Village Sanctuaries for Bali Dogs By Ines Wynn

Village Sanctuaries for Bali Dogs By Ines Wynn

The Bali dog population has been under a lot of stress since the 2008 rabies outbreak. The lucky ones were vaccinated and left alive; many more were culled, a euphemism used by the government to hide the fact that most of these dogs were mercilessly poisoned with strychnine, hunted down and shot or eliminated in other gruesome ways. Fast forward to 2015 and the island is still not rabies-free. The government’s anti-rabies campaign seems to have a few lethal holes of its own. More culling sprees are planned. Caution about scientific evidence that culling is not an effective means of combating rabies has been compromised. In the earlier stages of the rabies outbreak, the Ubud based Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) played an active role in jumpstarting a campaign of humane anti-rabies vaccination, rather than culling Bali’s population of roaming and owner-less dogs. In partnership with the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) BAWA was successful in getting the government on board and the first phases of the vaccination program proceeded smoothly. In 2011 the government integrally took over the anti-rabies campaign but due to various challenges, the anticipated “Bali Rabies-Free” goal did not materialize and rabies cases are still being reported. Understandably, the government is concerned and rabidly intent on getting the problem under control. Trying to vaccinate all the free roaming dogs in Bali is a logistical nightmare and a very complex and lengthy process. Therefore they reverted to the shoot-from-the-hip solution: cull the bunch!

Due to the imminent threat of indiscriminate culling and to protect stray and domesticated dogs alike, BAWA is working with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) on a program at banjar level named “Village Sanctuaries for Bali Animals”. It focuses on educating and encouraging active participation of villages to protect and care for the animals in their area. The program encourages communities to identify their own challenges with animal welfare and helps them in defining and implementing solutions. Village Sanctuaries started as an IFAW/BAWA pilot in a few Gianyar regency banjars and is expanding rapidly. BAWA’s vision is to eventually transform all of Bali’s traditional communities into natural sanctuaries for animals. The results have been very encouraging. The first test came in Singapadu, Gianyar, one of the first pilot villages, which effectively countered the government’s planned elimination of free roaming dogs earlier in 2014.

An Ecological Reminder. It is said that the survival of the human species is totally dependent upon the survival of animal species. Few people are consciously aware of that fact; others dismiss it as tree hugger and eco warrior sentiment. But scientific studies have demonstrated that the disappearance of a single animal species will impact humanity in such a way that its own survival is at stake.?

In On the Origin of Species Charles Darwin discussed the complex ecological web of interactions between animals and plants and pointed out that some important plants species would face extinction if the bumblebee in particular were to disappear. The bee is a vital ecological linchpin and reportedly 100,000 varieties of plants are dependent on its ministrations for continued existence. Many fruits, vegetables, flowers and other agricultural crops require bees for productive pollination. To summarize this deep interdependence of bees and human civilization: No more bees, no more pollination, no more plants, no more animals, no more man.

Other studies have emphasized the ecological interactions between humans, animals and plants- warning us that without a biodiversity of species on this earth, our very survival and quality of life are threatened. The disappearance or the elimination of just one species or subspecies can spell disaster for humankind.?

Closer to home BAWA has pointed out repeatedly that the government’s plan to eliminate all roaming and other loose dogs would create a vacuum in the ecological chain that is specific to Bali, with disastrous consequences. In areas where the dog population has been culled there have been massive explosions of rat populations which have caused rice crop failures and the introduction of rat-borne diseases into communities. BAWA advocates that animals be vaccinated rather than killed. Historical disease control data and ongoing global field experience with rabies management indicate that mass vaccination, not culling, is the best way to control the disease. Vaccination of 60-70% of the dog population in a given area will effectively reduce diseases such as rabies. If dogs are eliminated, herd immunity is lost, essentially never winning the battle to eradicate rabies from the island.

The Sanctuaries Program. In pre-rabies days the Bali dog population was estimated to be approximately 600,000. With the outbreak of rabies and the ensuing mass culling, the number dropped to about 150,000 dogs. If numbers continue to drop, the Bali dog will be at risk of extinction. In banjars where all the dogs have been culled people often bring puppies and other dogs in from outside at the risk of spreading rabies; therefore the vicious cycle continues. Aside from organized culling, up to 100,000 dogs’ lives are lost every year to the dog meat trade, acts of cruelty, disease, motor vehicle accidents and basic neglect. The situation is dire and the magnificent Bali heritage dog is under threat.

To counter this challenge, BAWA’s founder Janice Girardi partnered with IFAW to create an educational pilot program in Bali schools and villages called the Participate Learn Act (PLA). PLA is encouraging new thinking and a new approach to animal welfare. Using the PLA program as a foundation, BAWA and IFAW want to turn Bali communities into autonomous animal sanctuaries. This ambitious but highly promising program is still in its infancy, both presenting challenges and realizing successes. This grassroots program has already been implemented in some traditional communities in Gianyar. The program has a dedicated team of vets and educators working at banjar level and the goal of the program is foremost to change attitudes. They follow a 5-step program in selected villages and work cooperatively with the villagers to create a healthy environment for both villagers and the dogs that are part of their community. Over the last three years the PLA team has successfully created sanctuaries in 16 banjars.
A 5-step program. When a particular village has been identified as a suitable locale for the program, the team gets in action by making the first contact with the head of the village to talk about their particular dog situation. The key to the discussion is the question of whether they want this situation improved, and if so, if they would be willing to work with BAWA. The team finds that in most cases the village chiefs are open to the idea because they understand that the program can be of utmost benefit to their community at little or no cost. In a second step, a formal meeting is organized with all interested villagers including a mix of people with varying degrees of dog love or dislike. During the meeting, the villagers are encouraged to talk about their perceptions, attitudes, feelings and the problems they see with the roaming dogs in their area. The PLA team acts as facilitator and will ask leading questions to uncover the villagers’ attitudes towards the dogs. In the process they encounter a lot of misperceptions, misconceptions due to ignorance, lack of awareness and lack of empathy. They hear dogs described as dirty, disease-ridden, ferocious and unwanted. On the other hand dogs can also be appreciated as pets and the house compound’s valued “satpam”. The entire goal of this meeting is to hear the villagers define the problems. The team will then do its homework and prepare for a follow-up meeting in a 3rd step to review the identified problems with the villagers and ask them to prioritize. The villagers will decide themselves which are the most pressing issues. Invariably they will identity the problems created by sick or aggressive dogs, and the unending supply of puppy litters. After that, it is easy for BAWA to formulate effective solutions and offer intervention. In the 4th step, they will come to treat the sick dogs and vaccinate and sterilize the rest of the dog population. At the same time they will liaise with the community about the many benefits of keeping the dogs in their midst and build up the empathy and interest for the animals. The final result is that minds are more open and people will adjust their attitudes to be kinder to the dogs. When the villages understand that they can always call on BAWA to treat sick and abandoned dogs or to counter any perceived dog problem, they are more inclined to active participation and taking more responsibility for the care of the dogs in their midst. Some villagers will even start rescuing and caring for street dogs in need, sometimes even calling and paying private vets themselves. The Sanctuaries program will also involve the village children by arranging meetings to educate them by playing fun games, do role playing and get the children enthused about the dogs as playmates and protectors.

Good results. The Village Sanctuary program is a long process that requires a lot of patience and determination. It takes time to change entrenched attitudes and open minds. But the results are very encouraging. Mind-sets do begin to change and eventually the PLA team sees villagers becoming proud of resolving the problems, appreciating their healthy animals and becoming true dog enthusiasts.?? Understanding the importance of preserving the genetic integrity of Bali’s heritage dog, a group of young men in Tengkulak started SABU (Sekehe Asu Bali Utama), the first Bali Dog Lovers Club. The 45 members of the club have since adopted 20 rescued dogs from BAWA. There are now four active Bali Dog clubs in Gianyar regency to support the indigenous Bali dog, with the first ever Bali Kids’ Dog Club recently launched on 25 December in Banjar Abangan. Those are very heartening results, says Janice, and these have given us the determination to continue and expand our education program, to eventually reach into all Bali communities. Just imagine an island on which every village is a sanctuary for animals and where humane population control and the practice of animal welfare mean that no animal is without care and protection.?

Another fallout of the program is the good billing it is getting in other villages. Word does get around fast in Bali and some village leaders and the villagers themselves are bragging about the success of the program with the result that BAWA is getting more inquiries and requests from other villages who want to be included in the village sanctuary program.

Educating Children, Families and Communities in Animal Welfare. The Sanctuary Program is actually a natural extension of BAWA’s pre-existing Education & Advocacy Program. In 2013 BAWA has educated more than 28,000 students in Bali schools on the importance of animal welfare and teaching them to respect, learn compassion for animals and end cruelty. Animal welfare in Bali is not widely recognized, resulting in tens of thousands of cruelty cases every year. This program is helping to change attitudes step by step and aims to stop cruelty before it happens. This approach focuses on working with communities, schools, families and community leaders over a long period of time in order to bring about a change in attitude towards animals. Whilst much of the benefits of this program can be seen now, the real impact will be seen years into the future, when the next generation will stand up for animals instead of abusing them.

Janice has taken inspiration from primatologist Jane Goodall who has repeatedly stressed that education can and does raise awareness about conservation issues. It is clear that we humans need to better understand, share with, and live with the other species on earth if we want to save this planet from extinction.

With special thanks to Janice Girardi and the dedicated BAWA team.
Photos courtesy of BAWA

Copyright  2015 Bali Advertiser
You can read all past articles of
BA Feature Article at