In the Siapa column in the 20 January to 3 February 2016 issue of Bali Advertiser, Bill Dalton chats to BAWA founder Janice Girardi about BAWA’s work and challenges and the threats to Bali’s animals.
Janice first arrived in Bali in 1973. She made the island her home in the 1980s when she started designing and producing Sterling Silver jewelry using semi-precious stones. For decades Janice has rescued animals in distress and has been a driving force behind animal welfare in Bali and beyond. Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) was officially founded by Janice in 2007 with the mission of improving the lives of Bali’s animals through rescue, rehabilitation, education and advocacy.
It’s been almost 8 years since our last Siapa interview. What changes have taken place at BAWA since then?
Since the first case of rabies was reported in late 2008, BAWA’s work has changed greatly. Bali’s dogs have been plagued by mass and indiscriminate killings in futile attempts to control and eliminate the disease. In response, BAWA set up the island’s first pilot program to prove mass vaccination of dogs was not only possible, but also the only viable way of ever eliminating the disease. And it worked! We were able to vaccinate island-wide and managed to decrease canine rabies by 86%. BAWA turned the program back over to the provincial government in 2011 but sadly they went back to culling dogs. Herd immunity was lost and once again human and dog rabies cases are on the increase.
Have peoples’ attitudes also changed?
People sadly have become more frightened of dogs instead of understanding that a vaccinated dog is a safe dog. So our work has become much more difficult. Fear of rabies has changed the dynamics of the local communities’ historical relationship with Bali’s indigenous dogs. On an island that had never before been faced with the deadly disease, panic 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.
What has happened to the famous Bali Dog?
Misguided beliefs about the disease and how to control it’s spread, coupled with a belief that ‘breed’ dogs cannot catch or spread the disease, have resulted in mass elimination programs to rid the island of the native Bali dog. Bali’s pure heritage dog population is only 20% of what it was 10 years ago. Imported breed dogs are increasing in numbers. Often we go to villages and see more than 50% imported breed dogs often on tight short chains or living in cages too small for them to even stretch.
Does BAWA also reach out to young people?
Education is a vital part of our daily work. Our teams are in schools and communities nearly every day, teaching animal welfare. Children take the lessons home to their families and villages. Gradually, mindsets begin to change for the better. Communities with which we have worked longer term are loving and protective of their animals.
Are Balinese attitudes towards animals different from attitudes in the West?
Many Balinese people love animals but often are too poor to care for them properly or have not been educated in responsible pet ownership. Bali Dogs traditionally belong to a place, rather than a person. They are more independent and resilient than typical Western breeds. So the challenge is to have people recognize that animals have needs and feelings too. Before, Balinese coexisted with their dogs but never had pets in the Western sense. That is slowly changing.
Can you give examples?
When my first Bali Dog responded to commands like “sit,” “stay” and “down,” the family I lived with was amazed that my dog spoke English! Now during my daily village stops children and elders ask how to take better care of their pets or how to treat their dog’s skin and parasite problems. Some communities where BAWA works are now so proud of their healthy animals. They even rescue animals that have been abandoned nearby. Some of them have formed clubs that honor and respect the Bali Dog. Today about 70% of the calls that come in to our 24/7 hotline come from Indonesians. Eight years ago most calls were from Westerners.
What are the most common dangers animals in Bali face?
Sick and unwanted animals, especially litters of female puppies and kittens, that are tossed away. There is a lot of cruelty to animals including inhumane caging and chaining. There is the illegal trade in wildlife and uncontrolled breeding in hideous conditions. There is the terrible trade in dog meat in which dogs are stolen, tortured and slaughtered. And there is the government’s counter-productive policy to mass cull dogs with strychnine in response to rabies. This has not worked since the initial 2008 rabies outbreak in Bali and it is not working now. Vaccinated dogs are being killed which destroys the herd immunity that protects communities and animals from rabies. The very existence of the pure Bali Dog – highly significant to science and culture – is now threatened.
Has tourism impacted the welfare of animals in Bali?
Our education and outreach work also extends to tourists. Every year nearly 3.8 million tourists visit Bali. Many unknowingly visit attractions and participate in activities that fuel immense animal suffering: captive dolphin facilities where the animals have been illegally sourced from the wild and are forced to perform demeaning tricks; captive elephants and other wildlife often housed under horrendous conditions to entertain tourists; wild civets (luwak) are captured and put into cages or confined areas to produce the new fad coffee, “Kopi Luwak.”
Do you ever rescue abused or neglected animals?
Constantly. Personally I am a magnet for animals in distress. Barely a day passes when I do not rescue a sick, abandoned or abused animal. BAWA’s free animal ambulance, the only one of the island, responds to emergency calls around the clock seven days a week. Often we are the only hope for an animal in trouble. We don’t just rescue and treat dogs. BAWA is committed to helping all animals in need.
What was the most ambitious rescue operation that BAWA ever undertook?
Not so long ago we were invited into a village to help save their dogs from a scheduled government mass cull. Our team worked around the clock for three days to ensure all dogs were properly vaccinated, collared and confined. Thus the dogs, all healthy and vaccinated against rabies, were saved from senseless killing. I say this was ambitious as it is not all that usual for a community to oppose government activity. These people were determined. With our help their dogs were saved.
How can people help?
There are so many ways to help, including making much-needed financial donations. All details are at www.bawabali.com. We desperately need people to adopt our healthy, vaccinated rescued animals.
People with a wide range of skills are also invited to apply to volunteer. And profits from sales at our BAWA shops including silver gemstone paw print collections are donated towards BAWA’s programs.
What if a concerned person or pet owner is in need of one of your many services?
I urge people to take action! If you see something, please do something. Don’t allow animal cruelty to go on unreported. Stop, take a photo of the abused animal or license plate and make a phone call to report the cruelty, an accident or other emergency to BAWA at 081-138-9004, email firstname.lastname@example.org. We also give advice but pet owners should really seek private vet services. Our resources are limited and stretched and must be allocated to those most in need.