The Trust Game
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.
Myth Magic Reality
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.