To the uninitiated a Bali Dog is at best nothing more than a mere nuisance. At worst it’s a very unwelcome pest. Of course these reactions are understandable.
Bali Dogs in their natural setting are not that attractive when their natural setting is overrun by tourists demanding a different setting. In fact they can be completely ill mannered and annoying, especially around unnaturally occurring tourist areas. One of the reasons why Bali Dogs have become a rarity is down to their way of behaving. Their way of hanging around the perimeter of human gatherings has a way of unnerving people who are unfamiliar with the motivation behind such behaviour.
Thankfully there are untold areas where the Bali Dog is not regarded as an unwelcome. In locations numbering in the thousands they can be found guarding compounds in back street village locations, mingling with local people at early morning markets, following rice farmers to and from work, sitting with their human families in the coolness of dusk and attending ceremonies of every occasion.
They are still there in the multi-layers of Bali life. Not hidden away or shunned, not unwanted or maligned. Like a life between lives they move as if nothing has changed for thousands of years. Thankfully in the shadows, in the backdrop and beyond the scenes of unrecognizable change, very little has moved for them and their human companions.
Very little from what has always been to what will inevitably come.
On her first visit to Melbourne Australia a friend said. ‘It’s a beautiful city and so clean and the facilities are so impressive. But there’s something not right, something is missing.’
Asking Balinese people why they have Bali Dogs is futile. What their dog means to them? Now there’s a stroll into history.
Manifesting the same genetic blueprint with each evolving cycle the Bali Dog Bali People relationship has altered little at its historical core yet massively with the passage of time. Characters and their physicality are the only ongoing change in a play that has been running since the beginning of time. It’s a marriage spanning thousands of years and like any lengthy union a degree of blending overlapping and merging emerges. It can result in a hellish prison of resentment or a comfortable well established unspoken balanced partnership.
Invasion and colonization over the eons hasn’t broken the marriage and divorce hasn’t become fashionable or inevitable. None of this means that the marriage is perfect, no marriage is. But even with the obvious individuality within these species and pressure of modern and fast changing Bali, something unknown unspoken and unrecognized has cemented this marriage with a bond that to date is unbreakable. It just is.
‘But there’s something not right, something is missing. There are no dogs and for us Balinese, life without our dogs is not right, not normal.’
You don’t know what you don’t know …. Whilst this saying is a convenient way of explaining why people act, or don’t act in certain ways, it is true. How can you know what you don’t know?
The converse is also true. Sometimes you simply don’t know what you know. Cultural norms, entrenched behavioural patterns and rituals – we all have them to some extent and it’s not until we consciously think about them or when they are drawn to our attention by someone else that we become aware of them. We just do certain things or behave in certain ways and it’s during those times when we don’t know what we know.
Ask the majority of Balinese about the relationship they have with their Indigenous dog and you are likely to receive a casual shoulder shrug and a non-committal response. It’s not something that they tend to think about a lot. A classic example of when people don’t know what they know.
“Keeping dogs for the Balinese is just part of the way we are…”
Focus Group Participant, Widyastuti et al. (2015)
We have observed the relationship between these two groups of sentient beings for the past eight years. There is a definite way of rearing a puppy, a definite way of caring and a definite way of preparing them for life on the streets. Preparing them in an ancient fashion that in no way resembles the human pet relationship that is found in the Western cultural context. But it is most definitely a relationship. Do all Balinese follow these patterns? Of course not, just as not all western cultured people follow the fur baby regime of pet ownership.
“Balinese relate to dogs as independent subjects in their own society and not subordinates in a dependent relationship with human beings….. ”Orr, (2016)
Recently observing the journey of a Bali puppy into a compound has been a fascinating experience. From the moment of collection and after being picked up from the gutter for no other reason than it ‘felt right’ the puppy was cosseted and petted. Petted in the unique Bali style of dog petting, which basically constitutes firm whacks on the head accompanied by a high pitched noise, the puppy found itself the centre of attention. This attention was mostly positive until she began to develop a liking for rubber sandals. She soon learned that in order to remain living in the compound there are rules that must be followed.
Contemporary pet ownership behaviours were also observed with a collar being placed on her neck as soon as she was home. As she has grown her collar has been replaced as her people don’t want her to get ‘killed’ on the street. Plans are being made for her to be sterilised as the family don’t want any puppies around unless they choose to have them.
Most interesting has been the transition of the pup from being confined to the compound and being dragged back inside each time she has ventured out. Within one week of her arrival the male of the compound started to take evening walks to the end of his gang, encouraging the pup to follow him. There she and he would sit with him smoking and talking to others and her barking and learning how to hang out with the dogs of her neighbourhood. After a designated period of time man and dog simultaneously wandered back to the compound. Night after night this ritual has taken place and now the pup will wander outside the compound but will not venture any further than her nightly ritual takes her. She knows the neighbourhood and it knows her. She has become one with it and this will only continue to grow as her independence increases more and more.
Whilst her human family respect her independent spirit and the risks that go along with allowing her to be free, it does not stop them from worrying and caring for her. In repayment of their ancient union she now guards the family compound against all seen and unseen entities.
It is her way and their way. It’s the Balinese way.
No matter which way a Bali Dog is chosen or arrives at a compound, there is a unique and ancient system used to tell the personality, or character, of the dog. This system, performed only on puppies and known as Guna Jaya Kala Paksa, involves a complex ritual using pieces of coconut leaf.
The puppy’s nose is measured, from the tip to between the eyes. This basic measurement is then used as the foundation ruler which dictates the number of folds that can be obtained from around the coconut leaf. Folds are counted whilst speaking out loud Gunya, Jaya, Paksa, Ketek, Kiul. The word spoken on the last fold tells of the character of the puppy.
Guna: Useful for hunting and guarding, very loyal dog.
Jaya: Will bring the owner good luck, a charismatic dog.
Paksa: A dominant dog who is very loud and assertive.
Ketek: This dog is dirty and has a large appetite.
Kiul: A lazy dog who will be hard to train.
Bali Dog puppies are petted, cossetted and nurtured but changes in these socialisation patterns begin when an adolescent dog is able to run and shows an interest in leaving the compound. The household now considers the dog responsible for his or her own provisioning. Unlike Western dog owners, Balinese people will rarely interfere with Bali Dogs interactions with each other on the streets, only becoming involved when a neighbourhood dog enters their compound uninvited.
The lack of provisioning and the importance of the independence of inter-canine social and biological relationships illustrate how Balinese people relate to the Bali Dogs as independent subjects in their own society and not as subordinates in a dependent relationship with a human being (Orr 2016, 69).
It was heartening to recently read that a miscreant was apprehended for stealing a dog. The purpose for the clandestine theft, allegedly carried out after a poisonous substance was utilized, was to allegedly use the dog to feed humans. However the feeding of the dog, against its will, to humans for their consumption, is not why the offender was arrested. The taking of another’s property was the reason.
A Bali Dog historically doesn’t actually have a single owner. Rather they are ‘owned’ by a conglomerate. Bali Dogs have always been regarded as, and in many cases still remain in factual reality ‘anjing liar,’ translated as ‘wild dog.’ Not officially owned by any one, yet known and unofficially owned by all, by virtue of how the neighbourhood functions. A Bali village really is a number of different things or parts that are put or grouped together to form a whole but remain distinct entities. Bali Dogs have existed and cohabited within this systemized reality forever and have physically free roamed their paws to the bone within their entire village area.
It makes sense that killing a person’s dog is theft because the act of taking the animals life is depriving the owner of the relationship. If this case is pursued through the legal system it will definitely be a test case. If successful then even the anjing liar will be a little safer from dog meat thieves and disgruntled non dog lovers within their villages. Anjing liar, those that are wanted by their community are those that perform a function such as temple dogs, will be afforded a new sense of protection.
Should the dog meat traders (or those who don’t like dogs) decide to target these useful dogs for capture and death then the entire village will technically be able to bring about a case of theft. Because those dogs, by the fact of their utility to the community (whatever that utility may be) are part of the village structure and therefore belong to the community.
This makes them communal property.
And it is against the law to steal another person(s) property.
Irrepressible is defined as; inextinguishable, unquenchable, uncontainable, uncontrollable, indestructible, undying, and everlasting. Irrepressible describes the Bali Dog perfectly.
You can bring in legally, import illegally and backyard mass produce and cross breed as many non-Bali Dogs as you want. But there’s only one Dog on Bali that looks like it truly belongs.
There are many issues and threats facing this small Island. From pollution made by humans, to human made inequality poverty and suffering, Bali has more than enough to deal with. Bali Dogs are very low on the issue and threat scale.
Thankfully there remain to be thousands of Bali Dogs and an equal number of humans who care enough to not eat abuse and or kill them.
Thankfully the magnificent unique irrepressible Bali Dog continues to be just a part of the rich tapestry that is Bali life. Low enough on the radar to be celebrated not castigated. Yet still high enough visually to be beautifully shown to an Island that must continue to deal with so much more than a simple dog that has been with them in all their ups and downs since time began.
If only one child in one village, in one town, in one city, in one country can learn to live, to love, to care and to share, then they will learn to teach others to love, to care, to share. Then there is a chance.
Bali Dogs are family dogs. It’s been that way for as long as anyone can remember. Their protection of their family is unquestionable. Their connection to all members of their pack is guaranteed.
For generations Bali Dogs were as pure as any unrecognized unregistered breed could ever be. The rules were simple. If a dog was not useful or behaved in a manner that saw it step outside of specific boundaries, then it was eliminated. As unpalatable as elimination may be for some it meant that for thousands of years the Bali Dog became a stable predictable animal that could be relied upon to hand on its genetic surety generation by generation.
One of the major benefits could be observed in how Bali Dogs related and conducted themselves when in the presence of children. It is of little use having a working dog that’s expected to perform useful and meaningful activities if it’s running around biting children.
For thousands of years Balinese children and Bali Dogs have grown together and in most cases they have unconsciously and collectively handed on to their respective offspring the ancient rules for living together.
This contract is still very much binding and it is hoped and prayed that it will continue to be rolled over and stamped with a loving caring sharing seal of approval for thousands of years to come.
Something that was enough to grab the attention of a motor bike rider speeding past this small black and white puppy cowering on the side of a busy road.
Something about when he turned around went back and pulled over to make sure she was OK, she wagged her tail.
Something that made him care enough to create a soft bed of sarongs for her to rest on when she arrived at her new home.
Something that made him aware enough to visit his local veterinarian where he purchased anti parasitic treatments to rid her of fleas and ticks and something that gave him motivation to purchase a hot pink collar and lead whilst he was at the clinic.
Something that made him hold her close, nurse her and worry over a wound she had on her elbow.
Something that made him cook fresh tuna and chicken and rice for her, to build up her strength.
That motor bike rider was Wayan, the owner of Amaya Cottage and as he tells it the ‘something’ is luck.
That something was his luck, for being on that road at that time on that day and finding Mary.
Genetic malfunction, cross breeding, natural selection, environmental adaptation. Whatever the variables or reasons, short legged dogs on Bali appear to be increasing.
There are of course foreign breeds such as the floppy eared stumpy legged Beagle, the distinctive patchwork coloured imported canine that continues to rate right up there among the most favoured for local ‘ownership’.
It’s not until you begin to seriously look, that it also becomes obvious that there are definite ‘pure bred’ short legged (pendek kaki) Bali Dogs. For any avid follower of the stock standard sized Island dog the sight of a pendek kaki can elicit many more questions than available answers.
If the invasion of foreign dogs continues at current rates the obvious future for the indigenous Bali Dog is a crossbreeding inevitability. As unpalatable as this is for lovers of the ancient iconic unique Bali Dog, it is already happening. Bali Dog Combos are being rolled out with ‘interesting’ results.
It’s highly unlikely that Bali Dog original will disappear in the near future, however their isolated unchanging continuum was shaken with the arrival of Rabies and their balanced world was turned upside down when an open border policy heralded a foreign dog infiltration.
Bali Dog future will most definitely be a born bred Island version and although it may end up looking quite unlike its ancient relative it will still be a Bali Dog.
But as space becomes a very scarce and much sought after commodity and as calls for more restrictions on free roaming dogs curtails them more and more an inevitable evolution of rampant numbers of short legged Bali Dogs could be a future reality.
If this future vision becomes a future fact, its cuteness factor could be the short and simple key that unlocks a continuance for a canine that is battling to hold on by the skin of its paws.
As the overall number of Indigenous Bali Dogs appears to be decreasing the amount of those reaching old age appears to be increasing. Without any scientific data to analyse or refer to, numbers at either end of the spectrum cannot be verified, so it is through observation only that these conclusions are drawn.
The number of aged Bali Dogs sunning themselves on the steps of compounds does seem to be on the rise, at least in the areas that we frequent. There must be reasons for this increase. Is it the sterilisation programs at work? Sterilised dogs do live longer. Is it because of the parasite control treatments being doled out by welfare agencies? Is it a manifestation of a growing economy giving people more disposable income for veterinary care? Or is it a combination of all of those things. Is it because villages are no longer burdened by unmanaged dog populations and all of the associated nuisance behaviours that go along with ill-mannered packs of unsterilized dogs. When populations are managed people end up with the dogs they want, and people usually care for things that they want, in their own way.
Whatever the reason(s) there is something very heart-warming in seeing the rheumy eyes of an old Bali Dog trying to focus on you as you walk past their compound steps.
It wouldn’t be surprising to conclude that the number of genetically ancient Bali Dogs, on an Island clamouring for new and fashionable, are in fact decreasing rapidly. But what’s more surprising, given the rampant rush to throw out the old and usher in the new, is the sight of ‘many’ aging Bali Dogs, especially in Banjars and villages away from urban areas.
Possible reasons may be as surprising as factual reality.