Bali Update: Team Finds Its First True "Community" Dog
This story comes from Michelle Morters, an IFAW consultant who has spent a great deal of time working with IFAW's Bali-based team, Indonesia Animal Welfare (InAW). Michelle's PhD project has brought her to Bali as she is investigating factors associated with rabies vaccine coverage in communities where rabies is endemic.
Today, for the first time in three years of intensive evaluation of the dog population in the Balinese village of Kelusa, we found what could be classified as a community dog. Historically roaming dogs in Bali were assumed to be predominately unowned, surviving on rubbish and daily Hindu offerings. These dogs were often described as 'stray ' - a rather ambiguous and unhelpful term. 'Strays' were assumed to find sufficient food to survive and, what-is-more, successfully reproduce. For want of a more precise classification, 'community dogs' could be considered a sub-set of strays. It is generally accepted that community dogs are not owned by one specific person or family, rather they are regularly fed by a familiar group of locals, typically neighbours. Thus, community dogs are recognised and cared for by the local community.
In reality the majority of the dogs in Bali are not stray or even community dogs. Almost all the dogs have specific owners but are free roaming. Their owners do indeed care for and feed their dogs daily. The dogs are not fed premium dog food, rather their diet varies with what their owners eat. In fact when we first started working in the villages we tried premium dog treats to entice the dogs - they all turned their noses up at it preferring rice and sambal (chilly). Consequently we ditched the posh dog food and stuck with rice or bread as a bribe - which works beautifully. Most owners will cook extra food specifically for their dogs although some will just give leftovers. This generally includes rice and a variable amount of vegetable and protein like fish, egg or tofu. Thus, most dogs in the village are in reasonable body condition. Although dogs are seen snacking on the offerings and loitering around the rubbish heaps (because they're dogs!) neither contain a sufficient quantity of food to sustain an individual let alone an entire roaming dog population. Most people are too poor to throw away large amounts of edible food. Thus the rubbish mostly contains food wrapping and a small amount of organic waste such as palm leaves used for cooking, egg shell, fruit and vegetable skins etc. So when we do occasionally find a genuinely unowned dog (ie 'stray'), that has probably been dumped by its owner, it is invariably emaciated and in dreadful condition because it is starving. We euthanase these dogs. We have never yet found a genuinely unowned dog in good or even reasonable body condition. And, we have never found what could be considered a community dog - until today!
Today we found a small black adult female and her two pups of 4 months all in reasonable condition and all - very sensibly - hanging out under a porch in the front yard of a lady who has her own two (fat!) dogs. We had seen this little bitch some weeks earlier in another part of the village, again in reasonable body condition. Because we have catalogued and keep close track of all the dogs in the village we were mystified as to where this little black dog had materialised from. However, the village is surrounded by jungle and rice fields so we figured that perhaps she lived with her owner outside the village where he works in the rice fields and she can wander back into the village of her own volition. However, based on some digging around with the local residents it turns out that she is unowned and has, consequently, migrated to a reliable food source, ie the lady with two fat dogs! Both the fat dog lady and one of her neighbours gives the little black dog and her pups regular snacks. So, as to be expected, the dog's body condition and that of her pups could be explained by the fact that she isn't left to her own devices to survive. Rather, she is being cared for by a couple of neighbours. Because community dogs are not the norm in Bali it will be interesting to see just how long the neighbours tolerate her and remain generous. We will keep close tabs on her situation but for now she's onto a good thing - smart dog!
For more information on IFAW efforts to help animals including dogs around the world, visit www.ifaw.org