Healthy dogs, healthy communities – is a useful, descriptive tag line adopted by many animal welfare interventions across the globe and here in Bali. The condition of a communities dogs is often seen to be an indicator of a community’s well-being. Whilst it is true that the health of a communities animals provides a window through which you can glimpse the economic, social and emotional measure of the community itself, it is not a view to be taken at face value. Packs of unkempt, malnourished dogs do not necessarily signify an uncaring community, especially when they reflect how the people of the community also look. This is because the attention paid to the animals of a community by the residents of a community is entirely dependent upon two elements, the animal’s utility and the available community resources.
In the Bali dog Balinese people relationship, for the vast majority, the dog is nothing more or less than a part of the whole of daily life. A life that’s dependent on routine offerings and ceremonies, events where dogs are part of the picture, their noise and presence intermingling in the background cacophony of village life. They are not necessarily an unvalued utility, but they are a dispensable utility.
Access to resources for animal care on Bali is inequitable. In the vast majority of communities all resources are scarce and those that are available are utilised for human health and wellbeing. However, there are communities on the Island who have more than adequate resources available to them to provide care for their dogs.
It is at this intersection of unvalued utility and choice making to not provide resources, that the entrance way to the minefield of animal welfare issues is paved.
There are conservatively seventy groups / individuals who advertise themselves as rescuing and rehoming Bali dogs on this small Island. These vary in size and service but this disproportionate amount of agency offered to a collective dog is not lost on the population, the vast majority who are struggling to feed and provide for themselves. Nor is it lost on the part of the population who fail to see why they should take responsibility for their animals when so many people will willingly do it for them. The existing continuous cycle of rescue, rehome, rinse and repeat is perpetuating suffering and nurturing a sense of entitlement that once embedded becomes another barrier to achieving good animal welfare. People simply will not take responsibility to sterilise or humanely euthanize when someone else will come along and remove the problem from their radar.
Sterilization and education are essential animal management tools but they address only the visible symptoms of animal overpopulation and suffering. Intervention is needed to facilitate a framework of community responsibility that has access to services as a part of their community animal management tool kit.
The International Coalition for Animal Management (ICAM) recommends the use of Community Dog Management Plans (CDMP’s). These are bespoke animal management plans developed and owned by each community. The plans recognise the individuality of each community’s dog population and the resident’s relationship with their dogs. All facets of each unique situation need to be considered before designing a CDMP. However, the one consideration that cuts across all differences is the need to focus on the causes of the issues, not simply on the symptoms.
During my time as CEO with AMRRIC I observed the implementation of several CDMP’s in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities with severe animal management problems. Whilst they are not a quick or easy fix, when enacted well they do bring about positive results for both human and animal populations.
The utility of the Bali dog as a somewhat useful but ultimately easily dispensable part of community life is not an attitude that can be altered by educating adults from the outside. The only way welfare is going to improve for the Bali dog is by working from within. Local organisations joining forces to work with local leadership groups in exploring the community’s motivation for having free roaming dog populations and investigating how they propose to maintain the health of their community. The subsequent development of a communities own Dog Management Plan is just the first step along the complex path to individual and community behaviour change.
It is often said that the most powerful motivators for human behaviour change are hope and fear. A comprehensive Community Dog Management Plan provides both of these. It gives hope to those who are quietly despairing over the sight, sound and consequences of unmanaged free roaming dog populations and induces fear into those who would seek to intentionally, or unintentionally abuse those populations, by implementing community developed consequences for those types of actions.
Without a structured approach such as that offered by the Community Dog Management Plan framework it appears that the emotively explosive field of rescue, re-home, educate, repeat, will continue to be the minefield through which the Bali dog will unknowingly trot.