For those who were on Bali when the incursion occurred it was impossible to escape the horror of what was happening. The oldest most lethal, adaptable and resolute virus had invaded paradise and was hell bent on testing an equally ancient adaptable and resolute relationship.
It was a truly terrifying time. Seemingly overnight a bite from your compound dog went from a painful inconvenience to a probable death sentence. Panic, rumours and propaganda muddied the waters for those trying to disseminate logical information.
The primary reservoir for the rabies virus was the local dog, Anjing Bali. At the time local rumour would have you believe that it was only the Anjing Bali that could give you rabies. Propaganda that was reinforced by the government culling teams who moved around the island on sweeping missions to eliminate the local dog population.
Balinese people in small villages and large regions had existed with their dogs since the beginning of time. On a very small Island, human and canine had lived free from any internal threat and had survived all outside incursions. For the vast majority of Balinese, the Rabies virus was an unknown invader. Gila anjing, crazy dog, was to become their way of seeing and understanding what was happening to their ancient indigenous canine. A very familiar and reliable part of their lives was turning on them. The fear was palpable and very real.
It’s no wonder that the ancient Bali Dog | Bali People relationship was pushed to breaking point and there were many who wondered if it would even survive the incursion at all.
It has been ten years since that time and it is interesting to sit back and take stock of what impact the rabies incursion has had upon the dog / human relationship.
At the height of the incursion a decree was issued by the Governor of Bali to cage or chain your dog. Free roaming dogs were (and still are) the victims of elimination from the government culling teams. It is in the urban areas of Bali that the impact of this decree has been integrated into daily life. In those areas there are noticeably fewer dogs, and definitely less free roaming dogs. However, in rural areas, this decree seems to have had no impact. Out beyond the reach of the tourist strips multiple Bali dogs accompany their human companions as they meander through daily village life.
Some studies have shown that Balinese people are now keeping fewer dogs. Again this seems to be true for urban areas, but in rural locations it appears that the number of dogs living in a compound is dictated only by the amount of resources available to feed them, as has always been the case.
The most obvious impact that is apparent island wide, because of its visual nature, is the collar, colloquially referred to as the necklace. Prior to 2008, when rabies first appeared, you would never have seen a collar on a Bali dog. But, rabies made the collar an essential item for people who wanted their dog to stay alive. The collar signified a rabies vaccinated dog, meaning that the dog was safe (did not have rabies) and owned. Over the years the colour of the collar has changed from the initial red, to orange, yellow and at the present time the clumsily tied purple collar adorns recently vaccinated dogs.
Government elimination teams still sweep the Island from time to time, and there should be no doubt that the suffering caused by these teams is not limited to the dogs who receive the poison darts, their human companions do grieve their loss.
People’s knowledge of the rabies virus appears to be sketchy at best, and rumours are still plentiful. Whilst the need to attend a clinic after a dog bite now seems to be ingrained in local knowledge, the causes of the virus, the need to be pre-vaccinated and the types of mammals that can transmit rabies, are areas about which people have wrong information.
Ultimately, despite some new relationship rules, it appears that the relationship between people and dog has survived the incursion. Bali people are still sharing their lives, compounds and Banjars with multiple Bali Dogs, just as they always have and likely always will.