a manner which appeared to mock the King, and in addition had been charged with posting the “like” button next to a doctored photo of the Thai monarch, which had posted by another Facebook user. The case was eventually dropped.
Tongdaeng died at 11:10 pm, Saturday, December 26, 2015, at the age of 17 years, one month and 19 days. The Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, Kasetsart University, had been assigned by King Bhumibol to take care of the dog at Klai Kangwon Palace in the Hua Hin District of Prachuap Khiri Khan Province. According to Professor Dr. Apinant Suprasert, rector of the faculty, the dog died of old age after having suffered a number of diseases.