By Novar Caine
If I were a dog I would live in Bali. There is no doubt about it. I would live it up without being chained up. I would wander as I pleased. I would be the master of my own domain, which is to say the entire island. I’d never go hungry because there’s rice and biscuits and sometimes sweets at every crossroads and in front of every home. And I’d have well over half a million peripatetic playmates to keep me company.
It would truly be a dog’s life. Well, it is.
For the human residents of the island – 3.9 million people Vs. 560,000 canines – it’s not so pleasant. A deafening wall of high-pitched, explosive barking, snarling and howling 24/7, rising to a maddening crescendo in the small hours of the night, is not conducive to easy living. The din is frequently so deafening you can’t hear the news on TV or what someone is saying to you on the phone.
Space Invaders, the 80s arcade game of dodging the bullet, is what it is like walking, cycling or motorbike-riding the streets. Every few yards there’s another gnashing dog to avoid. There is no let-up.
Foreign tourists are often seen spooked as a mangy mutt leaps out of side-street and tries to take a bite. Many have. More than 100 Balinese have died in the past two years from rabid dog-bites. Holidaymakers have sought treatment at home after such encounters.
It’s not really the picture of Bali, is it? But it is.
A great number of Balinese earn their living in the tourist trade; were it not as robust, they would be left to work the fast-disappearing farmland. It’s these people who own the street dogs. One estimate has 90 percent of all stray dogs owned. But the owners allow them to wander at will, defying even a gubernatorial order requiring all dogs to be leashed or kept within the confines of the home. As with almost everything in Bali, however, there is no interest in enforcement.
The owners, mostly Hindu, believe their dogs are a reincarnation of people who didn’t behave when they were on Earth; now their redeeming task is to guard their owner. Hindus also have faith in dogs taking their souls to heaven. Quite how this is achieved when dogs have drastically shorter lives than people is not clear. (Rabid dogs have indeed taken people to an unearthly place.)
The dog-protection theory is a fine one. But it is unravelled when those same dogs are killing people.
Islam does not have much to say for dogs. The great religion doesn’t like them at all. They are deemed “dirty,” along with pigs. But much of the rest of the world has throughout the ages been besotted by the beasts. This, after all, is what has led to the genetic conditioning of dogs viewing their owners as their masters. The creatures are famously “man’s best friend,” because man has domesticated these once-wild wolves and turned them into Canis lupus familiaris.
And wonderful creatures – unquestioningly devoted – they are: Until, like many things, they start to get out of hand, as in Bali, where the feral population is out of control with deadly effect.
So how do we deal with this emergency in Bali? The simple answer would be to remove the wild dogs from the equation. That is what the government had been doing – but with little effect because culling was intermittent and haphazard when it should have been a full-force measure until the streets were cleared.
The government, out of funds as usual, has now handed the job over to a gaggle of foreigners who are of the bleeding-heart variety and abhor culling. They say vaccinating dogs is the sole solution to eradicating rabies, and that’s what they have – apparently – started doing, though there has been no visible sign of their jab-teams in many villages around the island.
Be cruel to be kind: The blow-ins behind this latest initiative are women of a certain age women who are either divorced or have no families and decant their lives into caring for creatures. It’s a kind of pet therapy. It gives you something to do, a project to help fill up an empty life.
Such charitable acts are to be lauded. But not when they are extended into overseeing the biggest health crisis Bali has experienced in years. It’s akin to a certain cartoon character running a nuclear-power plant. These women, done with people, solely have time for cats and dogs, and when people are dying in droves, there’s little sense to be had.
It is the ultimate absurdity of this island.
And so Bali continues to be a paradise for dogs – and will be long after the women’s time-wasting project fails and they lash out at the authorities, seeking to blame them for their crash – but increasingly less so for people.
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