The Island of the Gods is Not For Dogs

In Bali, the following is more or less ubiquitous all throughout the island:

  • Spa and massage parlors
  • “Rent car and motor bike” signs
  • Sunburnt Aussie bros in Bintang tank tops
  • Street dogs roaming the streets, and sometimes sleeping in the middle of the street
  • Small convenience shopping marts, like Circle K, IndoMaret, Mini Mart, or Delta Dewata

I’d like to focus on point number four, namely because I just started fostering two extremely adorable Balinese local puppies last week. Meet Mellon and Hammy (sleeping on top):

But only a very tiny fraction of Bali dogs enjoy the fortunate fate of these puppies. Most of them are starving, semi-feral, and always scavenging the streets for food scraps from piles of trash. I’ve seen plenty of dogs with horrendous skin disease and parts of the rib cage that should never be seen almost impossible not to notice. Think emaciated zombie dogs—that’s the picture of many Bali’s local dogs. A quick Google search for “Bali dog” will result in supporting evidence.

Even more disconcerting is that dogs are often sacrificed in religious rituals because canines are believed to be a manifestation of evil spirits. And as explained by my local friend, fawn colored dogs with black muzzles are the preferred choice for offerings (good thing I decided not to bring my pug Milo from California to here!). No wonder there is an infinite amount of black and white dogs here…but rarely brown ones.

Moreover, the locals do not treat dogs as Westerners do. The unwanted local dogs they would allow to roam free and feed from time to time, but the breeds that they keep as house pets (mostly Shih Tzu, Pomeranian, Chihuahua, or hybrids of the three) are always chained in the house. The saddest thing is that while some locals are catching on to the mentality that dogs are life companions, the majority are still unaware of those significant “don’ts” that are almost second nature to Westerners: for example, like leaving your dog in a car during a sunny day, which is exactly how my neighbor’s Shih Tzu—Jeff—died the other week.

And the problems don’t end there. There was also a widespread rabies epidemic in 2008 among the local dogs here to such an alarming extent that even the Australian government banned all Bali dogs from entering the country (most adopted Bali dogs are in the care of Australian expats and tourists). The issue, however, was caused by virus-carrying foreign dogs brought in to Bali by expats. Despite this being almost four years ago, it’s still a major concern today. I know a friend and a co-worker who have been bitten by dogs recently and had to get a series of three to five rabies booster shots for protection, an extremely lucrative service for the clinics here!

Now, for the somewhat positive note: there are plenty of non-profit organizations here working to eradicate rabies, alleviate animal suffering and educate the local population in animal welfare. For example, there is the Bali (d0g) Adoption and Rehabilitation Center (B.A.R.C.) where I picked up my puppies, and I’ve seen with my own eyes the positive and healthy transformation of the dogs under their care. Unfortunately, their facilities are almost always over capacity and understaffed. These efforts are seemingly futile, as the amount of dogs still suffering in the streets never appears to decline.

I don’t really know where I was planning on going with this entry. Maybe I just felt the need to write about it out of frustration of seeing so many dogs in need of care and attention everyday, but ultimately feeling helpless, despite that I am already making a small contribution by fostering (and most likely adopting) Mellon and Hammy.

Ah, I’ve got it! This entry can serve as one of the many important cautionary tales for all those who plan to visit Bali: get vaccinated for rabies before arriving!


  1. kate says:

    Before I met him, my husband got attacked by a bunch of ferrel dogs in Tibet. Though it is pretty funny when you first think about it (and I’m sure it was scary at the time), it’s also sad to think that the relationship between the locals and the dogs is so strife with rock throwing and teeth gnashing. I’m glad to hear that there’s a rescue program in Bali. Are locals kind to the strays? Or fearful/aggressive with them?

  2. cindy says:

    The locals seem to be indifferent to them (perhaps because of the overwhelming number of stray dogs here), although I have seen some kids bother dogs and throw rocks at them too, from time to time. But for the most part, they let the dogs take food scraps from their homes and let them be, so it can definitely be worse.

  3. Justine says:

    This reminds me again of that woman who got bitten by a stray dog in Bali. She didn’t get vaccinated for rabies before and she got so scared she started to cry. All this while I was drinking beer on the table next to her. Vaccination is important. On the other hand, your new family members are really cute! Boy or Girl?

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