Text: Ann Bouwma
Photography: Roy Tee
A dog’s life is never dull
Dogs come in many kinds and lead very different lives. Some are pampered, others get beaten. Some roam about freely, others are kept short on the leash. Balidogs are one of a kind. Smart, friendly and independent. But having a nice character does not necessarily mean you have an easy life.
Trend watchers believe sunglasses for dogs are going out of style. Fashion designers think up other doggy gadgets to show off with. How about a jewelled Cartier-collar? Rich bosses willingly oblige to follow the latest craze. For a mere 300 dollars you can buy a Gucci rucksack for your dog to carry his own bones.
Not that you see these dressed up dogs walking around in the neighbourhood. Far too tricky. Some vicious mind might steal the treasure. Or, worse even, steal the entire dog and sell it elsewhere in Europe for a good price, as they do with copper and cars. Imagine the agony if such a thing would happen to you!
No, the dogs you see in the streets are the common ones. All sorts and sizes, dragging along their bosses on a leather lead in the sparse moments they are allowed to do their thing. Not just anywhere, of course, just in the appointed places where a sign is saying: dog-shit-area. Oh well. It makes one wonder about the life of a dog.
How far away this world is from some others. On Bali for instance a dog does not have to wait long hours before his boss is prepared to take him out for a stroll. Here many dogs roam around freely, caring about nothing but their own business. Their main task is to find food and avoid fights. These two things are intertwined, as dogs tend to find the same food at the same time. But the chances are equal, since here most dogs have the same size and hairdo. It is not a combat between dwarfs and giants.
Often the meals are lean, though. They don’t get served big chunks out of cans from the supermarket, but are thrown to leftovers and everything else eatable. At least there will be rice on their trail when the Balinese offer to the Gods. Living this way keeps the dogs alert and slender. No chance here that the pet-population is going to struggle with overweight, as is the majority of their next of kin in the western world.
The reverse side of this free dog-life is of course that once they grow old or sick, there is little chance of surviving. And for females it is even harder. Regularly they find themselves with young and it is a genuine ordeal to raise a healthy offspring on a diet of rice and bugs.
Although it is a difficult task to streamline the lifecycle of the half million dogs that Bali counts, some projects have been developed over the years. Balistreetdogs works in Den Pasar with ambulant teams to assist wounded dogs on the spot. Another initiative is called B.A.R.C. (Bali Adoption and Rehabilitation Centre), set up by Linda Buller, an Australian painter. Ten years ago she started with only a basket and a motorbike, picking up sick dogs all over Bali in order to give them treatment. Now she runs an animal shelter in Ubud, where sixty to eighty dogs can be taken in.
Together with a local veterinary surgeon she set up a sterilisation program, aiming to treat thousand dogs a month eventually. “Only the male dogs, because female ones need more aftercare. They get stitches and have to be monitored for a while. At this point we have no opportunity to do so. Running this place costs 10.000 dollars a year and our first concern is treatment and medicine.”
A big tree provides shadow in a yard where several dogs laze about, there are kennels for recovery and a separate room for puppies. These are only in here to be treated, after that they are up for adoption. “Many people try to dump their pets here, but that is not the idea. I give advice how they can take care of the dogs at home. We only take sick and wounded dogs in, provided they still have a chance to pull through.”
Western tourists often wonder why the Balinese do not take better care of their dogs. Especially when they see the forlorn ones, only skin and bones, suffering from mange or hopping along on three legs. And always that melancholy look in their eyes. Why not do something?
Well, there is a little understanding needed. Balinese people work hard to make a living, trying their best to feed grandparents, children and other family members. A pig or a buffalo is quite a possession, so there some care has to be invested. But the dog pays benefit to no-one. He simply exists, being loyal to the hand that treats him well. When kept for guarding a dog knows its place. However, with the many little pups growing up to be roaming about too, often people do not really know which dog belongs to whom. So if one gets wounded or sick, who is responsible? Life is tough enough without having to cope with the ill-fate of dogs. The Balinese do care about their dogs, but the right treatment is often beyond reach.
As soon as Linda enters the yard of B.A.R.C. some fifteen dogs jump up to her. Barking, wiggling their tails, squealing for her attention. She fell in love with the dogs the first time she set foot on the island. “Balidogs are a special kind”, she says. “I think they partly descend from dingoes and Healers, so called cattle dogs. To begin with they are very astute and streetwise. Well, they have to be in order to survive. And they show a great independence.”
She can tell every dog in the compound apart, knowing all their peculiarities. She points at Bruno, her first dog, which came in with a broken back. “Now he’s in charge here.” Then there’s the dog with nosecancer, the dog that came in totally bald with mange and now has put on fur again, the dog with a twisted foreleg that will ever stay the same, the dog with no teeth and the dog with quite the opposite. “Look at his big teeth. We should have called him Walrus!”
Dogs are very clever. All around the world they are trained to guide blind people, find drugs, guard prisons. Their sense of smell is a million times more refined than that of a human being, their hearing is at least five times as sharp. No wonder they remember and recognise far better than we belief is possible. Dogs don’t boast about their talents, though. So in everyday life they think it normal to be a faithful companion for human beings.
Not every breed shows the same behaviour of course, but it speaks in favour of the Balinese dogs that they are good natured. They may not have a flawless education, a Gucci garment or a proper home, their greeting is never hostile or aggressive. And when you get to know them better, they love to play. How can you not be their friend?