We`ve been on the island for six weeks now. As a vet I think it is about time I write a little something about the Bali dogs.
Bali is full of dogs. The girls are very concerned about any animal. Although one should have expected them to be used to all the loose dogs by now, they are still very much vary of them. I get daily questions, asking if this or that dog seems like a happy dog. If it is sick. If it is wounded or too thin. Those are hard questions to answer.
A very special, indigenous breed
The Bali dogs have existed for more than 2000 years, living side by side with the humans. Until recently they were pure Bali dogs. A breed that before 2004 remained protected, with a very special and rich DNA. They are the ancestors of other modern breeds like Saluki, Chow Chow, Akita and Basenji. The Bali dog along with the Kintamani, which probably arose from the Bali dog, are two of very few indigenous dog breeds left in the world. In 2004 the authorities opened up for the import of foreign dogs. Since then the breed has become somewhat blended. Recent studies conclude that only about 20% of the island`s dog population are now pure Bali dogs.
The Balinese people consider dogs as a part of their community. They believe keeping a dog will help them protect their property as well as from bad spirits. Studies indicate that most of the dog owners keep a dog mainly for protection. Only a very small proportion for social purposes. Their perception of keeping a dog is very different from what we as western people consider a responsible ownership. Their Balinese owners will feed them, but not necessarily pet them or treat them if they get sick or hurt.
A small proportion of free roamers
As a matter of fact most dogs on Bali do have an owner. The dogs are very seldom aggressive as long as they are left alone and not threatened. Dogs are territorial and they`re herd animals, and usually form a group of 4-5 dogs. Hence, many foreigners might find them scary or aggressive, whilst all they actually do is to let the humans know that they`ve trespassed their territory.
Studies done by M.K Morter et al. conclude that less than 10% of Bali`s dog population is actually free roaming. They state that “there is unlikely to be a population of free-roaming dogs in Bali that is capable of maintaining adequate health without any direct human oversight, with fundamental implications for disease control and animal welfare.”
Time to change our perception
Maybe it is time for us to put aside our western way of considering whether a dog is well maintained or not. Maybe we should consider them more like wild animals. -Because in fact, we do believe that wild animals, which live a life untouched by humans, and are not treated for any disease or injury, are happy animals, don`t we? -And, I must admit I`d rather have a flock of 4-5 dogs around my house picking up food from my garbage, than a bunch of rats.
The scientific findings done by M.K. Morters et al. in 2014, correlate well with my impressions. Most of the dogs I see look fairly healthy and they are seldom too thin. I have only seen a few which are hurt or obviously sick. I do however regularly see itching dogs with what I presume are ecto parasites and concurrent skin infections. Of course I strongly believe that we should take action in cases where a dog is suffering. I don`t think we should turn on the blind eye.
I truly honor the work done by the Bali Animal Welfare Association and Barc4Balidogs! They have 24/7 emergency services for dogs in need, and do a substantial work to teach the local communities how to take care of their dogs in a more responsible way. Anyone who care for the dogs should save their hotline service number to call for an ambulance if they ever see a dog in need: 0811 389004.
Dogs on and around campus
After the first outbreak of rabies on the island in 2008, the matter of how to handle the dog population became more complex. Rabies is a terrible and lethal disease, and has caused the dog population on Bali to decrease with more than 50%. Unfortunately, also humans have been infected. Therefore I have decided to take on some action together with a few other parents on Green School, to look closer in to the complex situation of the Bali dogs. We will particularly be looking at the situation on and around Green School campus. I look forward to keep you all posted on how that goes!