From the stunning coastlines and perfectly tropical waters to the warm culture of the Balinese – Bali is a true traveler’s dream. Yet, behind the postcard-perfect island lies the ever-present problem of stray dogs in Bali.
Stray dogs in Bali are impossible not to notice and can be intimidating if you come across an angry or aggressive dog. However, there’s much more to the story than first meets the eye. Dogs are an integral part of Balinese culture, and western travelers often misinterpret the relationship between man and dog.
To set things right, we take a deeper look at the ins and outs of dogs in Bali culture, how the stray dog population is managed and what you can do to help stray dogs in Bali.
Why are there so many stray dogs in Bali?
To answer this question, it’s important to recognize that a dog’s role in Balinese culture is much different from a dog’s role in the western context. We’ll go more in-depth on this later; however, just because a dog doesn’t have a specific owner does not necessarily mean it is a stray. In fact, it’s estimated that around 90% of dogs roaming freely in Bali are not homeless.
Even so, when you visit Bali, it’s hard not to notice the many stray dogs roaming the streets, many of which may seem unhealthy or aggressive. Most compounds in Bali have around 5 to 6 dogs, and larger properties will have even more. These dogs aren’t necessarily pets and instead protect the compound from a range of different threats – from unwanted visitors to poisonous snakes.
Top this with low sterilization rates, and it’s easy to see how the Bali dog population continues to grow and grow. Luckily, multiple organizations are helping to make sterilization more accessible and take in the truly stray dogs.
What is the role of dogs in Bali?
As mentioned before, dogs in Bali have a much different relationship with humans than in western culture. It’s much more of a mutually beneficial relationship and is a set part of Balinese life.
Stray dogs, or the politically correct term of Bali Dogs, both warn their family when spirits enter the compound and when other threats are present. It’s even believed that Bali Dogs have specific barks for each type of threat, and family members can easily distinguish between them. One of the most important threats they keep watch for is snakes. As snakes are known to attack chickens and eat their eggs, which are a vital source of food for Balinese, it’s essential that dogs warn their family when one is on the property.
In addition to this, Bali Dogs significantly reduce the food waste on the island. Eating food scraps from piles of trash and scouring down food offerings that are a large part of Balinese life keeps the rotting food waste to a minimum. This, in turn, reduces the potential for rats and snakes to find their way into the compound and spread disease and destroy crops.
As the relationship between land, farmer, and dog is so well-formed in Bali, removing dogs would not only hugely impact the Balinese culture but would also upset the fragile ecosystem of the island.
Do stray dogs in Bali have rabies?
Firstly, as a refresher, rabies is a fatal viral disease that can affect both animals and humans. It usually enters the body via wounds, such as a dog bite, then travels up the nerves to the central nervous system. It can take anywhere from 2 weeks to several years for symptoms to start appearing, and once they do, they’ll likely be very similar to those of the flu with weakness, fever, and a headache. As time goes on, symptoms become more severe with hallucinations, insomnia, and delirium. Then, once it reaches the brain, rabies is almost always fatal.
Bali was actually rabies-free until late 2008 when it was introduced from a neighboring island. Then, due to lack of immunization, it spread quickly around the island and has since killed over 120 people and thousands of dogs. During this period, Bali Dogs changed in the eye of tourists and went from a slight nuisance to a creature to fear, and unfortunately, even though rabies is now much rarer in Bali, the bad rap has not changed.
With multiple organizations aiding to provide rabies shots to dogs, the prevalence of rabies in dogs has decreased dramatically in the past ten years. Dogs that have been vaccinated will have a red collar or red tag, so it’s easy to discern which to be extra wary of. Although, do keep in mind that many dogs that have been vaccinated still don’t wear a collar.
Now, the likelihood of getting bit by a dog with rabies is relatively low. However, getting your rabies shot before visiting is still recommended, especially if you have young children who may not understand that Bali Dogs are not pets.
Can you bring a stray dog home from Bali?
To answer this question, we must break it down into two parts depending on where you call home.
Firstly, if you live in Bali, you can adopt a stray dog. However, there are some key things to keep in mind. These include:
- You can not simply rescue a dog directly off the street. Just because a dog may appear to be a stray does not mean it doesn’t have a home.
- You must live in Bali full time to adopt a dog, and it’s always recommended to go through an agency.
- If you do not live in Bali full time, many organizations have a foster program that requires a 2 to 8-week commitment.
- It’s important to understand that while puppies may be able to be trained to be a pet, older dogs are quite set in their ways, and there is no guarantee the dog will not become aggressive or attempt to return to where it was taken from.
If you do not live in Bali, taking a stray dog off the island is illegal. It does not matter if you live on a nearby island or ensure the dog is healthy and fully vaccinated. While some websites claim they can help arrange pet transport out of Bali, be wary of these and make sure to do your own research.
How to deal with an aggressive stray dog in Bali
Even though the prevalence of rabies has dropped in recent years, aggressive dogs are still a common problem on the island. As the primary function of the Bali Dog is to protect the family compound, it doesn’t take much to upset or aggravate the dog. You’ll often find dogs sitting on the compound steps, looking relaxed with their legs dangling over. However, any unwelcome visitor or threat will quickly change their relaxed stance to a nerve-wracking snarl and aggressive stance.
If you see an aggressive dog, be sure to do the following:
- Stay calm and walk away
- If you can’t walk away, freeze where you are
- Avoid eye-contact
- Send calming signals
- Ask a local for help
Some other tips for keeping safe around Bali Dogs include:
- Announce your presence and be sure to call to people before you enter their gate
- Move slowly and calmly and keep your voice low and calm
- Let the dog approach and sniff you
- Be aware of any dogs moving behind you and try not to have your back towards them
- Never step over a dog in a driveway or in a doorway
How to identify aggressive dogs
It’s also important to recognize the behavior of dogs. This will help you identify potentially dangerous animals and reduce the risk of a dog attack.
For starters, a friendly dog will have the following characteristics.
- Relaxed stance or walking with ease
- Bright eyes and curious about their surroundings
- Their mouth is usually open and relaxed
- Their ears are usually relaxed and down or facing forward
- They may be wagging their tale or have it in a relaxed position
A range of things can cause a happy dog to become a nervous or aggressive dog. These include everything from an unfamiliar smell or a storm to someone simply walking by too close. Nervous dogs are less likely to attack if you walk away slowly. Some key characteristics of a nervous dog include:
- They have a crouched stance
- Their ears are back or down flat
- Their tail is tucked between their legs
- They may look away from you
Angry dogs, on the other hand, are the ones you need to be extra cautious of. Some key characteristics of an angry dog include:
- They have a wide-based stance
- Their ears or pricked up or back
- Their tail is straight up
- They are staring at you and do not look away
If you see the signs a dog may be angry or nervous, always give it extra space and never try to approach it, calm it down or be aggressive back.
Dog Rescue Centers in Bali
There are many organizations around Bali that focus on getting stray dogs off the street and sterilizing and vaccinating all dogs around the island. Some of the main ones include:
- The Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA)
The most well-known organization is BAWA which has been around since 2007. It provides a range of services, including a free ambulance service, adoption programs, rabies programs, street feeding, and humane population control. Their main goal is to humanely decrease cat and dog populations enough that all cats and dogs on the island will be well fed and cared for.
- The Bali Bible
While it’s technically a travel site, this organization supports the BAWA in its efforts to feed and sterilize 60-70% of the dogs in the Ubud area. It provides much-needed financial assistance to BAWA and also encourages tourists to understand the significance and implications of Bali Dogs.
- Bali Dog Adoption and Rehabilitation Centre (BARC)
An Australian/Indonesian non-for-profit, BARC‘s focus is to stop the seemingly never-ending flow of unwanted puppies. They do this by operating a street sterilization program, offering educational programs in the Balinese community, and providing a clinic where Bali Dogs can be treated and receive care. On top of this, they also have an adoption center, a retail outlet, and a merchandise store to raise funds for the caring of animals.
- Bali Pet Crusaders
Created by passionate animal lovers who have seen firsthand the stray dog and cat population in Bali, Bali Pet Crusaders‘ mission is to prevent thousands of unwanted and uncared for animals from being born. Their primary focus is their Sterilization Project which uses a mobile sterilization unit to travel the island and help communities care for and sterilize the local dogs and cats.
Can I volunteer to help dogs in Bali?
Yes! Many organizations need a helping hand in some form. Depending on how long you’ll be in Bali, you can foster a dog, volunteer at a dog rescue center, or volunteer your time at a retail store run by a dog rescue center.
There are a few things you should keep in mind before volunteering to help stray dogs in Bali. These are:
- Be sure to get your rabies vaccination. Many organizations will only allow volunteers to work with animals if they have received their rabies vaccination.
- Ensure you know what you’re getting into. Many of the dogs that come into the rescue centers are in a bad state, and it can be heartbreaking to watch them suffer.
- Some of the work needed has little hands-on time with the dogs. You may end up working in a retail store, helping with social media, or asking around for donations.
If you’re only in Bali for a short time, there’s still plenty you can do to help. Keep your eye out for products that support dog rescue centers and if you have some money to spare, donating directly to an organization is a great way to help. Some organizations also allow you to adopt a dog virtually, and your donations go directly to feeding and sterilizing the dog.