It was an honour and privilege to attend and present at the 10th Animals for Asia conference held in Kathmandu, Nepal, this week. The theme of the conference was 'Changing Human Behaviour.’ Our presentation focused on the ancient connection between Balinese people and their Indigenous Dog. Sharing the stage with Agra Utari from Yayasan Seva Bhuana gave an authentic voice to our presentation and shone the international spotlight on a unique and ancient human/animal relationship. Our presentation abstract is below:-
Culture makes strategy a dog’s breakfast.
The island of Bali is world famous for its stunning scenery, beautiful ceremonies and astoundingly unique culture. Over recent years it has become infamous in some circles for its treatment of the islands Indigenous canine, the Bali Street Dog. A rabies incursion, an under prepared government, spiraling human deaths and a massive growth in tourism has resulted in a plethora of formal and informal animal welfare groups and organization’s all vying to save the Bali Street Dog from a supposed annihilation.
Bali dogs have lived alongside Balinese people for thousands of years. Theirs is a unique reciprocal relationship entwined in scripture, ceremony and mutual obligation. A relationship that does not align with the Western cultural context of pet ownership. Within this non alignment is where the greatest threat to the Bali Dog lies. Foreign initiated sterilization programs, rescue activities and adoption appeals abound throughout the tourist areas. The vast majority of these are underpinned by the Western context of responsible pet ownership and openly demand human behavioural change for Balinese people to emulate the Western model of pet ownership.
Unsurprisingly, these ethnocentric attempts are limited in their impact, even when implemented by local people. Repeated calls for laws, tourism boycotts and attempts to increase the value of the Bali dog within its own culture seem to make little difference aside from alienating local Balinese against any form of attitudinal change towards their companion animals.
Culture really does make a dog’s breakfast out of ethnocentric strategies.
This presentation unpacks the role of the Bali Dog within Balinese culture and demonstrates that when you forget that you know it all and listen loudly to what already is you can influence positive change. Illustrated with examples of optimizing local culture to influence positive change this paper outlines the story of a father dedicating his life to the health of his local village dogs in order to repay his karmic debt for the life of his child; the use of cultural symbols within the fight against rabies by using existing norms and structures to reinforce the need for herd immunity; and the use of Balinese youth culture to make animal welfare cool and an activity worthy of extensive social media sharing.
These stories all reinforce the importance of working within cultural context. The need to explain, inform and empower locally driven choice by giving people skills and resources, not charity, is the path to sustainable human behaviour change.
Change that is positive for people and their animals.