As creators of this website we have been asked on many occasions how we reconcile respecting Balinese beliefs with our awareness of sentience. Especially when it involves cruelty and general mistreatment inflicted on Bali Dogs.
Simply put, there is no reconciling, no justification and no defending any act that inflicts pain. Cruelty is universal and Bali is certainly more than able in delivering its very own local brand. Respecting a belief system that does not demonstrate awareness of sentience is nigh on impossible.
What we do is acknowledge that there is a relationship between Balinese people and their indigenous canine. It does not look or feel like pet ownership in the Western cultural context, but there is a relationship. Just because something doesn't look or feel like the familiar its not OK to dismiss its existence. The Westernised pet ownership framework cannot and should not hold itself up as being the ideal.
As long term appreciators of dogs and the contribution they have made to our lives we are eternally curious about what a dog looks like through a different cultural lens. We are interested in how different beliefs and values influence and shape the human/canine relationship. In Bali we have found a relationship that is ancient and bound in complex reciprocal utility and entrenched within the Islands unique belief system.
Beliefs are very real; they bring order to chaos, they are concrete cultural anchors, passed from generation to generation. They help us to navigate our world.
From words, statements and stories, our societal structures are formed. These structures have to be respected even if they conflict with our own beliefs. Acknowledgement of these structures, without judgement, is the first step towards understanding, communicating and then negotiating human behaviour change.
To do otherwise is like asking us to speak a foreign language without lessons. We can learn to survive among native speakers, but we will not be able to converse deeply and appreciate those subtle nuances so vital to understanding issues that matter.
By understanding the nuances of the dog/human relationship in Bali, by appreciating its history and by grasping its complexities we have an opportunity to converse and influence change.
Riding in a Northerly direction into clear open air can be a delightful and refreshing escape from what is becoming an increasingly densely cramped Southerly environment.
Even the once slow paced quintessential and serenely iconic Ubud has become a heaving mass and mess of humans and stuff. Yet thankfully fifteen minutes from the central mayhem travelling in a Northerly direction life begins to reflect some of the images of a bygone era, for now.
There are a number of major arteries leading to the Islands beating volcanic heart. Travelling upward, passing through village after village, coolness and spaciousness merge and movement slows. It’s where old time expats still go to get their high, to breathe, re-energize and reminisce on how things once where. Where adventurous modern day tourists go to see old Bali and take selfies with Gunung Batur and Gunung Agung.
There are at least a hundred ways to get purposefully lost in this region.
This is Kintamani country, home to the impressive Kintamani Dog. The long haired, protected, promoted, preserved and somewhat sought after highland canine. It’s also liberally peppered with the more common Lokal Bali Dog.
Away from the urban squeeze in a Northerly direction is where healthy dog and human relationships live on. Not only is the environment cleaner, development is slower, the pace is kinder and space isn’t sparse. In this healthy environment annoyances between dogs and humans are mitigated. The simple provision of more open space means you don’t often see dogs with knife or burn wounds, indicators of canine-human conflict. The cooler air is kinder to canine skin, so there is less scabies and mange on view and thicker coats are the norm.
Certainly some dogs are a little thin, but if you look carefully the physical condition of humans and canines reflect each other. This is agricultural land where the residents are lean and hard working. Farmers toil and old Ibu’s stroll along streets carrying unbelievably large bundles on their heads.
Alongside them their Bali dogs lope, close enough to receive the Balinese caress, a light tap to the head, or a dropped morsel of food, but far enough away to shape shift out of sight when needed.