A semi-feral animal lives predominantly in a feral state but has some contact and experience with humans.
‘I do not have any worries regarding how they will survive because Bali dogs will always find a way to do it. But the ones that cannot be controlled; virus, disease and overpopulation are really impacting the whole system. A major concern is a future resurgence of the terrifying Rabies virus.’ Agra Utari
Bali dogs are semi-feral, their food source comes from human leftovers. Whether they forage for scraps or are directly offered food they have been interconnected with humans since whenever. By collective design and mindset, the relationship with their island humans is well documented and is proven to be symbiotic in nature.
In a COVID reality, Bali dogs who permanently reside in rural areas and village settings appear to be little if any affected. Their daily existence appears to be running to normal Banjar routines, rituals and ceremonies. The main change has been an influx of family members who have lost their jobs in tourism and those returning from docked cruise ships. Of course, this human increase will affect availability of food offered but can also increase scrap availability. Their urban compatriots may not fare so well, especially if the virus continues to shut down the island regarding incoming international tourists.
Over the past 20ish years foreign tourist numbers have exploded exponentially on an island that was ill-equipped to sustain the year by year increase. The Bali Street (Urban) Dog is a true street fighter/survivor but even their genetic tenacity could not withstand the tsunami of tourist footfall. They were driven out, poisoned and retreated to back alleys, family compounds and open space beach areas. Their numbers decreased drastically. The madness of money easily ruled over meaningless mutt.
International, local and individual dedicated street feeders have consistently topped up food that was unavailable to those dogs left roaming an ever-encroaching urban concrete jungle. Their efforts in most cases kept the population stable and prevented an inevitable total collapse and in effect an eradication of the Island dog in those areas.
With the shuttering of a tropical island hot spot and the drying up of donation funding to organizations and individuals it is inevitable that Bali dog numbers will increase. Their breeding cycle is biannually, and each bitch can deliver 4-6 pups. With sterilization programmes curtailed or cancelled the explosion of canine population could be impressive, to say the least. If COVID world continues as is for another 12 months the increase in Bali dog numbers could go a long way to replenishing what was killed off before during and after the Rabies virus incursion.
With an unimaginable reduction in all manner of traffic on usually year-round teeming roads and byways it is inevitable that Bali dogs will begin to wander out and test before feeling free to use the space and do what street dogs do. Roam and forage. Reports worldwide show animals taking up the space left by mass human social distancing.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) may end up being a gift for the re-population and natural free roaming instinctive/lifestyle for the Bali Indigenous Street/Urban Dog. Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) if extended by months or years thereby horrifically exacerbating the already economic and emotional torment could very well herald not only the collapse of a unique ancient human way of life but put the already endangered Bali street dog firmly in the cross hairs. Add the planets most ancient and long-lasting virus (Rabies) to the mix and you have an unthinkable disaster that would make the Rabies fear on Bali 2010 look like a picnic.
There are endless amounts of questions in this fast changing COVID world reality that is throwing any sense of human normality out of control. In a very real sense, we are all semi-feral. Contact with and dependency on each and all others is unavoidable for survival.
History will tell the latest story of the Bali dog journey in a COVID world. Bali Street Dog and Bali Rural Dog are genetically one and the same. For now, both are at the fate of a virus that is using human to human vectoring to spread its disease.
It is hoped that the ancient bond between human and canine can withstand its greatest test. A global pandemic that is driving connection between all beings further and further apart.
Harboured in a microscopic message, with an accompanying blunt abrupt blunderbuss method of delivery, COVID-19 really is the 21st century gift that just keeps on giving. No matter the position you take, it has undeniably brought us all to a shock inducing crunching reality. The normal life we all had, is finished. We are all in natures waiting room.
Liminal. 1. Relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process. 2. Occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or threshold.
For those of the canine comfort persuasion, now more than ever having a furry around can be of immense satisfaction. At a point in our evolutionary filthy lives, when we are encouraged to stay away from our disdainful mucus swapping fellow species, having a dog around is a soothing balm, a prescribed poultice of pooch.
For the shitload of us humans who have found ourselves separated, by circumstance or choice, from our best friends, our discombobulated psyche is left splattering around like a hot Coronavirus in all manner of protective mask wear.
The Bali dogs that we have shared our lives with are fine fed and beautifully cared for. They are fortunate in the environment they are currently in. Their canine reality is akin to the innocence naivety and illusion afforded human children before awareness kicks in and the reality of life begins its inexorable march. It is that other bestowed gift before real befalls their bipedal elders.
When we will be with our canine compatriots is literally a very liquid question, its like nailing water to a wall. The answer now firmly sits within the human realm and we all now most certainly know how unpredictable that reality is.
Living in the moment is the gift that Bali dogs and children attempt to teach. Being in the moment in the age of COVID is not something that comes easy to a race that threw off natures rules and slammed repeatedly through one unlawful wall after another.
So, until the moment we are reunited with our Bali dogs, we will remember and relive the moments already gone and wait in the space between, looking forward to what will be.
We wish the same for all who are in Liminal.
Before her feet touched earth, she was reaching, connecting with fur.
Her time with three Bali dogs began as an inquisitive baby. A period where she learned limits boundaries and those especially important canine/ human rules, Bali style. Their connection has endured and as the dogs have aged, she has moved into a childhood that is being shaped and influenced by an interdependent relationship. Their symbiotic union has been naturally fostered by the environment she lives in and gently guided by older humans.
Bali dogs are genetically designed to be community members, to fit in with the rhythm and flow of Balinese life. Fine tuning has been going on for thousands of years, an unconscious coupling of human and canine, their conjoined survival was/is dependent on collective safety. Bali dogs free roaming instinct/tendency has always been predicated upon a no aggression, swift punishment rule.
Their designated duties became a bloodline intelligence. Alert on any incoming threats, guard against any intruder type, clean up/control waste, companion/protector for family, play source for children.
The relationship of dogs and children is not unique, it is an incredibly important stage in childhood development. It is universally accepted that in most child/dog unions, a more empathetic human adult has emerged.
It is hoped that what three dogs and one child will gain from their ongoing relationship will simply be nothing more than what it is.
An opportunity to positively grow from their experience, in their ongoing ancient and historically unique Balinese way.
Sitting where I am. I am safe. For now.
Bali dogs and all other animals have forever been blamed abused and punished by humans. Bats are wearing the brunt in the latest round of finger pointing. For now, as a Bali dog I am free from revenge for something I did not make happen.
As a lung eating, organ attacking, blood thickening virus with pandemic capability, has stopped the planets apex predator in its arrogant bipedal shuffle the nightmare has emerged into reality. How does it feel to be solely responsible? I suspect you will not admit to anything.
I have observed the uncaring stance that humans have taken when it comes to our welfare. So, it comes as no surprise that a microscopic organism is seeking you out. How does it feel to have emotions that induce stress and suffering?
Make no mistake, it is not a hoax, not 5G, not Bill Gates. You have created the conditions for its arrival. You have overshot the runway. You are hurtling and flaming through crash barriers, careering over tipping points and careening down a cliff face. You are taking us all with you.
A definite physical/emotional global displacement is happening to you. Even those of you who felt secure, who belonged somewhere, are disjointed and distressed. You have been gut kicked into reality. This is what change is all about. Constant.
Of course, you will deny and arrive at all manner of theory. Tends to happen when mortality is threatened. But no guru is going to guide you through some shamanistic ritualistic trance while opening your chakras to multidimensional fields of enlightenment. No awakening in spiritual realms where smiling fawning space elves giggle and dance and present you with some cosmic treasure map marking this or that location where you will find yourself.
The great equalizer has arrived. Will you change, take responsibility and awaken to what your actions have created? I doubt.
For now, I will sit in my village by my lake under my volcano.
For now, I will be what I am. A simple Bali dog, doing no harm.
Watching, wondering and regretting, that you are not.
Factoring in the indisputable fact that tourism is the lifeblood that keeps Bali in an economic full grown bloom of exponential growth, the reality that even though transmission rates appear to be low, Covid-19 most surely will, if borders continue to be closed, throw the Island into a mass internal sell off of all manner of consumables.
Dijual (on sale) signs are already popping up and all manner of gleaming machines and high-tech toys are being laid out for those who love nothing more than picking apart a desperate selling starting price. Times are very ripe for a bartering bonanza, a buyer’s spree that for now appears to be severely slanted toward a purchaser’s delight.
No one knows how long this pandemic will last and how economically severe and damaging it will be for Balinese. Like all other nations the risk to Indonesia is very real, how it all settles as the first wave washes over is most certainly unpredictable. This is a good time to be worthless.
Bali dogs are worthless in monetary terms. Probably for the first time in their dogged history they are relatively safe. While foreign canine breeds are in danger of being dumped, sold or mistakenly suspected of harbouring a lung eating virus, the lowly lokal dog has become even more unseen. The greatest danger they or more likely their offspring will face, is the reality of life returning to ‘normal’ absent the survival training and practice that is required when facing down the mass movement of machines and humans so visually synonymous with modern Bali.
For now, Bali has not descended into lawlessness or unrest. For now, widespread deaths have not been recorded and it appears the Island has dodged the magnitude of suffering that has crippled other countries. The COVID-19 curve will never be forgotten. But long-term mass internal unemployment on an Island dependent on outside visitors to fire up its insatiable economy has an unavoidable predictability of causing starvation.
The danger for the indigenous Bali dog, in such a lengthy scenario, is the reality that they have historically been regarded as a ready and available source of protein. The dog meat trade has been severely curtailed due to shame employed as a tactic. But in this novel paradigm all bets are bendable or completely off, especially when/if a survive at all cost reality becomes unavoidable.
It is hoped that humanity will survive COVID-19 and learn whatever lessons are required to bring about a more balanced and nuanced approach to how we handle and approach all beings. Unfortunately, human nature has a long predictable history of erasing hope and replacing it with the reality that we are hell bent on continuing to build on and feed our destructive urges. BALIDOG-20 has only two ways to go. Existence will get better or worsen.
As COVID-19 continues reshaping human behaviour it can only be hoped that the value of Bali dogs will remain low to non-existent. Their survival is dependent on human behaviour.
Unfortunately, we are not to be trusted, especially when hunger trumps decency.
When human survival is predictably replaced with a replication of desperation, nothing is safe.
A very long-lasting lingering memory of having spent time in a full-blown Rabies virus outbreak, is how fear of an ‘invisible enemy’ manifests itself within the human population. When you learn to observe what a microscopic pathogen is capable of, its impersonal objective aim to survive and thrive, respect becomes an addition to fear. Terror is only a short sneeze cough or bite away.
A viral outbreak/epidemic/pandemic has an observational physical manifestation with very visible impacts. But under that grosser reality resides a more subtle emotional level.
Zoonotic pathogens that jump/leap from animal to human are particularly scary. But given our baseless and arrogant belief that we are better or separate from what inhabits that other world we tend not to think about the consequences until the threat directly confronts us. It is in this psychological realm where real long-lasting damage and hopefully reflective learning is done. The dead are dead, but will the living learn from the shock experience and commit to adaptation and heed the message to change, in order to survive.
When Rabies impacted Bali, the island was totally unprepared. Prevention is better than cure, is of course wonderful in hindsight. The result unfortunately, given our historical reality of national and global reactive forces/measures to crisis response, has continuously led us to wage war from a defensive position. Bali was certainly not alone in how it responded. It was to witness that their human population had no immunity against a deadly viral bloom that was successfully using their own indigenous canine as its transportation vector. What lessons the small Island would learn, given their economic dependence on tourism and unique version of Hinduism dictating their daily existence, is still unfolding 10 years on.
Bali dogs were blamed for bringing a harbinger of death onto Bali and they suffered horribly from an outbreak that was not their fault. Their physical/emotional wellbeing and survival was decimated and the refusal to acknowledge their sentience was intolerably sad. Predictably we must use othering to blame for and cover our own shortcomings.
Ten years later and another Zoonosis is spreading terror in the minds of humans. Suspicion and mistrust of each other and hypervigilance is now our constant reality. We are isolated physically and mentally, with literally nowhere to go.
Undoubtedly Bali dogs will suffer on an Island in lockdown. Freedom of movement will not feed their dependence on us for most of their nutrition. They cannot be blamed for this Pandemic, although I am sure many would like nothing better. This falls completely in the collective human lap.
Herd immunity, 70-80% population vaccination, has always been a standard by which a species can reach resistance against the spread of a contagious disease, usually in the form of a deadly threat. This was what saved more dog and human lives on Bali.
After a decade ‘studying’ the Bali dog and the relationship it has with its environment we can confidently say that humans have not made their existence better. Their gross environment, air water landmass, has been depleted and squeezed. Their ability to free roam, as is their innate nature/instinct, has been curtailed massively. Their ability to reach herd immunity against their most deadly threat is impossible when faced with the globes most lethal virus.
Nothing to date has been successful in resisting the most virulent destructive virus known to nature. Herd immunity has not saved many/any species from us. We have been waging an ongoing war, systematically exterminating everything around us, with no regard for the simple reality of interdependence.
We have lived by a banal, selfish, self-serving, and infantile insecure logic of ‘kill or be killed.’
A virus is a virus is a virus….
Not a thing compares to us.
Fully stopped and reverse thrusted humans are beginning to get a very small glimpse into the painful reality of what it’s like to be caged. There are many dogs on Bali who live their entire existence is such a state of physical and emotional torment.
So many of them are in ‘well-meaning’ clinics and shelters. In places where they struggle daily, waiting endlessly for their intolerable curve of anxiety to be flattened, while physically distanced from everything that resonates with their version of normal.
As dog’s best friend is brutally finding out, locked down for our own benefit is difficult enough, locked in against our wishes is worse, being caged against our will, well that’s just not right. That’s enforced imprisonment.
Humans are already suffering separation anxiety from what feeds their unique nature. Loss of human to human contact is scientifically proven to make us prone to every psychological ailment known. Its only been a few weeks yet already COVID-19 is exploiting our insatiable need to socialize and exposing our inability to isolate from our own kind. It’s using our human weakness against us. Our very basic nature in needing to gather/herd with our human species.
When you separate a Bali dog from their canine species, suffering is created. When you create physical distance, chained caged sheltered, suffering is created. When you think you know best by denying access to their kind, suffering is created.
As Coronavirus (COVID-19) washes over Bali there will be many human deaths attributed to a virus that has specifically selected us as its primary carrier and messenger. Not so long-ago Bali dogs were selected as transmitters for the terrifying Rabies virus. They still carry the stigma and suffer confinement realities associated with that frightening viral outbreak.
It will be impossible to know if/what lessons will come from this human caused event and global full stop. Nothing will go back to before and everything going forward will lack certainty and stability. This really is life in the greater world.
For now, Bali dogs have free run of their island. How long that will last is now dictated by a virus that has forced us into our version of caged. For now, we are chained. For now, for our own good.
It feels so good to be unchained and uncaged.
For us and them.
It’s generally acknowledged that canines are hardwired to read the behaviour of other species, survival instincts utilized for the single purpose of simply staying alive. Reading the intention of others is of course not isolated to dogs but their ability to detect the motivation of their ‘best friend’ is of particular interest, given the overwhelming evidence that they are much better at ‘seeing’ us much faster and more accurately than we could ever hope to be. There are in fact many theories that they know our motivation and can predict our subsequent behaviour before we have physically shown our ‘hand.’
When it comes to Bali dogs, and in particular those ‘old’ breeds who have cut their teeth in villages and on streets where survival is the only thing on their minds, trust based on gut instinct is a very serious business and the only mindset that matters. When a genetic line, with that at its base, is handed on over thousands of years, trust is a no negotiable element.
Bali dogs and their kind do not suffer fools at all, they can’t afford such fatal mistakes. Most non-Balinese have no concept as to why most Bali dogs are not affectionate and mistake their obvious and unmistakeable signals as either aggression or avoidance resulting from abuse. That is not to say there are no abused or aggressive dogs, however most visibly healthy Bali dogs are not about to attack or cower away.
They just don’t trust you.
The general behaviour of a Bali dog is an indication as to how this breed has survived this long. They need to have contact with humans for one reason only, food. They are built to survive and do very well in hunter gathering scenarios and environments but if food is available without needing to work that hard then like any other species, they will gobble up that option. The risk is of course that it brings them into close/direct contact with us.
Their relationship with Balinese people is very long and deep, make no mistake about that. Even if it is not what many see as the ‘right’ relationship, it’s a union that has survived and a mutual agreement that has seen a unique dog and an isolated culture endure. It’s a meeting point at where trust has developed literally as, ‘don’t bite the hand that feeds.’
The lack of open affection has enabled the Bali dog to avoid any confusing signals emanating from human intention. That is most certainly not to say that this canine is incapable of giving/receiving touch. Contact is not uppermost or pertinent to their survival, food shelter and security most certainly are.
The ancient bond, that is the Balinese dog Balinese people relationship, is based solely on an unwritten unspoken trust.
I trust you to offer me food and in return I will offer you security in guarding your family if you offer me shelter for my family to survive.
The contract continues.
Like any engaging story, elements and combinations of myth magic and reality must be present. Myth/folklore factor large in the Bali dog tale. As with all historical stories that pass through the conditioning of many generations and as the passage of time widens, reality is invariably diluted, and a rewriting of history is offered up.
Before the latest foreign economic mass tourism invasion, the Bali dog was a virtual unknown. Seen as a shadowy passthrough on old grainy film footage or captured as an element on black and white scenic/village/marketplace photographs the dog was just another expected part of preindustrial SE Asian life.
The reality that the dog was nothing more than a functional part of a larger existence was inescapably accepted and obvious back then, its survival wasn’t considered a priority. Nowadays that reality is still there, but it has become uncomfortable to many people who justifiably cite welfare as a right that should be afforded such an ancient canine.
An awareness movement began approximately 40 years ago. It arose from a few foreign/outsider individuals who began rescuing Bali dogs. Whatever their intent and based on their viewpoint, it began a campaign mentality that has grown exponentially. To date there are close to 100 groups and individuals who rescue/rehome dogs that are abandoned/abused. The abused and discarded dogs appear to keep pace with the opening of yet another group or an announcement that another individual rescuer has joined the club.
The Island is seen as magic and mysterious and a place imbued with supernatural energy. So, it comes as a jolting shock when the marketed myth that Balinese are such a beautiful welcoming kind lot collides head on with the reality that they are in fact just people with all the vagaries, niceties and nasties that are globally generalized in us all.
The reality is that Balinese people do not see their dog, or anything else, the way mainly Caucasian welfare/rescue mentalities view the issues facing the Bali dog. The reality is that generally none of us appreciate what we have and are always on the lookout for new and sparkly. Myth and reality rarely meet and live happily ever after in the middle of anywhere.
So, we are left with magic.
The magic is the reality that one of the very last ancient indigenous dogs is still actually alive and thriving. The magic is that whatever their relationship with people of all cultures is, they are still doing it, in built up urbane areas, step back in time villages and forest/jungle isolation. The magic is that for now they are still here and that there are many organizations/people including Balinese who are doing everything to protect promote and preserve them.
The reality is simply that from myth and storytelling a relationship with the Balinese dog has endured and flourished.
That is magic.
Away from major tourist areas Bali dogs still number in the tens of thousands. They survive and thrive in rural and outlying ‘real’ Bali, where households sustain an average of 3-6 mainly lokal dogs.
As ‘progress’ continues its inexorable march, more foreign breed dogs are joining in and adapting to the new and changing landscape. For now, survival for old historic Bali dogs and new fashionable foreign canines appears to be assured.
There are many things that will kill when it comes to what befalls dogs on Bali. From accident to intentional, the outcome for what is still a free roaming canine is based on luck, charm, instinct and opportunity. In the main their ability to survive on very little, escape intentional directed harm and utilization of their genetically infused hunter gather instincts enables them to live to adulthood. Free roaming adult Bali dogs are living completely according to their historic nature and even though their lifespan is relatively short, 4-6 years, their quality of existence is nonetheless ‘better’. As we have discussed in other blogs confining a Bali dog is the ultimate torture.
Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumour (TVT) is a very efficient killer and is found worldwide but most commonly occurs as a contagious tumour in dogs in tropical and subtropical countries. It is transmitted from dog to dog through normal social behaviour, usually mating. TVT has been creeping slowly across the island of Bali for many years. The tumours it causes are large, bloody and very painful. They will eventually kill the dog, but not before ravaging its body and destroying its relationship with its human companions.
The only form of defence against TVT is to sterilise the dog populations. Sterilisation is the most humane form of animal management available to free roaming dog populations and their human companions.
Bali dogs and their Island human companions faced down the horrific Rabies virus, dealt with and survived the shock associated with that very efficient killer and maintained the unbroken bond they have had for thousands of years.
Canine Transmissible Venereal Tumour (TVT) will continue to test the relationship.
It can only be hoped that the virulence of this virus does not result in shining unwanted attention on a union that ironically survives on a relationship of inattention.