Janice Girardi: The Animal’s Friend

Janice Girardi was born in Japan and grew up on the east coast USA until she was 12, then moved to California until she was 17 when she enrolled in the University of Oregon. Janice first came to Bali in 1973, starting a jewelry company. She began rescuing animals in trouble, eventually establishing the Bali Animal Welfare Association. Through their programs, ambulance rescue, free clinic, education, sterilization and adoption, BAWA is committed to the health and welfare of Bali’s animals. Today, Janice Girardi serves as BAWA’s founding director.

What’s your educational background?

Street smarts really. I did go to university but my true education was making my way through Asia and Africa trading handicrafts, silver, gems and silk.

Where did you get your love for animals?

Karma, maybe. When I was a little girl I vividly remember dogs always following me home. All I wanted was to grow up and become a vet, perhaps because I was never allowed to keep them. On weekends I would go to shelters to look at dogs.

Whose idea was it to start BAWA?

27 years ago I found my first “Bali dog,” a beautiful white Kintamani. Since then I realized how people in Bali didn’t really understand the notion of having a pet. Each trip I made to Bali every six months or so, I would see dogs on the streets and feed them. Imagine 20 pups at a time in the office kitchen with 70 employees. Over the years this turned in to a more “serious” practice of sending staff around to temples and schools to pick up abandoned puppies. About five years ago I opened Ubud’s first “rehome” center and free clinic for street animals. This in turn formally became BAWA.

Where does the association get funding?

The most challenging part of running BAWA is lack of funds. The Bali Street Dog Fund in Australia generously donates enough money each year for us to operate the sterilization program. For the rest we rely 100% on donations. You can imagine how difficult it is coming up with enough funds every month to meet the ongoing costs. Some days I feel like a beggar handing out brochures and talking tirelessly to people about why their help is desperately needed.

Are Balinese attitudes towards animals different from typical attitudes in the West?

The Balinese do seem to like animals, for the most part, but they are mostly too poor to care for them properly. They still practice animal sacrifices which they believe is good karma for the animal. Balinese did not grow up with mentors to model behavior in responsible pet ownership. I remember years ago, with my first Bali dog, when I said “sit” he would “sit,” “stay’ and he would “stay,” “down” and he would lie down. The family I lived with was amazed that my dog spoke English! Now during my daily village stops I’m often surrounded by children and elders asking how to take better care of their pets or treat their dog’s skin problems, so attitudes are slowly changing.

What are the most common dangers animals in Bali face?

At the moment Bali dogs are in danger of being killed by the government who is overreacting to the rabies situation. They have culled thousands of dogs in the last few months unnecessarily. Animals as well are often abused or mistreated, chained up in the hot sun without water or food; monkeys left in small cages to beg; horses underfed and overworked. Urban development leading to deforestation and hunting pressure negatively impact on bird species. Every bird shot out of the sky is one less specimen for people to enjoy.

Do you ever rescue abused animals?

All the time. I have one “special case” who now lives in the BAWA clinic. When I first found him I thought it was a dead dog lying on the side of the road. I stopped to call the ambulance for help to bury him…but then realized he was still alive! He was just in a lot of pain from a badly fractured leg and was bleeding through his skin. The dog was quite fierce so I couldn’t get too close to him. I put food down, as close as I could, and watched him crawl his way towards it. I went twice a day for about 4-5 months until he was getting fat and healthy and would eat out of my hand. Elaine Ong from Vets Beyond Borders came to town and went out to see him and said we must amputate his badly twisted leg or euthanize him. I was totally attached to him at this point, so she performed the surgery and he recovered beautifully and is now the most gentle, beautiful, loving dog you can imagine. I named him Kaki Tiga or “three legs.” I have hundreds of other rescue stories, many with very happy endings.

Do you only concern yourself with dogs?

I live on a river valley so strange creatures are always finding their way into my house such as civet cats and porcupines that I’m always keeping the village dogs away from! I’ve rescued a Pangolin, an Indonesian armadillo, who had been wounded by a dog and then dragged up from the river. I treated and released it, even though it was a bit of a fight to keep the locals off who wanted to keep it. The staff doesn’t understand why I don’t let them kill snakes, centipedes or scorpions. Instead, we catch them and take them back down the valley.

How can people help?

Thank you. We need all the help we can get. Please contact www.BAWAbali.com. Prayers and Puja’s are also welcome!

What if a pet owner is in need of one of your many valuable services?

Come to the BAWA clinic on Jl. Raya Lodtunduh, Banjar Kelingkung, in Desa Lodtunduh. It’s open 24 hours a day. Call the clinic 0361 981490, SMS 0811389004 or email: info@BAWAbali.com

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Copyright © 2009 Al Hickey

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