The action of caring is as multilayered and levelled as is its philosophy. It’s a whole subject of its own, a human thing that has spawned religious texts and self help books of all manner. An historical vault of vitriolic patter that has catered for all of humanities hopes fears and insatiable tastes. Yet it would appear that after lifetimes of concentrated effort, a generalized mode of care has realistically only been satisfying to a few, if any. Care and caring are as individual in imposition, as each human being is uniquely individual in their very own right and their head space of private reality. Caring is as fluid in opinion as the passing years are as fickle in memory and what was seen as caring yesterday is scoffed at cynically tomorrow.
Many if not most visitors on Bali see the Bali Street Dog as being uncared for and are quick to judge the people of Bali for the dreadful condition of the Islands rare and unique indigenous canine. It can be quite a jarring and confusing juxtaposition given what is generally espoused marketed and widely presented on a daily basis. The side by side contrast of beautiful and ugly in paradise can quite rightly upset those who perceive and accept wholeheartedly a belief system that is religiously based and supposedly practised on holistic care.
Cruelty is an accepted norm in most countries and that’s why there are laws to address such human folly. But even legislation against heinous acts perpetrated on the hairy, furry and feathered is not enough to dissuade individuals and groups from continuing to do what they do. There are no laws against cruelty on Bali, such restraints are completely unnecessary in paradise, for God’s sake.
But the God’s have really nothing to do with human behaviour when it comes to acts against flesh and blood and bone; those things are only perpetrated in the name of such deities. The really big stuff of the Gods are reserved for earthquake, tsunami and insurance claims. No matter the belief or blather, religion or rhetoric, dogma or diatribe, underneath it all and stripped away resides the ability for all beings in human form to not care in ways that can only stem from a deep unawareness of the feelings of others.
Not all people on Bali are cruel to their iconic dog but the cultural difference between humans does not alleviate the truth that the sameness of unawareness and uncaring about other beings and things is a universal reality.
Brownie was an obstacle to be avoided whenever possible, except that possible was not always so possible, especially if any variation to exercise routeing was to be achieved. He was right royally vocal in his disgust to the mere sniff of any newcomers within his territory. Scabbed, scarred and downright sullen, even when feigning sleep, his determined diligence in maintaining order and command was a full time job that kept him looking older than he was, most likely.
The roaming territory of a Bali Street Dog can cover distances of kilometres, especially for those in the truly not owned classification, the ones who forage far and wide for food. Fortunately for Brownie and unfortunate for newbie’s of all size shape and species tiptoeing through his territory, he had no need to go anywhere for anything. A warung on his doorstep usually left him languid and lazy on the roadside especially on sunny afternoons, which was at least a majority of months out of years. But no matter how full and gorged, Brownie was still able to rumble to his paws, belch and on occasion fart and be ready for action. It wasn’t that he was making it at all personal in an individual fashion; his generalization of scorn was even reserved for those who resided close by.
After a really long period of creeping, crawling, sprinting and ghosting past Brownie, one day he suddenly appeared a short way out of his myopic territory. The psychology of canine behaviour maybe isn’t really that different, in regard to the whole range of mammalian reactions to out of comfort zone reality. It was as if Brownie actually did a double take glance, with a simultaneous, look out you’re in a very vulnerable position posture. And as one leashed brindle, one leashed white and one free roaming black of his species bore down upon him in a seize the day mentality, Brownie executed a very awkward spine snapping manoeuvre, a stunt that was most unbecoming in light of his usual territorial terrorizing.
Bali Street Dogs have been labelled many things and cowardly is probably one of the more understandably misunderstood tags of all. It is usually reserved for those occasions when a barking snarling circling canine begins to cruise up from behind, only to abruptly back off when confronted. It is virtually impossible of course to be a dog and equally as difficult to think like one. However, observing dog on dog behaviour is readily available and a few minutes a day watching the interaction of Bali Street Dogs can be an entertaining and enlightening experience.
For the first time in our interactions with Brownie, he was not the one circling and approaching from behind to sniff out the scent of friend or foe. For the first time there was no need to confront his secure positioning, because like all things away from home, Brownie could not hide the insecurities inside.
I had heard told that all Bali Street Dogs are basically wild and untrainable. Not sure what untrainable actually means in regards to anything really, or what is expected from something that is untrainable. Guess it’s like saying all humans are intrinsically decent mammals who are devoid of any semblance of unkindly action.
What is untrainable to one has the potential for possibility to another and couldn’t be further from any interest to others.
Bali Street Dogs are not actually wild, although after spending enough time with them one could certainly get wild at them. They are, how can this be said without it being a ridiculous statement that is easily open to ridicule and scorn, they are shall we say, different, different to any other dog breed. Which is of course as obvious as saying that a Tibetan monk is different to a Guatemalan housewife, of course there is a vast difference.
But Bali Street Dogs as far as dogs go, are really, really, really different, insofar as what they expect from you. Having lived alongside and primarily parallel to humans for eons their expectation has and still is really quite narrow, food. That is the objective reality to their existence within the human realm and it’s what they have gotten until now. That’s what makes them feral classified, take out the human food dump and wild becomes them, needing to hunt for their own food source, they become.
But Bali Street Dogs are now living, at an ever increasing rate, much closer to and with humans and they are being expected to start behaving in certain ways. Ways that are maybe not really in keeping with how they have evolved and survived to date. As Bali modernizes many things will cling on in a vain attempt to remain unchanged, even more will change dramatically. That’s the very nature of constant movement.
For Bali Street Dogs constant movement is their default position and the street is where they especially love to move about on and upon. But already the push to move them off their territory has been enacted, with collars being a stipulation of first stage change. It is not unreasonable to expect, if they are to remain a part of the scenery, that leash attachment will be a forthcoming attraction in the near future.
For a species that has been somewhat unfettered for a very long time, the very thought of such restrictions could appear to be a stretch too far and quite frankly an unattainable expectation on such a free spirit that is the Bali Street Dog.
All I know, after spending way too much time with them, is that they really are the dog of all dogs. They have a pureness about them that has remained sure and steady. Isolation has allowed them to evolve at a rate that is conducive to their needs and like the rabies virus they are strong and have a capacity for survivability.
And they are damn wilfully intelligent and smart; a species that does not suffer fools easily, because they have worked out human nature to the nth degree. What Bali Street Dogs expect when any attempt is undertaken to train them is really quite simple, respect. Respect that you know who and what they are, that’s all.
Bali Street Dogs are just that, dogs who do their stuff on the streets of Bali and if you give them that in whatever form it takes, they will reward you with an intelligence that is eminently open to whatever you may ask of them.
But be warned, once you have given a Bali Street Dog the respect he or she so richly deserves, they will reciprocate in a currency that is much more valuable than what money can ever offer. After they have tested your insecurities and weaknesses, they will push your patience and personality to the limit. They will expose any chinks in your pathetic ego, all the while knowing what you know before you know it, just reading you like a very well thumbed novel.
If you have survived a relationship with a Bali Street Dog and they have deemed you to be worthy, they will do whatever you ask of them and you will be rewarded with a deep and unconditional respect, a repayment for taking notice and for spending time.
For joining a club that has a loyalty membership for life.
As more and more Bali Dogs appear to disappear from street to restaurant, even more foreign dogs are finding their way into the mouths of discerning diners of the canine munching membership. Bullies Goldies Rotties Silkies and the like are also beginning to turn up in pet markets after snatch and grab teams have swept through enclaves inhabited by mainly non Balinese.
The proliferation of foreign breed dogs is directly related to and aligned with the human migratory push on the Island. It wasn’t so long ago that Bali was virtually free of and from four legged foreigners, not to mention the bipedal variety. But as it now stands a plethora of paws are becoming a growth commodity that is increasingly pushing the currency of canines higher and higher.
The only advantage for the Islands indigenous street dog is that most foreigners obviously don’t want them and the people of Bali, well they just have them around anyway. No one is breeding Bali Street Dogs, except for those shades required for ceremonial sacrifice, because there really is no demand.
So there is absolutely no value in them at all, except of course as yet another thing to eat. But with a few hundred thousand still left on Bali that demand is not really about to wipe them out, just yet. But as popularity begins to ramp up and profit margins for those in the processing line continues to increase, there is a definite clear and present danger.
But with a never miss a business opportunity mentality always lurking, it was inevitable that the latest must have trinket in doggy form was going to be exploited to its maximum potential. Backyard, front yard and any yard will do establishments have now erupted selling every designer dog imaginable, all clamouring to satiate the growing masses, salivating for a foreign souvenir.
So where does that leave the humble Bali Street Dog in all of this, still being eaten and reviled for being the harbinger of a grim reaper type virus. Other than just that it has remained thankfully fairly unscathed, but for how long.
Within the never ending loops of inconvenience most foreigners are required to jump through when they make the life changing move to Bali, there could possibly be a very small yet remote opportunity of technicality to create a degree of saving grace and face for the Bali Street Dog.
The reality is an already established fact that it is not that difficult to import a foreign breed dog into and onto Bali, it is virtually impossible to export Bali Street Dogs off Bali. Eventually and as the state of play presently stands, local Bali Dogs will be overtaken by introduced outside dogs or forced to surrender and assimilate into a hybrid mix of both.
I am proposing that any new comer to Bali, must as part of their visa requirements, accept upon stepping aboard island Bali, an arrival pack consisting of at least one Bali Street Dog, preferably two. This should apply to all who arrive; however starting with those who want to bring other breeds, would of course be the most obvious and most palatable action. In many other countries, newcomers are presented with what is iconic to that land. So, apart from a myriad of amazing cultural stuff that is unavoidably suffused into the migrating newbie’s daily life, the added gift of a unique Bali Street Dog would be the perfect cultural offering that would absolutely keep on giving, trust me.
Sitting on a step by the side of a busy road at the end of a narrow lane accompanied by Bali Street Dogs, is one of the most rewarding activities an outsider can do. Of course such indulgence can only be rewarding if it is the penchant of an individual who is bent in that direction. There are hordes of tourists who do the same in a sightseeing fashion of sorts, except their view is usually more of the valley vista variety or rice paddy panorama. Those who indulge in the street gazing genre are mostly to be found in a road side Warung or upmarket restaurant.
From an outside point of view it must have seemed somewhat ridiculous and futile, not to mention a possible waste of valuable time, for a foreigner and local dogs to be loitering in the same place at the same time, twice a day every day for weeks and months on end. It can only be hypothesized as to what the view and accompanying opinions were, or might have been from those streams of strange faces that passed by on a regular matching timeframe. Those unfamiliar faces, who as time went on became familiar people who started to make gestures through eye contact and upward nods.
Street Dogs who have not been accessed to streets pose a number of interesting and challenging issues, especially when they find themselves for whatever reason suddenly living close to a road frequented by all manner of mechanical mayhem. Rescued street dogs are becoming much more common for various reasons, mainly due to the influx of well meaning foreigners who see a need for more care and protection. Unfortunately the result of this intervention can at times turn what is an objective and unemotional system of weeding out the weak on its head, meaning that a lot of dogs who may not have survived become possible rehabilitation nightmares.
Sitting somewhere and going nowhere can be a very difficult action especially for Bali Street Dogs of any age, but for observing life in its total reality it can be an invaluable activity. Old Brownie would arrive at the same time every morning and after a greeting sniff he would proceed to defecate in the lane at the same spot. He was so predictable and regular that everything in the narrow potholed pathway automatically and silently moved respectfully around him. It was as if it was his divine and earned right to squat and drop.
Old Blackie was the king of his small area, an area that had luckily become a building site with an assortment of rubbish and food scraps strewn halfway across the road. With his dull and tufted fur he would snarl and stare down any possible intervention from anywhere. Young Blackie was the main instigator of trouble within the area at that time and the only one with a collar, his prowess for pushing Old Blackie to the point of confrontation was legendary and youthfully, cunningly cruel. Paw Standing to urinate dog, was the smallest in the area, but he had true alpha position and status, mainly due to his agility and ability to command respect and be looked upon in awe for peeing higher than any other.
We don’t sit on the step by the side of the road at the end of a lane so much anymore and Old Blackie and Old Brownie are no longer alive. Young Blackie and Paw Stand are still around, urinating not so high and trouble making not so much. We were able to venture further, sit somewhere else and still go nowhere in particular.
Those days and weeks and months of just doing the same thing over and over were simply the most difficult thing to do, but they have made the months and years on the street to nowhere, the best that they could be.
Living with, being around, watching listening and learning from and about Bali Street Dogs is a journey of fascinating proportion. What is taken for granted by those people, who have forever cohabited with them, is certainly anything but easily granted to a foreigner.
Bali Street Dogs are not a recognized breed, but for breed’s sake, do they really need to be. It’s all too easy for an outsider to become over excited and enthusiastically energetic about anything and everything that has been just a part of the bigger local picture. Unfortunately those mostly well intentioned actions can sometimes lead to and have a detrimental effect upon the part played by what is a small, yet significant link in the chain of what makes up a whole culture and society.
The wealth of knowledge and everyday stories locked away about the Bali Street dog are just that, things known about something that is not that important or out of the ordinary in the broader lives of people or to the running of day to day normal events.
It’s not until something new and novel appears or is introduced that a spark of interest is ignited in the psyche, as has happened with the increasing introduction of other dog breeds. The Bali Street Dog was never seen as a fad or fashion accessory and never will or really should be. They play a very different role within the environmental reality of Bali life.
Before the onset of rabies, the Bali Street Dog was a fairly low blip on most radar. A killer virus not only threatened their existence and the lives within the greater part of the picture they shared, it also raised awareness and shone the spotlight fully on them.
There are amazing benefits in showing things that are unique and have been generally unseen to a wider audience, but unfortunately there is always a danger in disturbing and uncovering layers of anything. The Bali Street Dog has been isolated in a place and space for a very long time, just doing what it does very well. It’s probably naïve and quite selfish to imagine that their lives would not and will not change, being that change is a constant inescapable reality. But it is sincerely hoped that as the amount of engineered change currently underway continues unabated, they will be allowed to evolve in a manner that is natural to their nature.
As enduring and strong as Balinese life and culture is, it is mirrored and matched by the thing that has quite understandably been seen as just a part of the picture of life on the Island. That picture is changing more rapidly than even the people of Bali probably could have predicted and with that movement a degree of gain is attained and an equivalent degree of loss is exchanged. Balance is everything everywhere, but on Bali it is the very thread that weaves the fabric of life.
The Bali Street Dog is but only one small thread that is in danger of fraying due to the pressure of enforced change, its continued feral existence is obviously in danger and its profile is seen as pathetic when compared with the invasion of new and popular foreign breeds.
As a foreigner living with, being around, watching, listening and learning from and about Bali Street Dogs, it has indeed been and continues to be a journey of fascinating proportion. It is hoped that by highlighting them, they will be seen for what and who they are, not what they should or could be.
It is also hoped, that for the sake of all breeds, the Bali Street Dog can continue to be taken for granted, to be quietly accepted and to be silently interwoven as it always has been, within the changing fabric of Bali life.
It would be arrogant in the extreme to take a high stance on morality when it comes to consumption, nothing and no one is guilt free in regards to what is chosen as takeable. To pretend otherwise is ignorant of the reality that by just being alive there is consumption by proxy, only a dead something is free from and unable to consume, but ironically it’s those very lifeless entities that are a major source of food for the living.
Consumption of fuel in the form of food is completely unavoidable if a living being is to continue thriving, so it is useless to posit an argument in respect to what an individual should or shouldn’t shove down their own throat. To do otherwise is to take a bombastic stance that can only lead to a blowback of ridicule that’s firmly based and rooted in an equally radical point of view.
However, it’s what is done to the consumed before consumption occurs that is certainly worth risking an argument over.
Blackie the Bali Street Dog was beaten before he was eaten which would have been bad enough, but before the beating he was tortured in ways that would make his heart beat with adrenaline surges of mammoth proportions, exactly what his captors were expecting through tried and true techniques. For Blackie his new short lived home must have been an horrendous world of horror, a hellish nightmare of sufferance after being exchanged for a new plastic bucket then unceremoniously whisked away from the only comfortable existence he had known.
Dog has always been on the menu in Bali so its consumption is not a new emerging fad. But the rate of ingestion is ramping up severely due to increased demand from an influx of Indonesians from other Islands who have arrived on the back of the tourist driven construction boom.
Blackie and up to one hundred thousand of his brethren are also sold stolen and taken because there is a growing belief among young Balinese men that dog meat has desirable levels of potency. It is also regarded as a delicacy that is especially enjoyed after alcohol consumption.
The last look back for Blackie would have been instantaneously vaporised and replaced with blinding physical pain and psychological panic as the binding around his paws and muzzle bit deeply into flesh bone and mind. With all hope of homely comforts gone, Blackie would have found the tightening twine around his throat and the harsh hessian sack suffocating his body, to be an intolerable insult to such a proud and unique being. With nowhere to run and no way to move, his fate was sealed with one toss of yet another Bali Street Dog into the back of a half laden quarry of dead eyed dog meat.
Even though the long term future for the Bali Street Dog looks doubtful, especially for those ugly mangy urbanites, their dogged determination to still occupy the streets is downright impressive.
Anyone who has ventured out in the witching hours will attest to the plethora of paws pounding the pavement. Packs of dogs free roam in the safety of relative quietness, foraging for food scraps and chasing each other in the dark coolness of very early morning. They can be an intimidating sight as their streets become their playground where their rules apply. They are not interested in whatever human activity may be going on at such a time, unless there is the possibility of a few thrown assorted satays, it’s the time for them to catch up with freedom and freely frolic their fur off.
In the daylight they will still get out there, they must as its all they know and it’s the only home they have. To really see a street dog doing what its designed for, is a lesson in true hunter gathering technique, as witnessed at times by a flash of fur carrying a brown paper bag of leftover Nasi campur, clenched not too firmly in its mouth.
The Bali Street Dog is amongst many things a rubbish removalist, a self sustaining component of street life, without them the rodent population would explode and has in fact done so in areas where the dogs have been removed or eliminated.
It is reluctantly understandable, given the bad reputation bestowed upon the Street Dog that many visitors to Bali see them as nothing more than an inconvenience, a literal physical obstacle that interferes with their passage to purchasing power. They would much rather see the paws pushed off the streets and the way clear to a sanitised future.
If that comes to pass, not only will it be a sad day for such a unique dog, it will be the beginning of transforming Bali streets into western walkways.
Is one of those Bali Street Dogs that chases cars and motor bikes and every now and then starts a street fight with the other pawed provocateurs that frequent a narrow and busy patch of earth they all share and have as a home base.
It is impossible to know if whitey, who is called whitey because that’s his color, actually he looks more cream now due to the amount of dirt he has collected from charging at things made out of metal and fur, but creamy just wouldn't seem to suit his demeanor. It’s impossible to know if whitey enjoys tearing at machines and throats of other dogs, but it can be said with some degree of confident observation that he certainly doesn't seem to mind. Everything else on the receiving end of his terror appears to be quite unimpressed and it has been nothing short of miraculous that whitey has survived to near adulthood. Only chicken chasing would be above his antics and the sentence for such crimes is a fairly mandatory matter.
Like any free roaming and collarless young male street dog, he is very fond of exercising his rampant hormones fast limbs and large lungs and more times than not his array of needs are shown in full force action all at once. With his pale yellow piercing eyes, forceful confident loping strut and throaty growl, whitey certainly doesn't on first impression impart an aura of soft friendliness, but then again very few street dogs anywhere do.
But there are many reasons why Bali Street Dogs are still around and one of them is because they are not outwardly or intentionally aggressive to the human species, thankfully. Contrary to some misinformed and at times popular belief that there are packs of crazed street dogs attacking unsuspecting tourists en masse, they don’t and there aren't. Bali street dogs have learned over millennium to live with us and parallel to us, they have actually worked out that they need humans for the most important source element of all, food.
Whitey was a very cute puppy that has grown and survived to be a crazy adolescent, let’s hope he matures into a healthy adult and continues to charge around in his old age.
I have often wondered how much a Bali Street Dog would go for, not only street price, but as in a new yet endangered and rare must have price scenario.
On an Island of import export, just about anything arrives and leaves, tourists in tourism out, raw wood in, multicolored wooden penises out, foreign breed dogs in and Bali Street dogs rarely out. As more and more Goldies, Bullies, Rotties, Silkies and Huskies are imported with their foreign owners, as many are being locally bred for local sale. These breeds are seen as rare, at least for now, so they are as attractive as a Saturn sapphire. The local street dog is in absolute abundance, you can even pluck one from a drain, so the desire to see them as a diamond in the ruff is rather obscured by their obvious girth. Maybe when their weighty numbers have shrunk to a waif like size, they will be sought for their uniqueness and elevated to that rarefied status and level only reserved for those breeds with official names. But I guess that’s like wishing the Dodo bird and Tyrannosaurus Rex would suddenly reappear to amuse and scare us all, all at the same time. Everything becomes extinct; no problem with that at all, that’s the reality of life. But it’s the method of their extinction that is somewhat troubling, somewhat like choosing to eat dog but torturing it mercilessly before consumption. It seems to be a stretch too far to expect respect for something before it is jettisoned off and down the toilet bowl of oblivion. The chance of Bali Street Dogs becoming a wholesale export commodity is as unrealistic as a cure for death.
So, before the Bali Street Dog is dumped into the sewer of history, there must be a Balinese equivalent of American movie megastar George Clooney somewhere on beautiful Bali. A superstar who can lift what is an iconic Island timepiece to heights that will ensure the next generation will firmly grasp and protect and hold and keep close, a jewel that has always been here been there and been around them, everywhere.