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Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Fight to Save the Bali Heritage Dog

An ancient breed on an enchanted isle

Bali is a small tropical island that is only one of the fourteen thousand islands that make up the archipelago country of Indonesia. However, its natural beauty and unique culture has had a large impact on people who travel there often turning globe trotters into permanent residents. One such person the island had an impact on is Janice Girardi.

BAWA Founder Janice Girardi
Photo from BAWA
After university Girardi traveled extensively in the 1970s and even traveled to Bali in 1973 before moving on to India and Africa. However, she returned to Bali in the 1980s never forgetting the beauty and friendliness of the island. Shortly after returning she rescued her first “Bali Dog” and has been doing so ever since.

“When I first arrived in Bali, the indigenous dogs were healthy,” says Girardi, “as they had access to fresh water and even a healthy food supply provided by families, or even temple offerings or food they found in night markets. When Bali started booming with tourists and population growth, Bali dogs were faced with new challenges, as roads, cars and buildings rapidly spread across the island.”

She started rescuing dogs on her own, feeding those who were hungry, taking dogs hit by cars to city veterinarians, and rehoming strays when she could. However, she says it wasn’t until the new century when development kicked into high gear and threatened the dogs’ very existence.

“The situation for the dogs – and many other animals – deteriorated over more recent years with the import of non-native breeds,” she says adding that importing was illegal until 2004. “It undermined the value of Bali’s indigenous dogs, prompting the establishment of backyard puppy mills and a huge increase in pet abandonment, not to mention the growing dog meat trade and even pit bull fighting. As Bali became an increasingly popular tourist destination, the roaming dogs were perceived to be a nuisance, prompting cruel and abusive treatment.”

In 2007, Girardi founded the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) to tackle these issues. It’s a unique organization in that it doesn’t have a physical building, but instead a group of dedicated volunteers and a roaming animal ambulance.

BAWA has a number of programs and welfare campaigns. BAWA runs the island’s only free animal ambulance service. BAWA also provides rehabilitation, adoption and education. Other programs include island-wide street feeding, free vaccines and spay and neuter services. To understand more about Bali’s unique animal history, we asked Girardi about the Bali Dog.

Photo by BAWA
The Bali Dog, or Bali Heritage Dog, is considered a unique breed. The dogs are indigenous to the island and genetically different from other dogs giving the breed scientific value. According to a study by Dr. Niels Pederson of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California Davis, Bali Dogs are one of the oldest dog breeds in the world with a rich gene pool. The dogs’ DNA includes a mix of Australian Dingo, the Chow Chow from China and the Akita, a Spitz breed from northern Japan. (find Dr. Pederson’s work here)

Because of the study, it is believed that the Bali dog is a direct link to the Dingo marking a link between wild and domesticated, which would make this breed very old indeed. Girardi points out that this genetic diversity creates a very hearty breed of dog. Along with scientific value, the people of Bali have a long and rich cultural history with the dogs. Bali dogs have served the island for centuries protecting homes and crops and having a dog is believed to bring good luck. For Girardi, her devotion to the Bali dog is personal.

“Bali dogs are smart, loyal and great fun! I believe in Bali’s dogs and in the communities that share their homes with them.” 

Dog rescued by BAWA Ambulance
Photo by BAWA
She continues, "Historically, the Bali Dog lived in harmony with local communities, guarding the Island of the Gods from evil spirits, accompanying children to school and families to market. However, over recent years, the numbers of true Bali Dogs has plummeted after the introduction of rabies in 2008 when it was believe that a single rabid dog was imported. Bali’s dogs had never before been exposed. Rabies spread rapidly.”

At that time, the government began mass killings by strychnine poison. Girardi says that BAWA initiated a pilot program of catching, vaccinating, and releasing dogs in hopes of protecting the dogs and people and build herd immunity. She says BAWA vaccinated 48,000 dogs in just one region of Bali and reduced the number of rabid dogs in that area by 86%. That program was then turned over to the Provincial Government in mid-2011. For some reason, mass killing resumed in 2013 and have continued to the present. BAWA estimates the number of pure-bred Bali Dogs has gone from 600,000 to around 130,000.

“Fear of rabies has changed the dynamics of the local communities’ historical relationship with the indigenous dogs," she says. "On an island that had never before been faced with the deadly disease, panic and fear followed as the number of human and dog fatalities took their toll. The image of Bali’s dogs as loyal protectors was replaced with one of ferocity and danger.”

“BAWA is working seven days a week to promote and facilitate mass vaccination to help save animal and human lives. We also run a ‘hot line’ telephone service for people exposed to a rabid dog or who have seen a suspicious dog on the streets so we can provide life-saving advice and services.”

Bali Animal Welfare Association is different because instead of a traditional animal shelter, the organization uses a network of foster home care providers. The organization rescues animals that need help, rehabilitates them and rehomes the dogs. The organization also takes in cats, kittens and even bats, birds and other animals, but the vast majority of animals the organizations helps are Bali Dogs. The organization has some 150 dogs in foster at over 12 locations. BAWA also provides vaccinations, sterilization and socialization training so animals can be adopted into permanent homes.

BAWA provides education in schools.
Photo by BAWA
“Foster carers in Bali are an essential component of our work, which we find better than animals shelters, which very quickly become overcrowded and havens for disease,” she says.

BAWA's free 24/7 hotline and ambulance services is the most used program. Girardi says the service receives about 40 calls a day and treats over 1000 animals. The ambulance helps all animals, including snakes and monkeys. The service is provided from one van and a three-wheeled motorbike with trained staff. Animals can be treated roadside or taken to veterinary clinics if needed. BAWA not only pays for the ambulance, the organization also pays for additional veterinary services if necessary. That makes it one of the organization's most expensive programs. However, the BAWA ambulance and other services are funded entirely by donations.

“Monthly pledges help so much to cover our operational expenses for the ambulance, clinic bills and other ongoing expenses,” she says. Along with funds, volunteer fosters are another urgent need. BAWA also provides school and community education and promotes responsible tourism from the people that visit Bali every year. Girardi says of all these programs, the most pressing need is for more rabies vaccinations.

“Without action, we could lose the Bali Heritage Dog within a matter of years,” she says, “and that would be a devastating loss to Bali and the world.”

For those on Bali, if you find an animal that needs assistance, please call +62 811-389-004 (081 138 9004, available 24/7) or +62 812-384-0133 (081 2384 0133). Those interested in becoming a monthly donor can visit the website. Donations are tax deductible in the US and Australia.

Photo by BAWA