Observations on Bali’s Curious Creature

By Richard Boughton

Dogs in Bali are different from other dogs. You may say that the statement is obtuse. You may even say that the difference is merely due to the fact that Bali dogs are dirty, smelly, flea-bitten, scrawny, generally unkempt and occasionally rabid. Of course, that is all true, and I do concede the point. Nevertheless, it is not the dirty, smelly, rabidness of these dogs that is my intended focus here.

By the same token, I will not address the habits of careful grooming, clean hygiene and sophisticated lifestyle that are the purview of the American of the animal. It may be that American dogs in the near course of evolution will be smoking pipes and reading the morning newspaper instead of bringing it in from the doorstep. But I will leave such matters to another writer.

What interests me about these Bali dogs, and what truly bears comparison with the American, is the matter of community.

Let us say something first, however, about the natural history of the Bali dog.

Approximately 800,000 primary feral dogs live on the island of Bali. As far as can be discerned by those who ought to know, the Bali dog travelled from Africa through Indonesia and thence to Australia some 50,000 to 60,000 years ago, and is related most closely to the chou and the dingo. In addition it is known that this peculiar community of dogs became isolated some 10,000 years ago, when sea levels drastically rose and continents drifted apart. So it happened that the Bali dogs found themselves in Bali to stay, like it or not.

Now whether these dogs, isolated as such and thus stuck with each other, have grown throughout their generations an unusually close sense of community, or whether there was from the beginning some poverty of affection for them in the coexisting community of humankind, I know not. What can be readily seen in any case, at this late stage of evolutionary progress, is a persisting segregation of the breeds – human and canine, that is.

In America, for better or worse, the dog is a family member, a coddled child – walked by leash, fed by hand, caged or tied according to law – each member kept apart from “those other dogs,” except of course for the purpose of breeding, wherein the male and female of the species are allowed to interact for … well, for as long as it takes.

In Bali, the dog is a dog, has always been a dog, and will ever remain a dog. They are not pampered and spoiled by an owner, and in fact they often have no owner in particular, but belong more often to an area, members of a satellite community consisting of other tertiary communities such as cats, rats, birds, lizards, cockroaches and so on.

What these dogs have, then, is each other. They are a race, a people, a social group, a religion, living separately and yet in harmony with all other creatures. In short, you have your Hindu, your Muslim, your Buddhist, your Christian, your Republican, your Democrat, your apple, your orange and your Bali dog.

Because of this continued autonomy of community, what is most keenly noted is a vitality in interaction, which the civilised dog no longer possesses. In short, the dogs recognise their fellows and care for one another. They seldom go out alone, but prefer to take a friend along (or three, or four). They are aware of one another, and place a certain value on one another, whereas the American dog will see his erstwhile fellows as aliens and foes. Just watch the Bali dog at play! Like children, they know their kind and cavort the day long at their timeless amusements.

Is the American dog, in his family mansion, not poor by comparison? What game has he to play, at this far end of domestication, other than to stand behind his fence and bark?

Richard can be contacted via richybeester@gmail.com.

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Practical Paradise

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