There was nothing to announce the death of another Bali Street Dog on the pavement of Jalan Raya Ubud. As morning rush hour pulsated and hummed, an old dog lay in its own shit and whatever remaining strands of receding ethereal energy subsisted, very little was left humming or pulsating in his tired and worn out shell. Only a few days previously he had been seen warming his body in the same spot, lying in the very same position on his side, as clumps of packaged up chaperoned and chauffeured tourists stepped all around. Their reaction to an old crumpled canine blocking the path was sheer individual disgust. Their abrupt and screeching stop, resulting in a near pedestrian pile up, a human spring roll of sorts deep fried in the midday tropical heat, elicited nothing more than a collective look of disdain. Like the majority of Bali Street Dogs he didn’t react to the utterances and ugly energy; he just kept silent and let them all pass on.
It would have been a very different environment when he was a puppy, no monster pollutant belching buses spitting out carcinogens and spilling out cashed up Chinese. No runaway consumerism at all cost to everything within environmental guidelines and sensibility. No sidewalks and pavements to funnel thousands of foreign feet along and no real danger of being seen as nothing more than a filthy nuisance and annoying obstacle. But that was then and there’s certainly no going back to a time that probably wasn’t paradise, just a different place with a slower pace.
It wasn’t that the old dog was dead, that happens. It wasn’t that he didn’t have a chance to shit on the sidewalk and have some absentminded tour guide step in it resulting in a group gag fest. It wasn’t even sad, because it was obviously his time and his place. What was wrong though, what was unacceptable though and what was utterly shameful, was the reality that no one even noticed that the old dog was actually dead. Not sleeping or dozing, not sunning his old bones, not performing some yoga pose, just dead in his own shit, surrounded by flies.
There are always markers that are warning signposts of an unhealthy environment or system. Canaries sent down mines to detect gas leaks, bees disappearing and extreme weather disturbances. Dogs dead in their own shit, isn’t a sign or marker of anything more than an end of life, of a mortal existence. But the marker is the lack of morality, the suicide of the soul, the absence of caring and the obvious disconnect regarding something right under foot. Unfortunately the signpost is a global pointer to where humanity is headed.
But on an increasingly hot and busy Ubud morning, at least one old local street dog didn’t need to suffer sidewalk sneers, disdainful looks and hateful energy, anymore.
It has been reported recently that science has realized that animals possess sentience. It can only be with a wide open mouthed jaw dropping countenance and a flabbergasted and wondered at expression, as to not only why it has taken them so long to figure that out, but more worrisome as to what mechanism and experimental techniques and tools and tests they employed to establish such a factual truth. But of course science does not delve into the ethereal probability of emotion or memory or feelings, cold and hard factual data tested to death in many cases is the tried and true way. There are millions of lay individuals who could have certainly told science about the sentience residing in the animalistic world, but of course that would be contaminated data arising from non scientific people who possess a degree of emotional connection to the subject. So as emotional based humans who have a vested interest in cohabiting with other beings and beasts, we can only report on observations gleaned from time spent in their company.
You get the dog you need, not the dog you want, Ceasar Milan certainly had insight into the synchronicity of energy attraction when he coined the term. We didn’t want another dog, not a Bali Street Dog and certainly not a psychologically damaged and disturbed Bali Street Dog. We had spent lifetimes with various canines, Indian Street Dogs, Alaskan Malamutes and breeds of different shape and size and we were so very aware of the deep responsibility required. So when a small deep chestnut brown Bali Street Dog, was on its very last death row reprieve we were asked to take a look, just a look.
Sultan celebrated his two year anniversary time with us, by indicating via his rather annoying high pitched bark, that it was time to street walk. We didn’t name him Sultan and in those very early and deeply stress filled and fueled days of his and our union, there were many times when loudly calling his name in a busy predominantly Hindu area when we wished we had renamed him. Rehabilitating any being, especially damaged souls, is a painstaking process of patience and balanced persuasion. Sultan’s suffering was all pervading and there were times when consideration was seriously given to release him from the obvious mind and body pain he was being subjected to. He doesn’t shake and quiver anymore at the sound of a falling frangipani flower, doesn’t hide behind the shrine, doesn’t lay prone to urinate and doesn’t completely reject physical touch. He is now a proud and free roaming Bali Street Dog, who has faced nearly all his fears, cocks his leg higher at every opportunity and initiates physical contact.
We didn’t really want Sultan and there were many times when it was evident that he didn’t want us either. However as time has walked by it has become so plainly apparent that we certainly needed each other, more than we could have ever imagined. No one can speak for Sultan and only he will know if his needs have and are being met.
But we can certainly say with complete honesty, that his presence in our lives has reminded us that suffering is universal and that judgments made on superficial presentations are such shallow and selfish positions to take. He has taught us that although it’s so very frightening to trust again, it’s also so very liberating to take the chance. He is a sentient being who mirrors the very same actions and reactions to stress as do all beings who feel and he is proof that it is possible to heal from the trauma of torment.
Sultan, who is now also fondly referred to as Salt, has come a long way in his journey to heal and so have we. His medicine was time and patience and very unscientific love, his response was to allow us to use his character to heal our own wounds, we needed that and for that we honor him.
What is it about the obvious joy, which more than enough species in human form derive from inflicting premeditated pain on all manner of other beings that share this sphere with us? Please don’t think that the preceding words, joined into a sentence making a statement and ending with a question mark is really a question. It wasn’t, isn’t and unfortunately never will be, because the answer to any such question is so bloody obvious as to be pathetic to even ponder. The question mark is there due to the annoyance of computer minded anal grammar reminder technology.
The Bali Street Dog does not deserve to be kicked in the head, chest, back, legs and flanks. Nothing deserves such treatment and everything recoils from such action. In cases where there are unavoidable situations when self defense is the only option left, then no issue in doing what is needed to stop a continued attack. But when a Bali Street Dog is on the street, eating scraps of throwaway street food and minding its own business while cleaning up everyone else’s business, to be kicked in the head for good measure, well WTF. Cruelty is a reality in a generalized game of cloaked cowardice, to bully and torture is indicative of insecurity and disconnect from the victim. But what is even more worrisome and unacceptable in so called civilized communities, is the turn a blind eye mentality that pervades as the treatment is meted out.
So, as another morning of short cutting through narrow back ways to avoid growing traffic congestion began, nothing could prepare for the scene that was about to occur a short distance ahead. The old Bali Street Dog couldn’t have been more unprepared for the attack as he licked the remnants of rice grains from a tossed brown paper wrapper. His male attacker was completely prepared for what he had in mind and as he decelerated his scooter to edge alongside the feeding dog, the head stomp was nearly as audible as the anguished scream. The glance between of glee and grimace was only matched by the sound of a coward revving up to escape what could have been a justified canine retaliation.
No culture, no religion and no dogma can be hidden behind when a choice is made to knowingly inflict such atrocities to any other being of any form. So when the shock of being chased down was bad enough, when pulling up alongside was unacceptable and when the questions of why and how dare were met with excuses and verbal insults, there was only one more question to ask. “You call yourself a man of belief and you chose to do that, shame”. There was and is no answer to that question because unlike the opening lines to this tale, that is not a question, it’s a statement of fact.
You did it, simply because you could. Shame on you.
Having spent some time living in Ubud and a little time spending a lot of Rupiah in expensive restaurants, it has become apparent that not only are foreign breed dogs being brought in en masse, they are also walking into a few eateries accompanied by their masters and mistresses. Silkies, Malties and the like have been spotted sitting on bar stools enjoying the ambiance of a pre dinner cocktail hour, whilst they and their guardians await a free table upstairs downstairs or out the back. A few have even been spotted looking down their very short snouts at the loitering mangy Street Dogs foraging for miniscule morsels just a few feet away. Their pampered canine dining guests don’t hide their distain either, they usually follow suit and are quick to expel a snort of disapproval via flared nostrils at the sight of such lowly beasts. It would appear that the well heeled and pawed have a foot and pad in the door when it comes to gastronomy gateway crashing, absolutely not a problem at all, however.
As has been mentioned in previous musings, Bali Street Dogs certainly don’t do themselves any favors when it comes to a scorecard in manners and etiquette. They are what they are and we thank whatever Gods made them that way, for they are rare rebels in a world of creeping conformity. So when thinking of Bali Street Dogs and mannered behavior at eateries, well the two are historically difficult to match up, however, If you look at any street side stall on any corner or crossroads you will very likely see a few scrawny dogs hanging around in the hope of a thrown sate or two. They certainly don’t cause any problems and are well mannered enough to just sit and wait in hope, before moving on. Obviously as standards of expectation have dramatically risen in tourist frequented areas, the devoid of any suitable manners Street Dog has become an unwelcome annoyance in and around slick looking roadside Warungs.
Bali Street Dogs are far, very far from stupid, they are exceptionally intelligent, they must be to survive and they are eminently trainable and adaptable, honestly. All it takes is patience and time, stability and structure, reward and respect. When all of that is offered, a commitment to that, then anything including a Bali Street Dog, will respond in ways that will allow entry to anywhere. As more people are drawn to foreign bred dogs, as many are beginning to look back at the local variation and ask why segregation appears to be a growing reality.
So wouldn’t it be amazing if the Bali Street Dog was treated with the respect it so deserves, given its place in the structure and fabric of Bali life, was trained in the niceties of tourism tolerance and a ‘restoran ramah anjing’, dog friendly restaurant could be established for all well mannered canines?
Walking the streets of Ubud or anywhere on Bali is certainly a very nice way to spend time and to experience the sights and sounds of life on Bali; it’s a myriad of sensory pleasure and a fascinating journey to all who visit.
The Bali Street Dog is very much a part of every Balinese community, so when walking through any Banjar you will most certainly come across Bali Street Dogs, doing what they do. For many visitors this experience can be somewhat intimidating as a working Bali Dog does not give two hoots if you are tourist or a local or even an expat who has lived here for many years. To them you are an outsider and their families and communities need to be alerted when a stranger has entered their territory.
Bali Street Dogs are working dogs. Balinese compounds and families have Bali Dogs to act as protectors and guard dogs. They live parallel lives, the dogs and the families, each doing their own thing. But make no mistake, the Bali Dog serves a purpose and first and foremost their purpose is to guard.
Bali Dogs are not aggressive; they are fear defensive; this is very different to being aggressive. Balinese people do not touch their working dogs to show affection or companionship. The only touch that a traditional Bali Dog will receive from a human is when it has done something wrong and is being redirected. This form of touch is normally a raised hand holding a stick and at times a swift kick to the flank. Therefore, they become fear defensive; because they have learnt that humans will only go to make contact with them in order to inflict some form of redirection or punishment. Generally speaking touch is not associated with pleasure by your typical Bali Street Dog.
When walking the streets of Banjars you will be approached by Bali Dogs, they will bark, they will snarl and at times they will run at you like they are going to attack. The next time this happens, try doing the following. Maybe then you too will become part of the parallel existence between Bali Dogs and their human communities.
1. Do not give the dog eye contact; look down or to the side.
2. Do not hesitate in your walking pattern, learn from the Balinese and adopt a relaxed posture and slow gait. Be slow, yet confident in your body language.
3. Do not raise your hands; do not kick out at the dog. This will instinctively spark the defensive behavior and the dog will likely attempt to bite you.
4. Do not raise your voice, try not to act or look startled, just keep slowly walking on through them.
5. When they circle behind you and you feel like a piece of your calf is about to be chomped, continue to walk slowly on your way. They will follow behind you barking and yapping and generally creating a ruckus until you have left their territory. They will then circle back to their compound, resume their position on the compound step and await the next intruder who dares walk past (or into) their families home.
6. If you see a sweet dog lying on the side of the road and your animal loving instincts kick in, resist the urge to reach down to touch. The dog may see your well intended approach as a threat and you may get bitten.
All of the above will in no way guarantee that you won’t get bitten, but understanding why a behavior occurs is the first step in working with the behavior.
Balinese people and Bali Street Dogs have lived together, in their parallel way, for thousands of years. If the Bali Street Dog was a naturally aggressive predator then it is unlikely that the Balinese people would have maintained them as an integral part of their communities.