Bali’s Best Friend

By Beth Peglar
For The Bali Times

Spotting a wandering stray, pawing at a delicate offering or fearlessly dodging the busy traffic is in no way an unfamiliar sight throughout the streets of Bali. Ask any local on the island and they’ll tell you there are too many dogs and too little time to care for them.

Commonly known as the Bali Street Dogs (BSD), these animals, although a feral and indigenous inhabitant, are not all that different from the typical domestic pet.

The BSD comes in a variety of colors and coat patterns, and is usually small to mid-sized. And like any dog, as puppies they will cry for affection as you walk by, and wag their tails when they’re happy.

To put things into perspective, don’t forget where dogs originated. There is much support suggesting a close relationship between dogs and wolves. In particular, the North American Gray Wolf, which lived in areas between Mexico and the Arctic Circle, as well as the Golden Jackal, are believed to be dogs’ ancestors. It is also thought that interbreeding between dogs and wolves throughout time and across the globe helped lead to the various breeds of dogs that we have today.

Yet the BSD, although genetically diverse, is becoming quite a distinguished breed. They are usually short-haired, with a straight to curved tail, and can be, at times, jealous and territorially aggressive. The belief that they are untamable when adult is not agreed with by everyone. Those who deal with these dogs on a daily basis sometimes feel you can, in fact, teach an old dog new tricks. True, taming a dog from puppy-age is easier, but despite some possible difficulties, a BSD can learn to abide.

The BSD still follows a trait typical to the feral dog: whelping in burrows dug in the ground. And interestingly, it has also been found that the BSD and the native Australian dingo are genetically close, suggesting that dingoes may have originated from East Asian dogs after human expansion across the islands.

There are an estimated 1 million dogs in Bali, many suffering from skin and internal parasites, disease, wounds and starvation. A lack of animal education, welfare and veterinary facilities only further exacerbate the issue. However, there is no reason to say that the current and disturbing situation won’t change.

Organizations such as the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA), founded in October 2007 in Ubud, are trying to – and have already – begun to make a difference. BAWA’s 24-hour clinic treats sick and injured dogs, often without charge to those who cannot afford payment. Dogs are also treated and fed roadside, as well as sterilized to help bring the population under control. The organization runs classes on animal welfare in local primary schools, and has started an online petition pushing for government approval of animal-rights laws.

Over the last few months, BAWA has been helping conduct rabies vaccinations, after a recent small, but nonetheless worrisome, outbreak in southern Bali.

At the BAWA clinic, rescued puppies (and kittens) are fed and cared for until healthy and old enough to be adopted out. And if you walk through the clinic, filled with tireless helpers and sometimes up to 40 cats and dogs, you’ll begin to see them less as feral animals and more as loveable friends. Eager to run around and chase a toy, or tip over their water bowls just to get your attention, the BSD should no longer be just a familiar sight.

The dogs of Bali are not a problem to be dismissed, but an opportunity to help.

Beth Peglar is an Australia-based journalist. Elizabeth Henzell is on vacation.

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