The Bali Animal Welfare Association feeds, vaccinates, and sterilises street dogs. It finds homes for puppies, and educates local people about animal care. When rabies hit the island in 2008, it led the campaign against mass culling.
Arriving at the BAWA office in Ubud, you’re greeted by Mia and a lot of barking. Mia, who has been blind from birth, is one of the thousands of animals the association has rescued since it was founded in 2007.
BAWA’s founder, Janice Girardi, spotted the ailing puppy huddled in a wood, scooped her up, and took her to the association’s clinic for medical care and nourishment. Now nearly a year old, Mia is healthy and vociferous.
Girardi, an American who has lived in Bali for more than 30 years and runs a jewellery company, set up BAWA with Indonesian veterinarian Dewa Made Dharma.
“Many of Bali’s street dogs are starving, malnourished, or in poor health,” Girardi says. “Newly born puppies, especially females, are often dumped in the street to die. Many dogs live with serious, untreated injuries from traffic accidents.
“Many Bali dogs have infected wounds and parasites. We see animals with parvovirus, distemper, broken legs, dislocated joints, and a sexually-transmitted cancer called genital sarcoma. All of these problems can be dealt with, but Balinese people rarely seek treatment for sick or wounded animals, even if they are pets.”
The association began with a mobile sterilisation programme, a small clinic, and a dog re-housing programme. The clinic is now much bigger with different areas for dogs as they arrive, are in recovery, or are ready for adoption. There’s an isolation room, and separate areas for dogs with kennel cough and those with ringworm. There’s a 24-hour animal ambulance, and a hotline. Tourists often ring to report an animal in need. Sometimes dogs are left on BAWA’s doorstep.
In 2011, BAWA fed about 54,000 street dogs and took care of more than 1,000 animals, including monkeys, bats, and birds. The association adopted out 667 dogs and cats, and even some monkeys.
“We also kept hundreds of puppies and kittens in villages where they were safe, fed and treated until we could adopt them out to their new homes,” Girardi says.
Whenever possible, older dogs are taken back to the streets once they have been treated. “Our clinic isn’t a shelter,” says Australian volunteer Kim McCreanor, “it’s not somewhere that we see as a long-term home for the dogs we take in.”
The charity responds to about 25 ambulance calls daily. The staff and volunteers travel from village to village five or six days a week, setting up temporary operating theatres in community centres. In 2011, they sterilised more than 3,000 dogs.
A major problem is rabies, which hit Bali for the first time in late 2008. The outbreak caught the country unprepared; there were no vaccines and there was no funding for a vaccination programme, and no emergency system in place.
The government’s response was to mass poison the dogs. BAWA lobbied against this strategy and called for vaccination, and humane euthanasia when needed. The association ran its first rabies vaccination programme in December 2009, and vaccinated 48,000 dogs within six months.
In 2010, the Balinese government signed a Memorandum of Understanding with BAWA, authorising mass vaccination rather than mass culling, and the association received six months’ funding from the World Society for the Protection of Animals to conduct an island-wide vaccination programme. More than 70 percent of dogs in Bali were vaccinated as a result.
BAWA has now vaccinated more than 275,000 dogs against rabies, putting red collars on all of the adult dogs and marking the younger dogs.
“A lot of Balinese people have died from rabies,” McCreanor says, “and people are now scared of dogs; they are frightened that all dogs have rabies. That adds to our challenges.”
There are now estimated to be 200,000 dogs in Bali. The population dropped dramatically with the outbreak of rabies, when tens of thousands of dogs were culled, and has dropped again by about 100,000 over the past 18 months because the government and locals have started poisoning them again.
“People do not seem to replace their poisoned dogs with new dogs like they used to before rabies,” Girardi says. “Often they replace them with trophy dogs (imported breeds that people keep in cages or on chains) and we do not know how many of these there are.”
BAWA prioritises education and has a team of people who go to schools and community centres to talk about animal behaviour, responsible pet ownership, rabies, and bite prevention. “It’s education that will bring about sustainable change in animal welfare in Indonesia,” Girardi says.
A huge daily challenge
Visiting the BAWA clinic is both heart-wrenching and heart-warming. There are dogs of all shapes and sizes, in every condition imaginable, and a good few cats. Dozens of volunteers, including foreign vets, generously give their time. More than 80 people helped out at BAWA in 2011.
Many BAWA stories end happily, with animals adopted by caring people, but there are days when dogs – and cats – are brought in very badly injured and sometimes it is a dead animal that is being recovered.
The week before I visited BAWA, four puppies died from parvovirus. “All of us here shed tears sometimes,” says McCreanor, who coordinates the team of volunteers. As she recounts one particularly bad case of cruelty, her eyes do well up. “The dog was put to sleep peacefully, thank God.”
One litter of puppies dumped on BAWA’s doorstep in a rice sack are doing surprisingly well. “We fed them goat’s milk and protein formula every hour or two, and put them under a heat lamp to keep them warm. They really were tiny. We don’t often have much luck raising such small puppies, but these ones made it.”
McCreanor, who works in Australia and saves up to volunteer at BAWA, showed me another dog that now looks healthy and happy. “Six weeks ago she had a shocking case of demodectic mange; she was literally pink, as if she’d been boiled; there was no hair on her at all; she was skinny, and scared.”
When I was at BAWA, the clinic was housing more than 120 dogs and about 30 cats. There were two vets on duty, but usually there are three, plus a team of veterinary nurses.
The rescue tales are unending. There’s good-natured Diva, found with an open wound around her neck, and Demi, a Terrier mix who had scabies, demodex, and malasthesia all over his body, and a crooked front leg caused by calcium deficiency.
Then there’s three-legged Ganessa, born on a beach and found abandoned, malnourished, and dehydrated. An Australian tourist rescued her and she now lives happily in New South Wales.
A lack of awareness
Why are Bali dogs still in such a desperate plight? “It’s basically a lack of education,” McCreanor says. “It’s a lack of awareness that animals require the same degree of care as people do; they need access to food and access to water. It’s not necessarily deliberate cruelty or deliberate neglect; it’s a matter of not being aware. Your animal will not roam the streets and get aggressive if you feed it and you sterilise it.
“Before Bali became a tourist island, it was OK for dogs to roam the streets and drink out of streams, but now a lot of the rivers and streams are polluted, or have dried up completely. For Bali people to make the change, and give their animal a bowl of water, there needs to be education.
“Bali dogs play a very important part in Balinese society; the relationship between Bali dogs and Bali people is different to our experience with our animals in the west, but there is a relationship.
“Ninety percent of the dogs you see in the streets here are owned; not owned in the way we would culturally recognise, but they are owned. There are five or six dogs in each Balinese compound, and they have a function: they keep away the rats and they are guard dogs; they are also spiritual guarders, keeping away the demons; and they eat rubbish.
BAWA helps families who can’t afford to feed their animals. “We explain that dogs need to eat more than just scraps; we give out the recipe that we use for street feeding, which is quite economical; it’s a combination of white rice, red rice, chicken, some tofu, and eggs.”
The association prepares up to 50 meals a day and delivers them to areas where underfed dogs are known to live.
BAWA has also started an online petition urging the Indonesian government to adopt animal welfare laws.
Adoption and education
“Our education and adoption teams work closely together,” McCreanor adds. “In schools, our educators talk to children about the possibility of adopting a BAWA dog.” When families decide to adopt a dog, their homes are checked for suitability. They are taught about animal care, and there’s regular follow-up.
A high spot on the BAWA calendar is the “Bali Dog Idol” contest, aimed at encouraging good animal care. Adopters can win big prizes and there are school competitions in which pupils submit artwork, poems, and short stories about caring for their animals.
There are two kinds of dog in Bali: the short-haired dogs known as Bali street dogs, and the stockier, fluffier Kintamani, who evolved from the feral dogs.
Bali dogs are the most genetically diverse dogs in the world and are closely related to the Australian dingo. They have long fascinated scientists. Research shows that a dog population existed on Bali prior to its separation from Java about 12,000 years ago.
The street dogs can be intimidating, and they can be aggressive, but only because they are often in pain, and afraid.
“A lot of the dogs are fear-aggressive,” McCreanor says. “The streets are rough places to live. When you have the dogs from a young age and handle them and play with them, they are just like any other dog.”
Australian volunteer Laurina Chilcott has volunteered five times and extended her most recent stay from three to six months. “I just can’t leave. There is so much heartache every day, but the joy is amazing.”
Semi-retired vet Greg Kidd, also based in Australia, came to BAWA recently for two weeks. “I mentor the young Indonesian vets. I answer a lot of questions, discuss treatments, and recommend a few new things.”
Australian veterinary nurse Jenny Smith said her experience at BAWA had been fantastic. “It’s been magic working with the staff here, and being a part of Bali. I don’t like coming here just for a holiday; I like coming to interact.”
While most volunteers are Australian, they also come from other countries, including Canada, England, and the Netherlands. Some local Balinese also help out, and Indonesian students at university in Bali volunteer as well.
Australian artist Jenny Ashby has adopted a BAWA dog and helps friends and neighbours get their dogs vaccinated and spayed.
One dog she helps care for is a blang bungkem: a holy dog. These are dogs with a black snout and tongue and a red or brown body. They are sought after for sacrifices. “She was left at a rubbish dump as a puppy, but I was recently offered five million rupiah (about 450 euro) for her,” Ashby says.
“I love the Bali dogs. The Balinese people don’t realise how special this breed is. People are bringing in other dogs like golden retrievers and Pomeranians and you end up with interbred dogs that no-one wants. It’s very worrying. Bali dogs can be beautiful if they are looked after.”
River is one of the dogs being cared for at the BAWA clinic. Her owner threw her over a bridge after thrashing her for eating a chicken. She dragged herself to the river bank and crawled back home, where she was beaten again with a broomstick, and then risked being killed for a ceremony.
BAWA was contacted and rescued her. “Amazingly,” says Janice Girardi, “she has no major physical injuries, but she does have a broken knuckle on her front paw and bruising behind her right eye. She is incredibly emotionally traumatised and sits in the corner of the clinic, her skinny body trembling. Her paw and bruise will heal in time, but it will take a lot of love and care to rebuild her trust in humans.”