I am not sure what it is about dogs but they have my heart and I feel forever changed after meeting some of the Bali dogs. Once the ‘Island of the Gods’ Bali has been unofficially renamed ‘Island of the Dogs’ and with a human population of four million and a canine population of 600,000 (some estimate one million) it is clear to see why. So why are the dogs of Bali such a massive problem? And is there any hope for these broken souls that guard the temples, get shipped off to Java for food and wander the busy streets?
Why are dogs such a problem in Bali?
The Bali dog problem is so huge due to a lack of money and understanding. The overwhelming majority of Balinese dogs are considered to be guards with no worth to the family other than security. Bali is a developing country and a lot of these families are extremely poor which prevents many of them from spending the huge amount of money to get their dogs sterilised. There is also a huge amount of feral dogs which breed continuously. The poor welfare of the dogs is also directly linked to the expense of caring for it – it is even expensive to feed dogs in Australia!
Lack of understanding
This lack of money teamed with the cultural belief that dogs are demonic entities (further explained below) often lead to horrendous animal cruelty and welfare. Dogs are often beaten, riddled with curable diseases and skin conditions or left to starve.
Culturally acceptable cruelty
Approximately 93% of Bali’s population practices Balinese Hinduism. One of the defining differences between this and Indian Hinduism is the belief of ‘animism’: the idea that non-humans are spiritual beings. While this works well for the monkey deity and sacred cows, our canine friends do not fare so well. Dogs are considered guards at the gates of heaven and hell and are believed to be manifestations of evil spirits. This results in the dogs being treated as the undesirables of society where they are often ritually sacrificed to appease the gods and placate the demons. There is also the unfortunate belief that when a man beats a dog to death it will work as an aphrodisiac so there are many cases of these loyal guards being beaten and stabbed.
The fate of a typical Bali dog
Bali dogs have the odds stacked up against them – especially females. Those that do live with a family need to be intimidating guards and the females are often deemed ‘not aggressive enough’ and so are dumped. Those that do make the cut however are often neglected.
Whether domestic or feral, many of the dogs have flea infestations, venereal diseases, health issues from continuous litter production and skin conditions like mange. While I was riding around Ubud I saw some of the most horrific cases of mange – one dog in particular almost looked reptilian. I could not believe it was still standing.
While the aforementioned issues are associated with neglect, the dogs face other problems at the hands of humans. The streets of Ubud are narrow and busy and I found them unnerving to use even as a human. Dogs (especially the young or the sick) are regularly hit by cars and left to die. As well as ritual slaughters, feral dogs are often stolen and shipped to Java to be used for meat. Below are some photos from B.A.R.C. (Bali Dog Adoption and Rehabilitation Centre) rescuing dogs that were to destined for Java restaurants.
The effect of Rabies
In 2008, rabies arrived in Bali. Government authorities were terrified that this would further damaged an already tainted image of the safety of tourists in Bali. Since 2008 over 150,000 dogs have been slaughtered. The World Health Organisation has expressly stated that culling the dogs is ineffective and they need to be inoculated, yet the killing continues (information on the solution below).
Are the Balinese to blame?
I have heard many Australians judging the Balinese based on their treatment of dogs labelling them ‘cruel’ and ‘barbaric’. The Balinese that we met on our travels were some of the most loving, welcoming and kind people I have ever had the pleasure of coming across. Getting your moral snobbery on is not only completely useless but also hypocritical. The world is defined by cultural differences and understanding these differences rather than judging off the bat is much more conducive to change. On a side note, those that live in cultural glasshouses may not want to throw ethically superior stones – Sacred Beef Burger anyone?
Is there a solution?
There is a light at the end of the tunnel. Some fantastic organisations (based both in Bali and Australia) are fighting tirelessly for Bali dogs. After speaking to the people at BAWA (read about my experience at BAWA here) they identified some key strategies that will help the Bali dogs.
This tiny country is not coping with the dog population yet it continues to grow as the dogs breed. Everyday BAWA travels with its mobile vet clinic to East Bali and routinely goes through the villages performing sterilisations. They provide an exhausting average of 40 sterilisations a day and try to stay in each village until 60% – 70% of the dogs have been spayed or neutered. The Ubud clinic in BAWA also provides free sterilisation for Balinese dog owners who cannot afford to pay.
Innoculation for various diseases (including Rabies)
The World Health Organisation (WHO) rabies expert explained that to eradicate rabies in Bali the only solution is to inoculate 70% of the dog population. Mass slaughters are often the knee-jerk solution adopted by authorities all across the world – it doesn’t work.
As previously explained, there are a number of cultural attitudes that are perpetuating cruel treatment and apathy towards the Bali dogs. BAWA are absolute pioneers in their approach, running daily seminars at local schools to educate children about animal care and change the attitudes towards dogs. The dogs are shown as individuals with unique personalities that are loving and loyal. With the parents’ permission puppies can be adopted through the school and are assigned solely as the child’s responsibility. A point system is set up and BAWA staff routinely check on the animals to ensure they are being loved and cared for. After six months the child that has looked after their beloved new pet the best and received the most points, is given a prize. What an absolutely ingenious way to not only get children involved in the responsibility of pet ownership but also building a beautiful bond between the pup and child!
What can you do to help?
The costs that the various animal welfare organisations are footing are absolutely huge! Sterilisations, emergency treatment, a mobile vet clinic, staff, food, inoculations, land, vets – the list goes on. These organisations desperately need financial aid to help them provide these amazing services.
You can give one off donations or set up a direct debit starting at a minimum of $25(USD) a month. With Christmas coming up you can also donate as a gift.
BAWA gives this guide on exactly how much your donation means to the dogs of Bali.
- $0.50 USD provides a nutritious meal for a starving street dog
- $3 USD provides a three year rabies vaccine for one dog
- $5 USD helps catch, collar, vaccinate and save a dogs life
- $10 USD treats mange and other skin parasites
- $10 USD rescues a puppy or kitten
- $20 USD sterilizes a male dog
- $35 USD sterilizes a female dog
- $45 USD keeps our animal ambulance operating for one day
- $100 USD feeds, vaccinates and cares for a puppy until adoption
Below I have put the links to the donations page for the three organisations I truly believe in. Once on the pages have a look around the websites and choose the organisation that you relate to or agree with the most. BAWA and BARC both provide amazing veterinary support to dogs around Bali. BAWA’s mobile vet clinic travels all over Bali, they provide meals to dispatch areas with high density of starving feral dogs and have a strong focus on education. BARC are trying desperately to raise the funds to acquire new land for their expanding sanctuary. The Bali Street Dog Appeal is an Australian based organisation that is partnered with BAWA.
See where your money is going and if you believe in the cause, stretch yourself just that little bit and make a real difference.
The Bali Street Dog Appeal – http://www.balistreetdogs.org.au/?cat=19
If you want to learn more about the plight of Bali dogs check out the amazing documentary Bali: Island of the Dogs by Dean Allan Tolhurst & Lawrence Blair.