It’s justifiably very easy to react emotionally when the theoretical practice of a thrown puppy becomes a real event and even more so when your attention is blatantly drawn to it on an early morning street walk. However it’s always good to take a few moments, more than a few deep breaths and remember where you are and what you can do with what you know to be an unfortunate reality.
“Permisi, permisi, anak anjing”. “Excuse me, excuse me, puppy”.
Early morning street walks are always the best time, a period when the traffic is light, the air is cool and it is usually quiet. However it’s also when scents are fresh, scraps of food are possible, competition is probable and puppies get thrown. The term thrown is not to be taken literally, although it’s certainly not a completely unusual action, rather it’s the act of placing unwanted puppies, or a single puppy on this morning, somewhere else other than their birth place. In the majority, thrown puppies average eighty five percent female; no one wants more puppies from those puppies when they are no longer puppies. Another reason for throwing is the misconception that only male dogs can be good at guarding the compound. Thankfully it is becoming clearer and somewhat accepted that female dogs are as good if not better than their male counterparts.
“Anda membantu, ya”. “You help, yes”. It wasn’t a question and wasn’t a demand, just a simple matter of fact direct statement made to and at “dua orang asing dan tiga Bali anjing jalan”, “two foreigners and three Bali street dogs“.
Bali Street Dogs are born tough; they have been genetically designed to be so. But as tough as they are, thrown puppies stand very little to no chance of survival in an environment that must be impartial and impersonal.
But as two foreigners and three Bali Street Dogs viewed a small and trembling puppy huddled in a tiny doorway, a whimpering puppy backed into in a miniscule space, just off a soon to be very busy and very frightening main road, it was impossible to be impartial and impersonal. It was also inevitable that it would be a she and yet another female puppy, thrown for reasons that are completely avoidable but are reluctantly understandable.
It is hoped that Juno as she has come to be known will find a home through the adoption services of the Bali Animal Welfare Association.
It’s a very foreign thing to walk Bali Street Dogs on the street, on a leash. Anyone who has spent any time on Bali will attest to the obvious traffic dangers and challenges that await the uninitiated, the initiated and even the born and bred. The variables are numerous, in fact they are endless, however given enough time observation and patience, a somewhat gradual parting of the clouds and an approaching slight clear picture emerges of a rather amazing system of flow. From a pedestrian point of view, stepping off and stepping back on seems to be the general tactic of choice, a movement that eventually becomes second nature when the sound, sight and smell of anything approaches from front and back or around and surround. Crossing a street or busy road appears to give favourable results when actioned on the diagonal, trying to cross a road straight across can result in a longish wait and a rather painful case of sideway whiplash. It also becomes apparent that no one wants to hit anything or anybody and great respect is given in order to avoid what would not only result in massive personal inconvenience, but also an equally unwanted and unneeded interruption to traffic flow in an already congested environment. Road rage is a rare and very foreign concept; no one appears to have the time for it.
Bali Street Dogs who have survived the traffic dangers are also the born and bred, those who as newly uninitiated puppies learnt very quickly to step on and step off and those who were genetically enhanced in street wisdom, making them more endowed than the rest. The rest just didn’t make it, usually ending up as another stain on the streets, but what they lost and left on the asphalt gave the survivors a continued strong genetic line of learning and adaptation. It also bestowed upon them the justified title of “Professional Bali Street Dog”, justified because being street smart was only one step on the right rung. No chicken eating, human biting, vehicle chasing and unnecessary barking were also required attributes to climb the ladder for full membership with stamped certification and entry to such an elite level.
More and more Bali Street Dogs are now surviving to adulthood without ever walking the streets, those who were taken up as puppies by non Balinese people and nurtured away from the dangers that their brethren had no choice but to face and live or die on. These dogs have not been subjected to the simple Darwinian survival of the fittest rule, a reality that was the final rung in the making of a true Professional Bali Street Dog.
Rehabilitating an adult Bali Street Dog to Street Walk is not impossible. But it does require a lot of work, a lot of patience, a lot of time, a lot of repetition and a huge sense of humour, with a twist of insanity. To walk the streets with a Bali Dog is a true pleasure and privilege. To lead one on a leash is a challenge and a test. To let them remember a part of who they are is the reward.
Both are made from predominantly local ingredients with a few foreign influences thrown in. They have been around for quite a while and are a part of local culture. They are fast and can be quite unpredictable and are certainly not to every ones taste. They are attractive and dangerous and have historically done their best business on the street. They are durable, cheap to run and easy to maintain. They are very recognizable, quintessentially Balinese and ruggedly real. They have lasted until now and for those who have sampled and found them to be satisfying, there is a distinct tendency to continue the association.
So, if you remove street food from and off the street and force it to perform its primary function inside, will it adapt, can it change and will it survive? Is it better or worse, or is it just the same, will it flourish or will it die? Many street stalls have moved to off street shops, have become restaurants and been richer for it. Others have been unable to handle the change and have died off or moved to areas where they can continue business as usual.
Bali Street Dogs are facing a similar situation and are increasingly being forced to move off the streets. This is not an occurrence that should or shouldn’t happen. It is not a better or worse debate and it is not a good or bad thing. It just is a reality and it will surely continue to occur due to encroaching modernity. Will they adapt and change, will they move further out and on, can they continue to survive or will they die?
But Bali Street Dogs are not street food, they are consumed in more hidden off street establishments, so it is nefarious to try and link them in regards to their value. Food is still wanted and food is still needed, they are not. All they really have in common is that they come from the same environment and to date they share the same environment.
Bali Street Dogs are as adaptable as street food, are able to change with the times and can survive in a new and unfamiliar landscape. But it is not an easy ask for a dog that is genetically blueprinted to roam at will. To take them off the streets, place them behind walls, limit their free roaming activities to routine leash walks and train them to be well mannered.
That’s the future for Bali Street Dogs who remain in urban areas that are rapidly modernizing.
Anthropomorphism, or personification, is the attribution of uniquely human characteristics to anything other than a human being.
Anthropomorphism appears to be a natural human tendency, I do it and you do it. In fact we all do it, to an extent. It would seem that we are more likely to assign anthropomorphic qualities to something that appears to have traits similar to us. In the case of dogs, they have movements that can be human like and they have faces that are structurally similar, so they are a sure bet.
In science Anthropomorphism is to be avoided as fervently and feverishly as one would when faced with a rabid dog in full flight. In everyday life it’s nearly impossible to not anthropomorphisize and when it comes to our pet dogs the urge to humanize and personalize is just about overwhelmingly impossible for most. In and of itself anthropomorphism is neither good nor bad, although it is in the eye of the observer as to what conclusions they arrive at when ogling such behaviour in all its guises.
Anthropomorphism in regards to Bali Street Dogs is on the face of it a very difficult concept to look at, grab hold of and run with. In traditional Balinese culture the thought would not only be unthinkable, it would in fact be offensive.
They are quite honestly the furthest species to have human tendencies, although they do have limbs and eyes, ears and noses and of course mouths. The last similarity in particular is an orifice that they have a habit of using very loudly and very often.
At this present moment the Bali Street Dog is not that popular with non Balinese people and the irony is that due to the influx of foreign people and dogs, they are in fact becoming rapidly less acknowledged. Anjing Ras, in the form of Rotties, Bullies, Goldies etc are now the dogs to have and own for foreigner and to have for Bali people.
However, there is one niche area where The Bali Street Dog is becoming more and more valuable and increasingly sought after, to eat.
So, is it possible to make Bali Street Dogs more popular with non Balinese people, stop them being eaten, ensure their ongoing survival whilst maintaining their feral nature in its purity and continue to put up with their incessant barking and nakal, naughty behaviour. There’s an Anthropomorphic statement right there.
In the vast majority of cases a financial transaction is required when taking possession of Anjing Ras, a possession that by virtue of money changing hands is automatically valuable to all parties involved. This currency value alone seems to spur and enhance anthropomorphic leanings, a state in which so many important implications are favourable to the dog. Thinking, seeing and feeling for the dog in human ways will bestow upon it the very human action of moral and physical care and consideration.
No one is advocating that Bali Street Dogs be bred to sell, it is doubtful that anyone would purchase them anyway, especially when there are so many new and exotic canines to tease and toy with.
The question is not, if anthropomorphism would apply to Bali Street Dogs, it already does. The answer is not, to expect the people of Bali to see their Bali dogs in anthropomorphic form.
The thought is simply that if more people were aware of the uniqueness and rare value that is the Bali Street Dog, then maybe just maybe their popularity would soar to heights that would make them, the dog to have and to own.
It is unavoidable and unrealistic to expect that visitors to Bali would not see The Bali Street Dog as much more than a pest.
The Bali Street Dog has lived parallel with Balinese people for many hundreds of years and they are firmly placed within Balinese culture and community.
The vast majority of dogs on the streets do have homes and owners. These homes and owners are just different to what outsiders are familiar and comfortable with in their own cultural context.
Bali Dogs are free roaming animals, an action and activity that is vastly different to that of a stray dog. A Bali Dog has a territory that can span 3 - 6 kms and they will move with purpose through this territory every day, returning to their home compound at will.
Balinese compounds can have up to six Bali Dogs and they are in the main, true working dogs. Until now it has been very common to see free roaming dogs, a fact that has given the perception of non ownership. Balinese people do not own Bali Dogs and should the question be asked the answer can result in a blank stare. However if the enquiry is about where the dog is from and where it stays, a direction to the compound in which the dog spends its time is usually forthcoming. The cultural context of ownership and pet ownership is completely different on Bali, but this in no way means that the people of Bali do not like or need their Bali Dogs.
Bali dogs are not pets, they serve a function and a purpose within each compound and within each Banjar. They guard their compound from intruders both physical and spiritual. It is said that identification of an intruder is recognized by the type of bark a Bali Dog makes. They will bark differently to identify a ghost or spirit and again differently to identify a strange person entering their territory. Bali Dogs keep the rat numbers down in any compound, they eat the rubbish, they clean up the offerings (which serves to keep the rat numbers down), they scare away snakes and they entertain the children.
Balinese people are now obtaining breed dogs to have as pets and it would appear that this is inevitably due to foreign influence. Sadly, these dogs are often caged or chained as they are seen as valuable and not as smart as the Bali Dog. They struggle in adapting to chaotic traffic conditions and day to day Banjar life. But even with the inevitable influx of breed dogs, Bali people will still retain their Bali Dogs because the need to maintain balance and order is paramount.
There are some Banjars on Bali that have declared themselves to be dog free, this has been in response to the rabies outbreak. Many of these Banjars as a result have suffered massive rat population explosions, their rice crops have failed and snakes have entered family compounds. Bali Dogs not only have a place within Balinese community life, they also form a link in the eco system. So if you remove the dogs then the fragile balance is affected, a void is left and damage ensues.
The jury is presently out as to whether the Bali Street Dog is regarded as a pest or if in fact it has a purpose. In reality the judgment is an individual viewpoint dependent on how you place your eye from whatever position you take. But it must be said that if the Bali Street Dog is sentenced to eventually disappear, then a major component of life on Bali will be lost.
The positive benefits of tourism are obviously unarguable. Bringing increased material wealth, better material standards of living and infrastructure upgrades are spin-offs when millions of foreigners arrive in paradise. Whether such changes benefit the whole or not is something that only history in its own time will hand down its verdict on. For now the chatter is firmly entrenched in the lofty regions, the realms reserved for politicians, statisticians and those with vested interests.
There was a time when The Bali Street Dog was without title, a time when it was just a dog, when it was just Anjing. Back there somewhere when it was just a part of everyday life on Bali, a time when it was just doing what it was designed to do. Doing its job of guarding the family compound controlling the pest population and cleaning up anything remotely edible around the place. The ancient Anjing roamed free in a tropical paradise of sun, sea and Sawah, living a symbiotic existence with people.
It is impossible to know when tourism began to affect its life and movements. But it is possible to see now, how much the effect of tourism is having in forcing them to migrate further and further out and away. As simplicity gives way to increasing complexity and modernity, Anjing Bali struggles to adjust to a concrete jungle devoid of the familiarity that has enabled it to remain stable and sure. The Bali Street Dog is now finding it harder to stay on streets that are frequented by tourists who see them as an inconvenience rather than a part of this island.
Unfortunately it appears that a growing number of tourists do not like to see Anjing Bali roam free. They feel that they are stray and uncared for, see them as lost and in need of a home and demand that they are given care, the type of care prescribed within their own cultural context.
Unfortunately tourist operators respond to these complaints by ‘removing’ the dogs. As a result over the past few years tourists have been known to comment that ‘Bali is so much better now because there is much less dogs’, as if this is a good thing for the dogs. The message received by the people of Bali is that tourists do not like to see Anjing Bali, so therefore they must be removed.
The reduction in dog numbers might make a holiday paradise a more palatable environment for an ever increasing tourist presence, but for the Dog of Bali it has begun to beat the drum to its potential doom.
Let’s be totally honest, Bali Street Dogs really don’t do themselves any favors. If individual complaints were tallied and laid upon each other, a towering edifice of human vitriol would reach heights of record proportions. From mangy to aggressive to annoying to everything unappealing, the Bali Street Dog has carried it all and worn it well. They like to bark, a lot. They aren't that friendly to humans, much. They like to play hard with each other, often. They chase cars and scooters and they shit everywhere. They are not like other dogs, most certainly. They are feral, indeed. They are very territorial, yes.
There are not that many Bali Street Dogs left on Bali, really. Not in or on the Bali hot spots of Kuta, Legian, Seminyak, Sanur. Even in utopian Ubud they are being squeezed more and more as money overrules mangy. The Anjing Ras, foreign dog is replacing the undesirable and ugly Anjing Bali in these locales, like a new trend they are the must have to own and the must seen to be with. Rotties, Goldies, Bullies and Silkies are the new norm, replacing the Bali’s. It is only a matter of time before the Anjing Ras will be free to parade but not to roam, that’s progress.
So, given the overwhelming evidence piled up against the Bali Street Dog, why would anyone in a sane state of mind want to spend a nanosecond in the company of such a pest? That’s not really a question that can be answered in a generalized fashion, because Bali Street and Dog are all fairly chaotic and crazy in and of themselves, aren't they?
I have chosen and been most fortunate indeed to have spent time with Bali Street Dogs and have been given the privilege of learning about and from them. They are supremely intelligent; to have survived this long is an indication of their smarts. They are so very loyal once you have earned their trust, a trust that must be worked at and for. They can be trained to respect and to respond to leadership. They cannot and should not be imprisoned or chained. They live to roam and they protect their home.
They are no better or worse than any other dog; they are quite simply - The Bali Street Dog.
It’s not every day that five people are bitten by one dog, thankfully.
Made waved enthusiastically, but as he gingerly alighted from his new van, a Nissan APV people mover, it was evident that his smile was hiding a degree of pain. As his paying customers rushed ahead to enter the latest and newest shopping centre in town, Made approached limping ever so slightly.
As a small and innocent brindle Bali Street Dog wobbled into the canine friendly Banjar on the outskirts of town, nobody thought anything out of the ordinary was about to happen. Dogs wandering in from outside were not uncommon, although most travellers were either passing through of their own accord or being chased through and out by vigilant alpha dogs from within the area.
The objective beauty of Rabies is in its ability to elicit a justified flight response from anything that comes across its manifestation. And in this small weak and dying brindle Bali Street Dog the pack leaders sensed a clear and present threat, an event of such explosive and furious magnitude that a justified hide and retreat was unarguable. But nature is a durable, determined and ongoing force and in this small dog the Rabies nature was to seek out a mammal, any type of mammal to bite and to survive, at any cost.
On that ordinary morning in a small village Rabies came to visit and in a sliver of time a small brindle Bali Street Dog had no choice but to unleash its host on an unknown number of its own kind and on five known humans.
The effect of a Rabies transmission on a community is akin to a tsunami of justified fear and paranoia and on that given day the virus was supremely successful in how it affected the people of a small Balinese Banjar. Given that it appeared to be a battle waged and seemingly won over numerous years, the reality of a new and full blown frontal attack was nearly too much to bear. Rabies has an incubation period, a time lag of months in which to endure a waiting game of worrisome stalemate, a physiological quicksand of sorts.
Made was one of five innocent human victims of rabies, a being who had been bitten by an innocent canine victim of rabies on that morning, and as we greeted him in a crowded parking lot the physical wound to his foot explained the pain reflected in his walk. An unknown stranger had hurt a known neighbour and as Made limped back to his van it was the look in his eyes that told half the truth, that his physical pain would subside and his wound would heal and scar. But as much as Rabies is impersonal, as he turned to wave one more time it was impossible to ignore the psychological trauma and personal fear that is inflicted by the Rabies virus. An organism that is hell bent on one thing and one thing only, survival for itself at the ultimate death of its host.
When your a professional street dog, small in stature and needing to assert your position in a very narrow area of influence, in a space and corridor frequented by tens of feral friends and foes, there comes a need to exhibit your dominance in unique and novel ways. Paw Stand, as he would come to be known, was the king of his territory. Not a chicken chaser, not a barker and never in demand of affection, he was the epitome of professional, a working dog surviving on what scraps he could forage and what morsels he could salvage from daily offerings. He was as owned as any street dog can or should be, meaning that he lived a parallel existence with a group of humans he felt secure with, connected to and who would be a food supply no matter how limited. He had a home, a place in the family compound where he could find shelter and perform his duties. The street was his extended domain, the range of his reach dictated by his sphere of influence. To take the street from him would be akin to removing the blood from you.
Paw Stand was classically short haired, a very important and positive attribute in a tropical urbane environment, he was predominantly cream colored with brown patches, like a dog in tiny cow skin. On any given day, depending on too many given realities, he could look young and old, healthy and sick, relaxed and frightened and lost and found. On an increasingly busy street that was becoming a fledgling road in a growing village on the edge of a rapidly modernizing town, it was only a matter of time before the impressively honed road skills of this and every street dog was tested too much. The rear flank glancing blow from a speeding motor bike was not enough to snap his spine, this time. But it was enough to unsettle him and make him look twice and vulnerable, not a good manifestation in a professional whose bluff is more psychological than physical.
Paw Stands unique and novel way of showing his dominance was by no means completely rare but it was quite uncommon in the canine world. With one smooth movement he would tuck his hind legs in and flip forward executing a perfect Paw Stand, a feat that would make any gymnast proud. Holding the position for as long as his full bladder would dictate, he would urinate higher and higher in ever increasing power squirts, finishing his performance on the highest leaf on the biggest bush he could find. As the assembled congregation of common canines attempted to match his height with grotesque and quite frankly embarrassing maneuvers, Paw Stand would quite simply flip forward once again. After completing a perfect landing, he would smugly trot off leaving behind more than a few friends in desperate need of canine chiropractic care.
The life of a professional Bali Street Dog is unpredictable in quality and duration, is fraught with danger on a daily basis and is dependent on external events and conditions. Paw Stand is only one in a unique pack of a diminishing many.
May he continue to stand tall and urinate high.