It’s A Dog’s Life in Bali
Janice Girardi loves dogs Bali as much as she loves Bali. And as there are approximately 500,000 dogs on the island, the two are easily treated as a package.
The fact that most of Bali’s canines live on the streets makes no difference to Girardi. Those who know her well acknowledge that helping abandoned creatures is one of her biggest passions, which she has persistently tried to achieve through the Bali Animal Welfare Association (Bawa).
Traveling with her from her office on Jalan Monkey Forest to the Bawa Clinic in Lodtunduh, both in Ubud, gave her enough time to explain why Bali’s dogs need all the support they can get.
“You didn’t see dog problems 30 years ago in Bali,” she said. “Slowly, slowly, there are now more cars on the roads, more accidents in which the people don’t know what to do or who to call, more people bringing in more dogs, and more dogs being born.
“I would say the biggest problem started about 15 years ago, when there was just an explosion of dogs.”
The result is visible in the number of dogs one sees roaming the streets of Ubud, or anywhere in Bali, hunting for or fighting over food. They can also be seen sleeping under cars or in front of shops. All are scruffy and skinny, and almost all are homeless.
“We’re trying to educate people that dogs that look ugly can actually be beautiful, amazing, smart, strong dogs,” Girardi said. “We’re also trying to educate children about companion animals. Most of them have never had pets before. It’s not in their culture to have pets.”
Girardi first came to Bali in 1973 and started a jewelry business on the island. Since then, the American has become used to picking up dogs that have been hit by cars and driving them to Denpasar for treatment.
In 2002, having formed a network of people with a similar passion, including members of the Australia-based Bali Street Dog Fund, Girardi founded Bawa with a veterinarian she knew, Dewa Made Dharma. The association was formally registered in 2007.
Bawa’s veterinary clinic in Lod Tunduh seems a paradise for the dogs that live there, with kennels allotted to animals with different needs and problems, and trained staff and volunteers who regularly clean the pens and walk the animals.
The clinic tries to help as many dogs as possible but has only one van and one ambulance. Its staff can spay or neuter more than 25 dogs, and give medical treatment to 30 to 50 dogs, every day. The vehicles also respond to calls from anywhere in Bali, and help other animals in distress, including cats, birds, monkeys and bats. The programs rely on Girardi’s jewelry business for funding, as well as on the Bali Street Dog Fund and personal donations.
“We perform rabies vaccinations whenever requested by the [local] government, usually twice a week,” said I Gede Subagia, one of Bawa’s 30 staff members. “We don’t have the vaccines, but the government does.”
Girardi said, “If we had vaccines we could do so many more, as proven when a small team of five people caught, vaccinated and collared 200 dogs in one day.”
Earlier this month, to an office full of staff, guests and volunteers there to discuss the intention of opening dog shelters across Bali, Girardi talked about the current outbreak of rabies.
“One more person died [of rabies] in Bali at the end of last year. His name was Thomas Aquino, from Flores. He was bitten in June — that’s a year and whatever months ago,” she explained. She also said a dog can walk 10 kilometers a day, so the rabid dog in question could have traversed half the island in one month, infecting humans and other dogs before it died.
Bawa says the best way to stop an outbreak is to immediately control and vaccinate the population of dogs in its territories. However, the organization is not allowed to buy or import rabies vaccines.
Meanwhile, in the district of Tabanan alone, where four human deaths have been linked to rabies, more than 5,000 dogs have been killed since the outbreak in September 2008.
While culling rabid dogs for the sake of saving human lives is vital, the organization is concerned that handguns and strychnine in dart guns and food baits are being used on unattractive or aggressive dogs that may have nothing more than scabies. A staff member at Bawa, who declined to be named, expressed concern over Tabanan’s recent policy that all dogs without papers indicating that they had been vaccinated for rabies would be subject to culling, and worried that other districts would follow the policy.
Girardi said that the possibility was high that dogs that had been sterilized and vaccinated, the very dogs that could help eliminate rabies, had been exterminated.
“I think the most important and really the only message I want to get across to the public and officials is this: Culling does not work. Only vaccinating 70 percent of the dogs on the island will eradicate rabies,” Girardi said.
The law of nature is that the population will remain constant, she said, so culling vaccinated dogs increases the likelihood of more rabid dogs.
“You will always have the amount of dogs a habitat supports. You need those vaccinated dogs to keep potential wild rabid dogs from roaming and getting into the public territories,” she said.
A healthy vaccinated dog would drive a rabid dog off, Girardi said, and as rabid animals died within 10 days, it would likely do so without transmitting the infection.
And while fighting for a change to current culling policies, Bawa’s volunteers said they would continue to provide the support the animals need.
Olga Bychkova, from Russia, has been volunteering Bawa for around three months. She heard about Bawa during her second visit to Bali.
“I loved the place at first sight,” said Bychkova. “When I returned to Moscow, a friend here sent me videos of the dogs to keep me informed, which also gave me the urge to come back.”
Toby Huffman, from California, has been volunteering since June. “What I mainly do is clean the kennels and then socialize with the dogs,” he said. “Some of them are aggressive or afraid of people, so you spend time with them to get them used to being around people.”
Nadia Wong, a veterenarian student from Melbourne University who is connected to Bawa through Vets Beyond Borders, pointed out two dogs with amputations.
“In most cases, even in Australia, when dogs come in needing an amputation, they usually don’t get it — they get put down,” Wong said. “So I was really surprised to see here two dogs with three legs. It’s quite amazing how they really try to save them.”