Their Bite Is Worse Than Their Bark
By Novar Caine
It’s peculiar language. People are clinically called “humans” and a “mandate” to act turns out to be nothing of the sort, as least not according to the people of Bali, Balinese and foreign residents.
The under-fire Bali Animal Welfare Association’s (BAWA) online presence is where these anomalies are found. Visitors are told the organisation operates “a hotline service for humans” but doesn’t mention the number – or perhaps it’s an email, or a postal address; but we’re not told.
It says it has a mandate to carry out its tasks. Outside the slim minority of its overseas activist backers, it is deluded if it thinks so; but clearly it does.
These forensic uncoverings are symptomatic of a wider BAWA malaise: an apparent distain for human life – people are reduced to a species – in favour of the wandering battalions of stray dogs found all over Bali. You’d pass it off as nothing too serious, just another futile fancy of deluded expatriates in Bali, if it wasn’t so serious. Because BAWA is leading Bali’s fight against rabies, which has killed around 130 people in just over two years and shows no sigh of abating.
Certainly not all, but some foreigners come to Bali and remain here because of personal circumstances – heartbreak, say, failed romances, perhaps wanting to avoid relationships entirely – and while not wishing to delve into the private lives of BAWA’s leadership, if such is the underlying case of their drive, it has an effect on people much further afield.
Reading this newspaper’s coverage of the rabies crisis, in print and online, reader letters and their posted comments show hardly any support at all for BAWA’s vaccination-only programme to try and wipe out rabies. There is a fury to some writers’ comments that canine life is placed higher than people’s. And so, you might ask, how has it come about that an animal shelter run by foreigners in Ubud has been allowed to take the helm of a major human-health emergency?
The answers are: fervent lobbying and ample funds when the Bali authorities lack cash. It was therefore all too easy for the local government to hand over the task, although the Animal Husbandry Department also plays a role in the jab-job.
A criticism of Bali is that in some respects it is, for a segment of the sizeable expatriate population, a nirvana with a reality disconnect; it is a place to lose and reinvent yourself. It is a land where once-distant possibilities are given life, in part due to the pliable surroundings. Here, all your dreams really can come true, at least in the short-term. But if you venture too far outside this wraithlike Neverland, you’d better be prepared for the cold realism that awaits. This is now what is happening with BAWA, because they are playing with people’s lives.
There are lots of bleeding hearts in Ubud, and there are a lot of people bleeding as a result of the feral dogs. The Bali government has got to reinstate its control of its own affairs and cut BAWA out of the rabies fight. It is work that cannot be left to report-shrieking foreigners with inhuman agendas.
For the sake of its own people, quite apart from the lives of foreigners and the real threat to the key tourism industry that keeps people in jobs, the government must reassert itself and ditch the vaccination programme. It must embark on a time-sensitive critical mission of summarily removing every stray dog from Bali and preventing, with force-backed legalisation, people from allowing their dogs to wander outside their homes. If this does not happen, and soon, the rabies crisis is at risk of spiralling even further into a catastrophic chasm.
Some parts of the island have had enough. They are tired of hearing apparent success stories from BAWA and the Animal Husbandry Department while their people are bitten and die, and their streets remain littered with stray dogs and no sign of anything being done, least of all vaccinations. That’s why local authorities are taking it upon themselves to carry out their own culls.
Every regency should follow suit.
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