Human Canine connectedness has been known for thousands of years, inked on paper, painted on walls, laid out in scripture, expressed verbally in every language. Yet it still amazes and astounds, which of course it shouldn’t, when the bond verifies itself in unquestionable physical manifestations.
The Bali Dog is of course a dog. However in the dog world, its dogness has its own unique quality and state of being.
Remembering human kindness/unkindness appears to be a skill, albeit instinctively driven, that Bali Dogs have certainly attained. Whether through intelligent evolution or otherwise, their awareness and reaction to past memorable stimuli and their ability for recall is a flashing sign post in regard to their reasoning.
It’s a universal and very unquestionable reality that beings in possession of a vehicle that connects brain signals to body bits via a nervous system will most definitely experience pleasure pain and all forms of feeling. This reality is undoubtedly present in every sentience type. Bali Dogs are categorized as type specific. To believe otherwise is sad, selfish and unfortunately ignorant.
The Bali Dog utilizes its full arsenal of historically ancient and geographically isolated Island mechanisms and senses to work out friend from foe, selectively filing away memories for future fast track referenced recall. It can still come as a huge shock, even for those who know humans don’t sit atop the great tree of intelligence that a dog could drag up memories from deep unconsciousness into full blown nowness.
But when it does happen and when it’s seen and witnessed and recognized in all its reactive forms, it is indeed a humbling moment, an emotional awakening and quite simply the greatest free lesson about interconnectedness and the simplicity of simply doing no harm.
Because the act of causing harm against sentience is an action against nature and that is unquestionably a crime of the highest order.
It is Nyamnyo. Who came into our lives with his big grin, full of joy, in between his skinny legs and popping ribs. He is a white Bali Dog, origin unknown. One day he just came and stayed, out of the blue.
Wise people said, “If a dog came to your house and stayed, keep it. It is the carrier of peace and prosperity.” So we did.
First he slept in our garage, so every day we took turn feeding him when we are going out. Few weeks later, without us realizing, he was just there, sleeping in front of our porch and wagging his tail. He was so skinny, his stomach arched. But we feed him; a lot. He turned into a gorgeous white Bali Dog, lean and muscular. A macho dog, we called him.
His attitude is why we called him Nyamnyo. He had this obsessive licking disorder, he loves everybody. He has to kiss you in the face, in the mouth, ears, neck, hair, you name it. His licking made sounds, “Nom, nom, nom.”, and that. Nyamnyo is the Indonesian version of him chewing your face off. Anyone who came to my house will remember Nyamnyo first, as his character stood out. For us, Nyamnyo is a goofy dog. Nobody can tell him off, he does whatever he wants to do.
For me, he is a wanderer. Somehow he wandered and stumbled upon our house, thinking that it is a safe place for him, spending the rest of his short life. He has the purest and free-est soul of a dog. He was not bound. He did not belong to the pack. He is a solo dog and the life of the party at the same time. I have always adored him, my flamboyant guy.
Every time I came home, he will be there, with his big grin, and pink tongue dangling from his mouth, doing a little dance for me, jumping to take my hand with his mouth. Same thing happened when I am about to go somewhere, he did a little dance for me, and take me to the garage, looking as our car driving by, leaving him, waiting for us to come home again, so he can do his dance.
I lost him, on the day I thought we could dance again soon.
It is Kiki, my strong boy. He had a series of unfortunate events since he was a puppy. He had always been a timid dog, but eager to please with his high pitch voice every time I came home.
Kiki was found as a puppy, beagle cross. His mother who was ours too, she dug a cave to give birth behind our house without us knowing. When the rain poured, she was crying for help, and we found that her three puppies were drowning in the cave she made. They were all saved, and Kiki was one of them. Long story short, when the mother and his two siblings died, Kiki was the only one left. His timid personality made him the victim of the pack bully. Imagine a nerd with glasses, who always got shoved to the locker by big guys, that nerd is Kiki.
But he was a whole other dog when he was out for the hunt. His Bali and Beagle blood made this amazing matrimony a hunting machine. He will find rat, frog, chicken, ducks and roast pig (yes, suckling pig) single handed.
My mother in law (RIP), one day when she came home, found all my 12 dogs were feasting on this huge roast pig, except Kiki. He was standing there, full of grace, looking at his friends as if saying, “it’s my birthday today, so here’s a pig, my treat.” If you have been to Bali, suckling pig is a festive dish that is a ceremonial delicacy. How did Kiki get it while we are staying in the middle of the rice field? Let it remain a secret and if anyone felt as though his suckling pig was stolen a few years ago, I am so sorry.
His killing machine mode was what got him into trouble too. He got his nose cut, almost fell off. Then a year later his neck was almost cut by a wire trap. And every time I took him to the hospital, he was calm. He was following orders; he was still a happy guy whenever he saw us. I could see the trauma in his eyes, but he shrugged it off. That is why I have always loved him. He forgets, forgives and moves on.
I lost him, on the day I thought he will live forever.
It is Bongi. A shy untrusting dog that I took from a trash pile when she was a puppy, she was so small I could not see her the first time I passed by. She was so scared, wet, and hungry. I took her in, tried to adopt her out, but she felt most comfortable with me. So she stayed.
She was a mix of Terrier and Bali Dog. She was lovely she loved water, loved dirt. She was having the time of her life in my house, running back and forth on the rice field, hunting for rats and digging in their holes. She always, always had her nose dirty because of the many holes she dug. She was the lowest level of the pack, because she had too much love to offer.
She did not fight back.
She was struggling with her food possessiveness, something that we were working on. She was too shy with new people. No one can touch her except me, my husband and of course, our beloved Mama. She will always find a way to sneak into our room, curled up next to us, with her sad eyes and furry ears. Since the day I found her, she decided that I was her home. I was her protector.
I lost her on the day I thought she will be safe from everything.
It is Aming and Botak. The youngest members of the pack, the dynamic duo, Yin and Yang. They were still puppies, barely 10 months old. Like any other puppies, they were full of energy; they were troublemakers, both young and beautiful. They started rough, with almost no hair, skinny and full of fleas. With just a little love, they bloomed. Their hair is the shiniest; their bodies were at their best.
Aming will say hi with his little howl. Then drop his body and curl near us. Aming helped me to take care of three neonate puppies I found in a garage. He loved puppies, sitting with them and hugging them, especially when nights get chilly and the puppies need extra warmth.
Botak will greet us with his happy face. Always smiling, standing there, looking at us and wagging his fluffy tail slowly. He pranced every time he walked. Every sunset, he will stand on the top of the rice field tier, looking very stoic, creating a magnificent silhouette of a Kintamani Dog.
I lost them, on the day I thought we will grow old together.
I lost five of my dogs, poisoned, on the same day my mother in law got cremated. I lost them on the day I thought it would not get any worse than that. The feeling….. I could barely cope.
That feeling, that I was not able to help them, to hug them in their last minutes. They must have been so scared. Did they think of me? Were they looking for me while they were grasping for air? Would they think I left them alone in agony? Would they be angry with me for not being there?
Would they think that it is not fair that I am gone now, as before they were all there pulling me up in my difficult time?
I was just, afraid to feel.
When I got home, they were all already buried. I was too scared to visit them. I saw the red soil, and pictured their bodies under it. Are their spirits surrounding me now? Are you dancing, Nyamnyo? Are you crying, Kiki? Are you howling, Aming? Are you wagging your tail, Botak? And are you, Bongi, sneaking behind me and licking my feet?
I was still, afraid to feel.
When my defense mechanism was a bit cracked because of my mother in law, it is now strengthened because of my dogs.
Then I choose not to feel. I choose not to remember. I just breathe. And move on.
I choose to be a cold hearted bitch when faced with deaths. Six loves of my life left me on the same day. Each of them left a deep cut to my chest. I chose to be a Bali Dog. I shake it off, and walk through.
Life has been giving me too many lemons it gets bitter, so bitter that my tongue could not feel anymore.
Now I am numb.
Rest in peace my loves, wherever you are. Floating next to me, rotting under the soil, or on that rainbow bridge those positive people often talk about.
I love you.
The ancient Bali dog Bali people relationship remains ongoing and is most certainly enduring. There is no between in the union. As a body part functions with the whole, Bali dogs and Bali people move as one, separation is not a question to be asked, not until some malaise disease or drastic amputation occurs. In that respect the Union is healthy.
In general terms Bali people are now cohabiting with fewer Bali dogs. The reasons for this can be witnessed from economic and environmental impacts. As finances in our modern competitive world become constricted, food for dogs must give way to human and family survival. Even though historically Bali dogs have simply survived on family and community scraps, their free roaming activities have been severely curtailed, especially in urban areas. Therefore demand from dogs for more family compound based food sources has increased. Environmentally things have become physically tight. Space is at a premium in rapidly developing urban locales and more people negate dogs.
Bali people are also becoming more affluent and this corresponds with the purchase of foreign breed dogs. The urge for new and novel is most certainly not isolated to one culture or another. It’s generally spread across the globe and Bali people have in dog terms most certainly pinned their ears back and bought up big in foreign pooches. The obvious result of this has seen a drop in local dogs but an upsurge in crossbreeding. It’s not unusual to see Husky cross Bali dogs and endless themed variations trotting around or hunkered down in cramped cages. Small has also become fashionable; prize style is still in vogue, and again as space and access becomes more pressing, tiny canines fit the bill. The Union is changing and adapting but is still enduring.
There is no data readily available as to the number of RW restaurants on the island, so it’s not possible to determine if there is an increased market for dog meat, or if there is just increased noise about the trade on social media pages. Either way there is no doubt that the trade impacts on the number of dogs being seen on the streets and is a risk factor for the Bali dog survival. The extent is unknown.
To ensure the continued survival of the Bali Dog and its position within the fabric of Balinese culture there are several focus points that will need attention.
Continue to work with communities outside the tourist and urban areas. Use participatory methods to determine solutions to problems. Offer sterilisation as the only humane form of population control. Build community responsibility into any programs, even if it’s a long, long term program goal – keep it firmly in sight. Offer humane euthanasia for those populations that are unmanaged and where communities are resorting to cruel and inhumane practices to self-manage (i.e. puppy dumping or trading dogs for RW). Continue with education programs to ignite empathetic responses within young children in the hope of breeding a kinder generation. Encourage and motivate local people and groups to activate and agitate within all levels of government for government bodies to view humane animal management as a localised public health concern for which responsibility is shared.
Finally, encourage and empower local groups to lobby internally and externally on behalf of their Indigenous Dog.
As many of us know, they are worth fighting for.
Agra Utari representing Yayasan Seva Bhuana at Animals for Asia Conference. Kathmandu, Nepal. December 2017.
Asking someone with a beating heart to care for another beating heart is a very big risk. It demands an answer, which in the case of heart stuff has an obvious degree of emotion attached.
Requesting that they look after another beating heart, in keeping with how they would wish to be looked after, is asking for a very reflective honest position to be taken, especially when such a request involves the heart of a different species.
Offering an opportunity in the form of a formal job, working at looking after and caring for another heart, a heart that beats in the chest of a species not related to you, can most certainly remove emotion, raise pressure and deflate everything that is being asked and requested.
Trusting that another human will have the capacity for compassion and empathy when it comes to being paid a salary to care for and look after an animal that they have no connection with, while responsibly performing duties in keeping with good physical and mental health can of course be statistically and brutally disastrous.
After so much negotiation, talking, discussing, questioning, answering and so forth and so forth and so…….. To witness that instinct and gut feeling was actually right. To know that trusting, offering, requesting and asking was the only way.
To observe that a job looking after Bali dogs could give purpose, emotional meaning and foster caring connections while building strong lifelong bonds is very humbling. It also gives faith through evidence that good heartedness still beats on, even under the overwhelming pressure of material corrosiveness.
Exploring and understanding cultural norms is necessary to gain a framework under which to insert animal well-being interventions. Within Balinese culture there is a deep belief in Karma, the law of the universe. People firmly believe that happenings and events, both good and bad, directly relate to Karma. It is said that you are either paying Karmic debt or enjoying Karmic deed. The belief is that all is interconnected, past, present and future. All actions will affect your current and future life.
The Karmic belief system can be a topic to facilitate discussions to challenge entrenched behaviours that are detrimental to animal well-being. It can also be a conduit to reinforce desired or changed behaviour. For these conversations to be authentic they must be initiated and led by Balinese people.
The young girl in this image recovered from a serious and life threatening illness only after her father placed a small black puppy on her hospital bed. Her recovery was attributed to the presence of the puppy and as a result her family have dedicated their lives to saving Bali Dogs, believing that it is their Karma to do so. This decision and subsequent actions are independently enacted.
This type of situation can be leveraged as evidence to other community members of the need to repeat behaviours that have positive consequences and to reflect upon behaviours that harm or hurt other sentient beings.
Culture is man-made and remains constant until one generation says to the other – why?
The young generation of Bali is the generation to focus upon in changing the existing cultures attitude towards the Bali Street Dog. Influenced by external factors the young Balinese are already adopting behaviours of a pet owning culture previously not demonstrated. Veterinary visits, leashes, collars, grooming and pet beds are symbols of a changing awareness as to the value of pets as part of the overall family.
The challenge is to ensure that the Bali Street Dog is a recipient of these changing behaviours. This will only be achieved by young Balinese themselves advocating to their peers and elders for the value of the Bali Dog within their culture and society.
For this reason thebalistreetdog.com continues to support local initiatives such as those facilitated by Yayasan Seva Bhuana.
Change will not come about because outsiders demand it. Change will only be created by internal influencers. It needs to start somewhere, and it starts with the young.
Our recent presentation at the Animals for Asia Conference held in Kathmandu highlighted opportunities presented through Balinese cultural norms and how they can be leveraged to influence positive animal / human health outcomes.
During the presentation Agra Utari spoke about a well-known cultural symbol that is present at all village ceremonies. The Pecalang are the Balinese Community Police and consist of men from the village who volunteer to secure the local area and control traffic and events during ceremonial activities.
The model of Pecalang can be used to illustrate herd immunity to a village. The Bali Street Dogs of a village will form a pack and naturally guard their home compounds and village area. By vaccinating and sterilising these dogs you have a pack Pecalang protecting the community from outside animals who are not vaccinated and that maybe carrying the rabies virus.
This Pecalang Pack could wear a collar of the same colouring as worn by the men of the Pecalang. A collar of red, white and black symbolising the protective role of the dogs within the community.
It was an honour and privilege to attend and present at the 10th Animals for Asia conference held in Kathmandu, Nepal, this week. The theme of the conference was 'Changing Human Behaviour.’ Our presentation focused on the ancient connection between Balinese people and their Indigenous Dog. Sharing the stage with Agra Utari from Yayasan Seva Bhuana gave an authentic voice to our presentation and shone the international spotlight on a unique and ancient human/animal relationship. Our presentation abstract is below:-
Culture makes strategy a dog’s breakfast.
The island of Bali is world famous for its stunning scenery, beautiful ceremonies and astoundingly unique culture. Over recent years it has become infamous in some circles for its treatment of the islands Indigenous canine, the Bali Street Dog. A rabies incursion, an under prepared government, spiraling human deaths and a massive growth in tourism has resulted in a plethora of formal and informal animal welfare groups and organization’s all vying to save the Bali Street Dog from a supposed annihilation.
Bali dogs have lived alongside Balinese people for thousands of years. Theirs is a unique reciprocal relationship entwined in scripture, ceremony and mutual obligation. A relationship that does not align with the Western cultural context of pet ownership. Within this non alignment is where the greatest threat to the Bali Dog lies. Foreign initiated sterilization programs, rescue activities and adoption appeals abound throughout the tourist areas. The vast majority of these are underpinned by the Western context of responsible pet ownership and openly demand human behavioural change for Balinese people to emulate the Western model of pet ownership.
Unsurprisingly, these ethnocentric attempts are limited in their impact, even when implemented by local people. Repeated calls for laws, tourism boycotts and attempts to increase the value of the Bali dog within its own culture seem to make little difference aside from alienating local Balinese against any form of attitudinal change towards their companion animals.
Culture really does make a dog’s breakfast out of ethnocentric strategies.
This presentation unpacks the role of the Bali Dog within Balinese culture and demonstrates that when you forget that you know it all and listen loudly to what already is you can influence positive change. Illustrated with examples of optimizing local culture to influence positive change this paper outlines the story of a father dedicating his life to the health of his local village dogs in order to repay his karmic debt for the life of his child; the use of cultural symbols within the fight against rabies by using existing norms and structures to reinforce the need for herd immunity; and the use of Balinese youth culture to make animal welfare cool and an activity worthy of extensive social media sharing.
These stories all reinforce the importance of working within cultural context. The need to explain, inform and empower locally driven choice by giving people skills and resources, not charity, is the path to sustainable human behaviour change.
Change that is positive for people and their animals.
As we prepare to present the ancient relationship and deep bond between Bali people and their Island dogs at Animals for Asia Conference Kathmandu, our overwhelming concerns are directed toward the actions of Gunung Agung. The power of Agung is unmistakable and the sacred ancient relationship and deep bond the majestic volcano has with its people and animals is equally unshakeable.
Everything on Bali is interconnected, its energy and atmosphere exudes that reality on a daily basis, exemplified and reflected through ritual and faith. As Agung continues to power up, Bali people and their dogs will continue to have faith in knowing that everything happens for reasons, seen and unseen.
May the Karmic wheel of cause effect consequence turn quickly and may the ongoing relationship of Bali people their animals and Gunung Agung be strengthened even more by this latest explosive cycle.
You are most certainly foremost in our thoughts and held very deeply within our hearts.