I hadn’t seen him for eight months, but still knew him well enough to know that he would still be alive, if he could. He was tough, a true Bali Dog, conditioned after thousands of years and infused with a DNA that would enable him to fight to the death in order to live. I acutely knew this about him and his lineage, I was fully aware and fully frightened.
His latest home was a concrete walled box, no bigger than a very small bedroom. Three walls were enclosed, the forth a crudely erected reinforced wall of wire, which gave him an outlook onto the village road and normal daily life. His floor was powdered and pitted, a mixture of hard and soft concrete. This was his now home, his domain and as an Alpha canine, he owned this space and was not leaving, unless it was on his terms. He had returned to Bali Life and returned to being a Bali Dog. For his continued survival he had to leave this space, this place, this home, his home.
He had never liked or sought human touch, one of those many Bali Dogs who shun such contact. His history had exacerbated an already built-in reluctance, the taunting abuse and trauma delivered by humans in his early years had cemented that. I gained his trust over the years since and had been able to make physical contact, but always on his invitation. His propensity to become full blown defence aggressive when threatened or cornered was legendary and a documented reality. I had witnessed it before, had witnessed full blown rabies, his behaviour in defence mirrored rabies in attack. I had no illusions that he was a dog. An animal with supreme instincts, blinding speed and very sharp hook shaped teeth.
I knew that any aggression would only be a response to fear and that he would never initiate an attack on humans. But I never knew for sure, anything can turn to initiate an attack if pushed too far. I was about to push him to that limit and we hadn’t been in the same space for quite some time. This was foreign and new for us both, but he also knew my strengths and weaknesses, very well. I was a human connected with a dog, he had and was still a huge part of my life my heart and my soul. I knew emotion on that level was not going to be helpful on the level we were both at, right now.
The sedatives he had consumed earlier mixed with rice and fried egg, had started to take effect. His ravenous appetite and adrenaline flooded body had ensured sedation was probable. Years before it had taken enough medicine to kill a horse, in order to rabies vaccinate him, even then he was alert and fighting. It appeared that age and condition had worn him down this time, but I was very concerned they hadn’t. I knew this animal and I was worried, very worried.
‘The only thing to fear is fear itself’.
I knew on entering the small square enclosure that I was apprehensive, fully focused and had a plan of action already mapped out, with as many back up contingencies as possible. Given that the possibilities of any number of things happening was screamingly high, I was as prepared as I humanly could be. Facing an intrinsically wild, angry, scared and very strong fast animal, was the first step.
The sedation hadn’t worked, ‘kinda thought it wouldn’t’. He was fully up and pacing the perimeter. Standing in the centre of the room I moved as he did, a small circle to his squared space. With tail down and head low, he attempted to move the four walls out as far as he possibly could. His gait began to shorten and he dropped his body slightly lower, he was ready and rigid. Still squeezed against the walls, at least at this point I knew he wasn’t in attack mode, yet. The day before, I had spent some time with him in the box attempting to regain our relationship. I also wanted to observe his condition and strength after being enclosed for so long. The box had done him no harm at all, his already strong well-toned body had been enhanced, not eroded.
His weaponry was impressive. Animal speed agility power and fangs. My weaponry was impressive. Knowledge and a rope noose. It was to be a fair fight. Could I have brought in a net, stick or gun? Of course, but to beat him wasn’t the objective, he had been beaten enough before, no more damage was the intent.
More sedation was not an option, he was already wired and very pissed. Retreat from the box wasn’t an option, his survival would be untenable and his fate sealed. As representatives from the village looked on and in to what was happening, he was leaving this box dead or alive, by my hand.
The first bite was a severe warning, to not make physical contact. I had slowly cut down his movable space and he had cowered in a corner. Knowledge had taught and proven that there was a window, to being able to very slowly and gently pick him up, from around his abdomen, from behind. I knew the risks were very real from experience, but still wanted the trauma inflicted to be as low as possible. Crouching low and slow behind him, I was able to cradle his abdomen with my hands and lift him gently, all the while keeping my throat and face as far away as possible. The first indication of trouble looming was in the quiver and tightening sensation of his muscles transferring to my hands. The speed of an animal cornered and frightened, is immensely unnerving when in its presence. Like a coiled snake his whipping head and sinking fangs were surreal. I was emotionally connected to this animal but was completely realistic about his animalistic abilities, the juxtaposition was clear and present.
Bali Dogs do not bite and release, unless in training or play. They lock whip and shred when the fight is for survival. He was fighting to survive against an adversary, my only option was to punch or pull. He had locked onto my right forearm, my strongest arm and was beginning to whip. I had to pull away or risk flattening him with my left fist, resulting in a chunk of flesh and bone removed and my ultimate fear that he would turn and offensively attack. As I pulled free from beginnings of shred, he retreated to his new combat position, a few feet out from the back wall and I retreated to my circle. Did I want to run away, get out of this hell and survive this? ‘Oh my God, yes’. Maybe one of us would now walk out of this dead or alive, he was coming out.
As shock, fear and realization sunk in, the blood began to spurt and ooze from the puncture and shred sites on my forearm. Anger is a very powerful and intense force, used for good or bad is really up to the beholder. He was fucking coming out very dead, half dead, alive at any cost, it didn’t matter anymore because it had just become very personal and very painful.
Looking on and in, the audience fell silent and watched on and in, at what the hell was going to happen next. A Bali Dog and a Bule were going to war.
This canine, this dog, this sentient being, never sits. Unless he is at peace and secure, this personality in dog form never sits. Even when being fed, the rest of his pack will sit, but he as the head Alpha, he does not sit. Business is business and for him the type of business being carried out in this walled fighting cage, with a viewing platform for human observation, was really serious business. Fight for survival business is raw and intense, where the rules of fair play are a laughable concept. For me the rules were evolving, he was coming out dead or alive or he would need to take me, which was my constant fear. Hiding fear was over, we were both scared shitless, not tired yet, and with nowhere to go anymore, this was our time. Whatever relationship I had with him it was always unconditional, built on an ancient reality of man and dog needing each other for survival. A histrionic weight of oneness with the dog, still carried over in all forms, even at the risk of Anthropomorphism.
In this room, in a village, by a lake and under a volcano, there was no time to put human emotion and labels on the dog I was now facing down.
I crouched to his level in my circle and he sat on spring hind legs close to the back wall, he was shortening the distance. We stared very directly and very intently at the equal threat facing us, and he bared his teeth and began to gutturally growl. I had no choice but to respond from a distance and with every energy force available I silently threw it at him. We both physically blew up and presented ourselves to the next round.
‘Some one is coming out dead or alive, enough is enough’.
He still had all his weaponry intact, wasn’t tired, and wasn’t blooded. He had bloodied me but I still had use and a rope noose. I had watched many hours of this dog snapping his pack in play and retreating at speed, to return and practice the process over and over. His wildness disturbed me at that moment, and the constant thought of him turning and performing that routine on me, in a locked door concrete cage with an audience, was distracting and torturous.
It is highly inadvisable in attempting to noose an animal in this state, from a front on and spring facing snarling position, it’s impossible and fatal. The only way is from side or above, or dart or shoot. I had always put his leash on his still now tattered and soiled collar, from side sitting with him. I always used my left hand to attach and he would always walk leashed on my left side, before he achieved true street dog status and free roamed. But how to get him to now present his side to me, because that time was a lifetime from where we are now.
My options were diminishing rapidly and still I feared a premeditated attack, he had never faced off like this before, with me. He was strong and ready and really had the upper paw and I so hoped he didn’t sense it. The old soiled towel in the corner caught my eye, it was an option, a possible distraction and some weaponry to attack and defend with, I really didn’t want another bite, really. Getting to it meant crossing his space threshold, and I always knew his was as wide as this fighting square. In that other lifetime I was able to direct him to move with body language a point in the direction I wanted him to go and a click of finger and thumb. With no verbal language he had been able to learn and respect and we had mutual understanding. In this paradigm could it still work?
At what point he decided he wasn’t gonna play, I don’t know, but he decided. I had to step into his path and cross it or he had me cornered. A snarling frightened animal sitting so still but quivering as you cross its path is heart stopping. As his head with teeth and spit turned to follow me across his path, I could only snarl silently back. I had got to the towel on his right corner and slightly behind him and he hadn’t moved his body. I was relieved on many levels, he hadn’t attacked me in the corner and his flank was open from a slightly shorter distance.
Returning to my circle wasn’t an option anymore. I had made my move and retreating to my circle could be seen as weak and vulnerable, plus I would need to walk back past him again, when I was already in. I needed to move him from his central position to one of the corners. But throwing the towel at him from distance was futile as he would laugh it off and snarl again, pretty hard to just throw a towel over a snake head. I had to close the gap again and prepare for round two.
‘You are coming out dead or alive, you prick’
Closing the gap had to be quicker this time, surprise was now in both our weaponry. Getting the towel around his head and throat, or around my left arm and usher him to the corner, I had to make a stand and position. Two fast higher steps to his flank and he leapt back into the corner and curled into a ball with his head and jaw flat against the corner. Getting a towel around that is impossible, but I was there and retreat would send him another message. I had to get the towel around his head and throat.
A black small Bali Dog with black markings on its tongue is highly revered within Balinese folklore, very high intelligence being supreme. This beast I was dealing with had all the markings to indicate he was the complete description of the highest of high. But there was no time for admiration, he already had that, now I just wanted to stay alive.
I had to get him on the move again but keep him moving so I could virtually lasso him with the towel. With another move to his rear end he leapt away and I leapt toward his head, it worked, I had him in a towel headlock. That was until his slip knot designed head, whipped out of it. It was rope slip loop time.
As he leapt back to his corner I had to follow fast. He resumed the same position, glanced the loop and began to snarl and bare. Years earlier I had to use a similar loop on him to bring him into the pack and the memory was terrifying, I know he remembered. With lightning fast and rapid snapping of teeth, he attacked the loop upwards on his hind legs, all the while forcing his head backwards preventing me from slipping it on. I needed his head lower so I could quickly swing it on, but he wasn’t having any of it. Time was incomprehensible at this point, but neither one of us was tired. Lowering the loop would move his head but he could still block from the front. The advantage I had at this point was I was side facing and had my right hand free, but I was against the wall, at arm’s length from the loop and couldn’t get enough speed, I had to get closer.
There was no other option if I couldn’t loop him. I would have to leave the battle and leave him to a community who have their own way of dealing with such a canine display. It was really now or never for his physical survival and my emotional survival. We were both fighting each other for survival.
Shortening the distance again forced him back down and head flat in the corner, I had to find a way to lift his head enough to snap the loop over and around his neck, fast. Tapping the loop against his nose made him lift it slightly, I needed more. With one forceful tap he rose enough and snapped forward, allowing me a split second between snaps to force it over. He was looped and angrier.
He had always walked very well on a leash on my left side, and had reluctantly looked forward to our close time together and a bonding session, in contrast to his free roaming activities. But if the leash was pulled tight he would resist and pull back, we both found the balance of gentle energy, a soft loose leash and an enjoyable stroll. Now as he began rolling across the dusty concrete floor attempting to free himself from the snare, enjoyable it was not. The loop was attached so as to tighten on resistance but not choke, as on release it would slip. Suddenly he stood up quiet and proud and presented himself for our walk. We were half way there and I was bleeding and tired as adrenaline played rollercoaster. He was fresh and pumped.
‘You’re getting in that car, dead or alive, you asshole’.
Stepping with him out of the battle ground was tinged with immense relief and even more fear. We were now on the street and the audience had full vision of the combatants. As my bloody right arm was washed, we took a few moments to prepare for the final rounds. He had to be placed in the back area of a vehicle to move to his final home. Any thought of relief was quickly converted to panic as to how to lift him into the car. Getting him to the car was achievable, he walked as he always had, as long as no tension was applied. The gathered people had a clear indication as to his many sides, realizing I hoped that he wasn’t a rabid dog who would attack any locals.
Lifting him straight up, basically hanging and swinging him in was probable, visually and physically wise. But the message that would send to the community representatives would be irreparable. The towel was still an option but after one try and his Houdini act, it was discounted. There was only one option left. I would have to put this proud dog down on his belly and scruff grab the back of his neck. And hopefully get enough fur and skin, to lift and with both hands, throw him into the car. He had never been put in this position by me and whatever relationship remembered was at that point blown away.
My left arm had not been damaged and the action to be carried out felt better left handed anyway, plus my blooded right arm and hand was intact. Putting him down from his upright full standing position was actually physically easier but emotionally so hard, but it must be done. Flattening him spread eagled required surprise and speed, but it worked and with one movement he was lifted and an onlooker assisted with his hind quarters. The car back door was quickly opened and I threw him into the boot. It was never over until I released the grip with my left arm and just as I let go, in one seamless whip movement he latched onto my left forearm.
This time it wasn’t a warning bite and as his upper and lower canines bit deep and gripped firm I was back to the beginning. To not allow him to get to shred stage, I would again need to punch or pull. Ripping free from his grip meant ripping what was attached to his jaws. With one final movement his jaw opened just enough, and in readiness for the bigger bite to come, I was able to pull away from him.
In the end, it was the end to our latest evolving relationship as Dog and Human. It was a very fair fight, we used only what we had and nothing more. My respect for him and all the dogs he represents was already high. After our latest survival fight, my admiration and respect has reached supreme levels. I am actually thankful for what happened in that arena and give thanks to him that he didn’t turn to attack.
Sultan now lives in his forever home, really forever. He will not be moved again, not until he is carried dead to a cremation site, where he will be blessed and sent on his very own journey to dog nirvana.
Sultan and I took thirty minutes after the event to shake it all off canine and human style. We were able to come together for touch and an even deeper understanding and respect in our relationship. It did us no harm at all.
‘May you live long and roam free’.