When we first got to Bali I quickly realized that the Bali Dogs were an issue I could not just turn a blind eye to. For five years I had not related to my veterinary background other than when our own dog needed some sort of care, and at first I tried to suppress it. I did however write a blogpost about the Bali Dogs pretty early on, and the information I found when researching about this special dog was very useful and triggered my curiosity.
The Bali Dogs is threatened to go extinct
What struck me as the most challenging part of Bali`s dog situation is rabies. In addition, I found it really sad to learn how this very special, indigenous breed which goes more than 12 000 years back, is about to go extinct, replaced by and blended with the young, manmade Western breeds.
Soon after I posted the post, I was invited to join a parent initiative. We were going to see if there was anything we could do to improve the situation of the dogs on around Green School campus, and after I briefly hesitated, I decided to join, letting the vet in me wake up again.
The group was initiated by Emma Owen, and together with long term Green School parent Joanne Guelke, Joyce Maudslien, Dr. Changa Kurukularatne and myself, we formed the committee temporarily named the Bye Bye Rabies group.
A complex problem….
The issue with the dogs on and around campus quickly proved to be more than just something that can be fixed quickly and locally. As we learned more and more about the role of the Bali Dogs being an important part of the Balinese culture, as well as how the Balinese relate to the dogs, we realized that it would be very unwise to implement something in isolation, within the school`s system.
The main reason for that, is the fact that more than 90% of all dogs on the island of Bali have an owner. If we decided to treat, or in other ways handle, the dogs in Green School`s immediate proximity or on campus, we would in fact “steal” someone’s dogs. As dogs are such an important part of the Balinese culture, and since Green School has a huge campus with no possibilities whatsoever to fence the whole area and keep the dogs out, it would be naïve to ever think that we would be able to turn the campus in to a dog free zone. -And last but not least; if we implemented a system governed, executed and paid by the Green School community, we would never be able to make it self sustainable.
…and a complex solution
To be able to implement something sustainable, we would be totally dependent on the local community around the school, the Sibang Kaja village. Knowing that the villages of Bali have strong local governance, the so called Banjar leaders, and that any action needs to be approved by them, we were looking to do something that they would not only approve but also engage in.
In order to make a population so to speak rabies free, more than 70% of the population needs to be vaccinated. As dogs are herd animals and territorial, they will stay in their territory as long as the population and hierarchy is stable. Only weak individuals, like dogs without an owner who struggle to get enough food, or sick or wounded animals, are chased out of the herd and travel through one territory after another. They will keep moving across the island, potentially spreading a disease. If an individual or a whole group of dogs is removed, which happens during mass-cullings, they will quickly be replaced by stray dogs with unknown health- and vaccination status.
In other words, the optimal scenario is one where all the dogs on the island are maintained healthy and safe, and the population kept on a reasonable size, as well as with a vaccination status of the population well above 70%.
To achieve this, the inhabitants on Bali need to learn more about dog health, dog welfare and rabies prophylaxis. At this stage the challenge seemed overwhelming for our Bye Bye Rabies group. We did not see any way we, as a small parent voluntary group, could make any of this happen. We began researching what had been done before, and what the local charity organizations have done. We found that there are several organizations who try to fight the rabies situation and help the Bali Dogs. Unfortunately they don’t seem to cooperate very well, and they struggle financially to keep their efforts running.
The need to keep the dogs where they are
Knowing that it is desirable to maintain a stable dog population, and if one dog is removed from its territory, another one from the outside will quickly move in, we are convinced that it is best to make sure the dogs are helped where they are, and not sheltered. Most of the organizations seemed to work on the population sizes, by offering free sterilization of the dogs, but they also seemed to shelter all animals that were seemingly unowned. We wanted to find someone who worked differently. Someone who systematically teach the communities to take full responsibility of the dogs in their villages, including taking care of their health and welfare, sterilize and vaccinate, and who returns a hospitalized dog to its village once it has recovered from whatever condition it has been treated for.
We found Program Dharma. This program includes representatives from the veterinary department on Udayana University in Denpasar, and pretty much ticks off all the boxes mentioned above:
- They cooperate with the banjar leaders, making sure the banjars will take responsibility and continue the work Program Dharma implements in their village, by paying a small salary to a responsible, local person who gets training from Program Dharma
- They map all the dogs in the relevant region, incl. pictures of the animal, ownership status, health and vaccination status etc. and they keep records of all these dogs for whenever they are treated, vaccinated, dewormed or whatever.
- They visit all the schools within the region they initiate the program in, and teach children about animal welfare- and health, and the importance of maintaining a stable, vaccinated population.
- They initiate vaccination and sterilization campaigns within the region every 6 month in order to keep the population from growing and to continuously cover all new individuals within the region.
Program Dharma has been partially funded by IFAW (International Foundation for Animal Welfare) over the past few years, and they have implemented their set up in three different regions on Bali so far. Their results are promising. They have been able to make sure that the regions have more than 80% of their dog population rabies vaccinated. They have improved the overall health status of the dogs in the relevant regions to more than 90% in acceptable condition, and they are successfully cooperating with the Bali government. Lately they have been asked to implement their program in several new regions, and their main struggle is as always finances. Although they train locals to take responsibility in the long run, and make the banjar leaders understand why they should keep the activities running non stop forever, it is hard to hand over everything to the banjars, and so far none of the local Dharma teams have become 100% self sustainable. This, in addition to the fact that IFAW will gradually withdraw their funds now that the system is up and running, makes the Dharma-team on a constant search for funds.
Trying to implement something in the Green School neighborhood
The Bye Bye Rabies group developed a good relationship to the Program Dharma staff, and Joyce and myself were even able to attend their yearly meeting where representatives from all the banjars, as well as from IFAW, were informed about the current status. It was interesting to see how the banjar`s autonomy made each region`s approach to the program slightly different, and that they all struggled with different challenges. However, we were convinced enough to ask Program Dharma if they could look into the possibility to start this program in Sibang Kaja. By then we had reached the end of February, and the mid semester break was getting closer and closer. The Dharma staff was able to schedule a meeting with the banjar leaders just as we took off for the mid semester break. Without any representatives from Green School present, they nonetheless made the banjar leaders of the nine villages commit to pay the salary of the nine required local staff, in order to keep the program running, if we were able to fund the implementation of the program.
Next step was to have the Dharma staff budget what such an implementation would cost. We had seen some figures at the yearly meeting, and thought we had an idea of where we were heading. It turned out the figures we had seen were without one-off costs like buying required equipment such as phones and devices for the dog recording for instance, as well as the medical costs. The Sibang Kaja region has an estimated 9000 dogs within the nine villages of the region, and in order to train staff, map the dogs and get the first vaccinations and sterilizations done, we would need 30 000 USD. After that, the money required is very much dependent on how much the local dog owners in the villages are convinced and able to pay themselves, although the rabies vaccines are funded by the government.
The current situation
The progress of our work when I left Bali had reached just about this stage:
- A substantial amount of money needs to be raised if Program Dharma shall ever happen in Sibang Kaja; 30 000 USD to be exact
- The program is not necessarily fully self-sustainable, but it is the best we have been able to find.
- The banjars are willing to commit if we get them started, and the Program Dharma team is ready to start the implementation phase in 2020 if we are able to raise the money.
Just as we were about to give up, due to the fact that 30 000 USD seems impossible to raise and, because most of us were leaving the island or having to move on to other tasks, some of the Green School staff raised their voice, asking for Green School to take more responsibility of the animals on campus. Their initiative is more about something in isolation for Green School`s own animals, but the dogs were included in their voiced concern. We met with one of these people, and had her join a meeting with the Dharma staff in June 2019. Our sincere hope is that this new group of volunteers are able to see the value of Program Dharma, and that fresh blood from the parent group who arrived on campus in August 2019 will revive the spirit and be able to, in cooperation with the GS staff, raise enough money for Program Dharma to be implemented in Sibang Kaja.
My personal opinion
It is my personal opinion that it would be unwise of Green School to initiate something on their own, something that does not involve the local communities, and does not place the responsibility where it ought to be. Not only would that further create a distance between the GS community and the nearby villages, but in worst case scenario it could create direct conflicts. Although some of the dogs on campus appear to live there permanently, we know from studies that more than 90% of them have an owner they head back home to by the end of the day. If we can make these owners understand the importance of keeping their dogs healthy, vaccinated and sterilized, in order to keep themselves safe from rabies, the Green School community will benefit directly from it. If the same villagers also understand that if the dogs in their community appear healthy and happy, the tourists will also find their village more attractive, we would reduce a lot of the tension created each time a Green School parent sees a sick or injured dog in proximity to school.
As an important side effect of the work done by Program Dharma, comes the knowledge of the very special Bali Dog. If we can make the Balinese people appreciate how special their own breed is, and how resilient and smart it is, and have them choose Bali Dogs rather than Western breeds, we would gradually see a healthier, happier dog population on the island, simply due to the brilliance of this breed!
I will end this blog post with a sincere hope that some of you newbies of the Green School Parent Community with a warm heart for dogs, will contact myself or Joyce Maudslien on either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org and volunteer to pick up the stick and run a hell of a fundraiser during the autumn of 2019! I would love you forever!