If by normal dogs you are referring to domesticated dogs that people have as pets in Western type societies then Bali Dogs are different and are not ‘normal dogs’.
Genetic testing has determined their DNA makeup is different (research exists to evidence this) and their behaviour is very different, more similar to the Australian Dingo than to any domestic dog. They are not strays, they are free roaming dogs. There is a distinct difference.
Given that there are over 4 million people on the Island of Bali and an indeterminate but very high dog population there is no doubt that people regularly get bitten by Bali Dogs. However contrary to popular belief they do not roam in packs attacking people. If they did they would be killed by local people very quickly. Balinese people have lived parallel with these dogs for thousands of years. Complicated rituals exist that assist an owner to determine the personality of their dog. There are ancient scriptures that provide a Balinese dog pedigree describing the measurements and body posture necessary for particular types of dog. Bali dogs have an important place within culture, providing security in the physical and spiritual realms. They feature in mythology and are essential as a sacrifice in some ceremonies. It is important to note that, to their people, they are first and foremost working dogs.
The change in attitude towards the dogs is multifaceted and complex. Almost simultaneously, a decade ago, the following occurred:-
In the rural areas of Bali the dogs live with and alongside their people as they have for thousands of years. In the urban, tourist areas of the island conflicts occur between expats and locals and the dogs are sometimes subject to cruelty and neglect.
As is the case with all things human, people do not appreciate what they have until it is taken from them. The Balinese do not understand the uniqueness of their Indigenous dog because it has always been there.
The work of Yayasan Seva Bhuana and www.thebalistreetdog.com is designed to remind Balinese people just how exceptional the dog they share their lives with is and to educate non Balinese people about the relationship.
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.
If you take the time to carefully observe the people of Bali going about their daily lives in the company of their Bali dogs you will discover a unique connection. You will uncover a human – animal rapport that sheds light on just how their ancient relationship has survived against the odds. Of course, your observation needs to occur through the lens of cultural relativity, accepting that difference exists and that what you are seeing is not your normal, but it is the other person’s normal.
Balinese people have much to offer in educating outsiders about their Bali Dogs. But, the right questions need to be asked to elicit this information. Equally, outsiders have much to offer Balinese people in supporting them to maintain their ancient human – canine relationship. Formulating questions, or approaching conversations from a position of cultural superiority will only result in misunderstanding, not two way knowledge sharing.
Sadly it appears that there are some groups and individuals active on social media who have already decided that what appear to be attitudes of uncaring when it comes to how Balinese people treat their local indigenous canine are in fact generalized unarguable truths. Their value laden postings do nothing to promote knowledge sharing and instead only promote cultural shaming. Sustainable behavioural change is never achieved through shame.
This is not to say that cruelty, neglect and uncaring does not occur. Balinese people are not immune when it comes to the darker side of human nature and its propensity to inflict suffering on sentient beings.
The photograph is a simple and perfect example of the ease and flow within the Balinese human – dog relationship. There is an unwritten rhythm in how they are moving together, a rhythm that is felt, not forced. Take time to observe how the dogs mingle and meander through the legs of those gathered at ceremonies, at the local markets, among the children lined up to enter school. It’s an ancient dance of symbiotic genetic markers. Coded dance steps that have been unconsciously handed through human and canine generations to become simply unnoticed normality.
We could learn much from this ancient relationship, we just need to take time to watch, listen and ask the right questions.
Anjing Bali adalah anjing Bali. Mereka keras kepala, mandiri dan kuat. Perjalanan panjang yang mereka lalui membuat mereka seperti sekarang. Menghancurkan dan membentuk; dan mereka bertahan.
Tapi ini bukan tentang anjing Bali. Tulisan ini tentang sekumpulan wanita yang berwatak sama seperti anjing Bali.
Saat semua orang bekerja keras membuat dunia menjadi lebih baik, kami pun berusaha memperbaiki tanah kelahiran kami. Anjing Bali, lingkungannya, tradisi positifnya, semua hal yang ingin kami lindungi dan pelihara. Namun kami tidak ingin membuatnya mudah, kami ambil jalan panjang melelahkan; edukasi.
Untuk mengubah perilaku seseorang sama seperti membuat hutan. Menghabiskan waktu, tenaga, terlihat sia-sia, dan tidak cukup cepat untuk bisa dilihat orang. Yang mereka lihat hanyalah sekumpulan orang yang sibuk menggali, mencangkul, menyiram dan mengurus tanah dan tanaman-tanaman kecil setiap hari. Sangat monoton dan menjemukan, sampai banyak yang meninggalkan. Dan saat mereka mulai lupa akan hal itu, tanahnya sudah menjadi hutan belantara teduh dan menyejukkan, seperti apa yang mereka inginkan selama ini.
Setelah bertahun-tahun berjuang menyusun strategi edukasi dan materi, kami akhirnya mendapat kesempatan untuk berkendara di jalan panjang ini; edukasi kesejahteraan hewan. Yayasan kami, Seva Bhuana, dulunya adalah sebuah komunitas kecil yang ingin perubahan dalam diri masyarakat, bukan dengan paksaan. Kami menjaga edukasi kami agar tetap ramah, mudah dan tentunya berkelanjutan.
2018 adalah awal perjalanan kami, dimana kami mengunjungi sekolah dasar, SMP dan SMA di Tabanan untuk mempromosikan kesejahteraan hewan agar mereka juga dapat melindungi dan memelihara keindahan murni dari pulau ini. Kami memperkenalkan 5 kebebasan hewan, anjing Bali, kontrol populasi, dan isu-isu lingkungan.
Sungguh mengejutkan melihat antusiasme anak-anak yang kami temui. Mereka bersemangat menceritakan hewan-hewan mereka, tidak seperti yang banyak orang dengar selama ini. Mereka benar-benar paham bahwa hewanpun dapat merasakan sakit, takut dan terluka, sama seperti mereka. Mereka tahu vaksinasi apa saja yang diperlukan. Jika anda hidup seperti orang lokal selama beberapa lama di sini, mungkin anda juga sama bangganya seperti kami.
Meski ada juga anak-anak yang memerlukan sedikit pencerahan untuk mengerti hewan, yang mana saat kami telusuri itu terjadi karena kurangnya interaksi dengan hewan itu sendiri. Lingkungan memiliki peran besar dalam membentuk karakter seseorang. Simpati, empati, ketidakpedulian dan ketakutan bisa dibuat oleh masyarakat. Kami selalu bilang, dengan menekan tombol yang benar, mereka akan menjadi baik. Dan kami akan menaklukkan semua halangan ini.
Program ini hanyalah langkah kecil dari sesuatu yang besar dan berkelanjutan. Inilah yang dibutuhkan orang-orang. Perubahan dari dalam, perubahan yang benar-benar dirasa perlu oleh mereka. Tidak perlu lagi menuduh dan menunjuk hidung atas permasalahan lingkungan yang kita hadapi. Kita semua juga termasuk di dalamnya, yang membuat kita sama bertanggung jawabnya. Masalah itu sudah berjalan jauh di depan kita, tapi bersama sebagai kelompok, kita akan melewati jalan panjang ini.
Jalan panjang yang tepat.
A Bali Dog is a Bali Dog. They are stubborn, independent, and strong. The journeys they have been through have made them that way. It crushed them hard; it molded them into what they are now. They survived.
But this is not about Bali Dog. This is about a group of women, acting like one.
As everyone try to play their part to make the world a better place, we too thrive to get things done for our motherland. The Bali dogs, the environment, the positive tradition, all the things that we want to protect and preserve. But we do not make it easy for us, we take the long road; education.
To change someone’s behavior is like growing a forest. It takes up most of your time, too much energy, and can’t be fast enough for people to see. What they will see is this group of people digging, watering, observing the land and tiny plants in a monotonous level, almost boring until the point that they want to leave. And when they almost forget about it, the land has turned to be a beautiful place of what they have always wanted to be.
After several years of struggling with educational strategy and material, we finally get our chance to take this long road of animal welfare education.
Our Yayasan, Seva Bhuana was used to be a small community that wants change from within the people, not from our force. We keep our education friendly and approachable, and most importantly, sustainable.
2018 was the start of this journey, where we went to elementary, junior and high school in Tabanan to promote animal welfare so that they too can protect and preserve the raw beauty of the island. We introduced the 5 freedoms, Bali Dogs, dog population management, and environmental issues.
Surprisingly, the students that we taught were very excited to talk about their pets, unlike bad promotion of locals that people may have heard. They were well aware about animals especially dogs and cats that can be hurt scared and in pain, just like them. They knew what kind of vaccinations that their pets need. If you have lived as locals here, you will be proud too just like us.
Although, there were some students who need further encouragement in connecting with animals, and we found out later this lack of connection is due to limitation of interaction with the animals themselves. Environment played a huge role in creating how people react to an issue. Their sympathy, empathy, ignorance and fear were made by the society. We kept saying, by pushing the right button, they will go far. And those obstacles, we will conquer them.
This program is a baby step to something greater and sustainable. This is what these people needed. A change from within, a change they feel like needed to be happening, on their own. There is no need to bash around and point fingers to people who we thought causing the problem. We too are included in the problem after all, which makes us equally responsible.
The problem is riding ahead of us, but together, as a pack, we will get through this long road.
This right long road.
Before this current evolution of colonization/invasion began, questioning ‘born to roam’ was probably a quantifiable yes.
In respect to rapid changes they are now attempting to deal with and adapt to, the life style of Bali dogs and people, if historical evidence is correct, was probably vastly different. Their existence for a very long period was probably quite stable. Born to roam, in the eyes of old dogs and on the minds of old people, has now taken on complete chaotic unpredictable and unstable variations, answerable on multiple levels. It’s no wonder many of them look tired and burned out.
Freedom for human and canine now comes at a cost with a price hike that’s fast becoming a mountain too high to climb.
Evidence actually proves that the ancient canine whose evolution spawned the Island isolated Bali dog was a wanderer, a true born roamer. Their area spanned a huge mega Asia land mass.
There is absolutely no doubt at all that the Bali dog is a consummate canine when it comes to evolutionary adaptation. Their ability to live in foreign lands is well documented and their ability in shifting from rural to urban is observable and documented.
It must never be forgotten that this ability for wide ranging adaptation is directly related to those ancient wanderers whose genetic blueprint still courses through modern day Bali dogs. Without those genetic tracers, Bali dogs most certainly would not be the unique and colourful characters of today. Instinctively still attempting to do, just what they were born, to do.
May you continue to live long and roam free.
Since drastically drawn up and loosely enacted regulations and enforced laws were handed down on Bali in regard to collaring, chaining and caging, free roam zones for the Bali Dog have continued to be squeezed as invasion pushes in from all fronts.
The same old scooter and car dangers are brutally present but their numbers have explosively increased. This means unfortunately no matter how skilled the savvy Bali Dog is when it comes to road and traffic awareness, their ability to safely navigate is greatly diluted. Especially when confronted by bigger, faster and impatient humans on/in bigger faster and more powerful machines.
The reality that life on Bali has accelerated to levels that cannot support free roaming dogs is not going to change. As increased pace and spread of invasive agency continues unabated, remembrances of village simplicity based on communal and community existence will be nothing more than an historical footnote.
Collared chained and caged Bali Dogs were an historical non-existent thing.
Collaring emerged on the virulent hind quarters of Rabies signifying vaccination and ownership. Collaring, as a symbol, has no physical impact on the Bali Dog. However, there are indeed nasty collar driven consequences for a free roaming canine that has historically proven to be very wary when it comes to being physically handled. Anyone even remotely associated with the Bali Dog world since 2010 will have seen the horrific collar wounds that result from a collar not being replaced as a dog grows.
The collar had also innocently/unintendedly become a slippery slope, a harbinger, a precursor to chaining and caging. An ancient community owned collarless and free spirited roaming dog was about to endure torturous actions.
An expectation that the wearer/collared must have a designated one home one owner one location status has now been engineered. The legislated enforcement shift has seen a seismic movement from ancient norms and structures to future restructured and foreign realities. For local dog and local people this was the beginning of an invasive reframing of their relationship.
For many who have observed the Bali Dog, especially those who spend the majority of their time in ‘modern Bali,’ the consequences of ‘progressive modernity‘ on the Bali Dog is dreadful indeed.
But as dire as the reality appears and actually is, there are still many spaces on this small island where freedom from the most suffocating effects of invasive colonization is still occurring.
Culture Community Commodity. The Bali Dog. Their ongoing relationship with a rapidly changing environment.
There’s no argument that the Bali Dog is deeply entwined in Balinese culture. Mythology and scripture is evidence of its place within the fabric of Balinese culture. There’s also no fighting the fact that one of the planets oldest canines has cohabited with humans in a symbiotic community arrangement for tens of centuries, at least. Historically it’s seen and unseen value and usefulness as a community member has been undeniable.
But those times have changed enormously and the relationship between Bali Dog and Bali People has also evolved relative to the rapid pace of modernity on the island. The tourist swamped areas have all but wiped out their arrangement of small coastal symbiotic sustenance. Unspoken rules based on mutual survival through times of hand to paw to mouth have moved to a commodity driven criteria mostly dependent on tourism and a competitive mindset. The reality of a foreign investment invasion that took over village island life and transformed it into an international mecca also forced a ripple in all aspects of what culture, community and commodity mean to Balinese. This is certainly not to say that there are absolutely no local dog local people relationships in those coastal tourist consumed areas. They are still to be found, yet are rare and very hard to spot. On the back of fearsome Rabies, border doors thrown open and temptation for fashionable new canine forms, their joined world was inevitably going to change.
There are multiple groups and individuals pushing tirelessly to save the Bali Dog. Saving the dog from what appears to be an obvious question that should have a fairly simple answer. Its existence is under direct threat. In fact on such a small island it’s surrounded by threats that are already quickening its demise. Invasion and colonization on the scale that has impacted Bali has a habit of destroying as it goes about reshaping and rebuilding in its own image.
It would appear that as Bali continues to welcome and embrace ongoing globalization there is no reason to believe that a community driven uprising to protect and preserve an ancient cultural dog human connection as a valuable commodity will be promoted any time soon.
A shift of that magnitude can only and should only come from within.
When you share your life with a Bali Dog it doesn’t take long before you know you are living with a pretty special animal. Unique, amazingly intelligent, stubborn, loyal, and protective companions, they can also be arrogant and downright rude sometimes, but this just seems to add to their appeal. It is these traits that give them their umami – that something special that domestic dogs just don’t have.
The Balinese refer to this as the ‘spirit of the Bali Dog’ with the dogs being seen as independent subjects and not participants in a dependent relationship with human beings (Orr 2016).
This differs greatly from the Western cultural approach to pet ownership in which we live, sleep, talk and play with our adult dogs and is a constant source of tension as both Balinese and foreigners make value judgements about the two different paradigms in managing and handling the Bali Dog.
(Note that this is separate from deliberate acts of cruelty and neglect. Handling and management in this context refers to decisions about where the animal roams, plays, sleeps, what it eats and the general community attitude towards its guardianship).
A wise old Bali man once said that the worst thing you can do to a Bali Dog is cage or confine it. They are born to be free-roaming. It’s a fair enough assertion particularly if you consider what happens to the psyche of a Border Collie, a Blue Heeler or a Malamute if you confine and don’t allow them to engage in what comes naturally. Expats who have tried to confine a once free roaming Bali Dog in their yard have no doubt experienced the destruction that quickly ensues.
Sadly, this free roaming, independent spirit is now under threat. Human behaviour change is now threatening to add to the growing list of risks facing the Bali Dog.
Balinese people are being required to change the way in which they handle their Indigenous Dog. Rabies, legislation, and education are now enforcing and requesting that the Bali Dog be treated like a domesticated dog in a Western style of pet ownership. Collars, leads and confinement are slowly becoming the new normal. This changed human behaviour will result in changed dog behaviour as this recent study shows.
In time the Bali Street Dog that we know and admire today will be shaped and moulded by their changed environment. But, until that time comes we all need to continue to celebrate this most unique Indigenous Dog of Bali.
At family funerals, community cremations and endless ceremonies for every occasion they can be seen, mingling meandering and hanging in and around their human families.
As development begins to overstretch and consume more and more fertile spaces the Bali Dog is obviously not as visible. But take a short journey in a Northerly direction and life for this enterprising volcanic island canine continues as it always has. On an island that’s relatively small in comparison to its many attractions full blown globalization hasn’t reached many isolated areas.
It’s where the Bali Dog can still wander free in a cultural environment that’s attempting to hold on to its ancient traditional way. Where they can still function purposely as they were designed. It’s where they can move through time, adapting slowly to inevitable progressive change.
Thankfully they can still be seen, just hanging with the village people, for now.