Pest or Purpose?
It is unavoidable and unrealistic to expect that visitors to Bali would not see The Bali Street Dog as much more than a pest.
The Bali Street Dog has lived parallel with Balinese people for many hundreds of years and they are firmly placed within Balinese culture and community.
The vast majority of dogs on the streets do have homes and owners. These homes and owners are just different to what outsiders are familiar and comfortable with in their own cultural context.
Bali Dogs are free roaming animals, an action and activity that is vastly different to that of a stray dog. A Bali Dog has a territory that can span 3 - 6 kms and they will move with purpose through this territory every day, returning to their home compound at will.
Balinese compounds can have up to six Bali Dogs and they are in the main, true working dogs. Until now it has been very common to see free roaming dogs, a fact that has given the perception of non ownership. Balinese people do not own Bali Dogs and should the question be asked the answer can result in a blank stare. However if the enquiry is about where the dog is from and where it stays, a direction to the compound in which the dog spends its time is usually forthcoming. The cultural context of ownership and pet ownership is completely different on Bali, but this in no way means that the people of Bali do not like or need their Bali Dogs.
Bali dogs are not pets, they serve a function and a purpose within each compound and within each Banjar. They guard their compound from intruders both physical and spiritual. It is said that identification of an intruder is recognized by the type of bark a Bali Dog makes. They will bark differently to identify a ghost or spirit and again differently to identify a strange person entering their territory. Bali Dogs keep the rat numbers down in any compound, they eat the rubbish, they clean up the offerings (which serves to keep the rat numbers down), they scare away snakes and they entertain the children.
Balinese people are now obtaining breed dogs to have as pets and it would appear that this is inevitably due to foreign influence. Sadly, these dogs are often caged or chained as they are seen as valuable and not as smart as the Bali Dog. They struggle in adapting to chaotic traffic conditions and day to day Banjar life. But even with the inevitable influx of breed dogs, Bali people will still retain their Bali Dogs because the need to maintain balance and order is paramount.
There are some Banjars on Bali that have declared themselves to be dog free, this has been in response to the rabies outbreak. Many of these Banjars as a result have suffered massive rat population explosions, their rice crops have failed and snakes have entered family compounds. Bali Dogs not only have a place within Balinese community life, they also form a link in the eco system. So if you remove the dogs then the fragile balance is affected, a void is left and damage ensues.
The jury is presently out as to whether the Bali Street Dog is regarded as a pest or if in fact it has a purpose. In reality the judgment is an individual viewpoint dependent on how you place your eye from whatever position you take. But it must be said that if the Bali Street Dog is sentenced to eventually disappear, then a major component of life on Bali will be lost.
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