Fighting Fear and Ignorance One Dog at a Time in Bali

The suffering Balinese dog who died as the IFAW team tried to bring him to a vet and safety.

I’m not sure who saw the dog first or who was the first to tell the driver to “stop!” but it may have been all of us as it was impossible to miss the black and white dog teetering and shaking on the side of the road. Even from a passing car you could tell something was seriously wrong.

Janice was the first out of the car. As the founder and CEO of BAWA (Bali Animal Welfare Association) she is all too used to the sight, and ever ready to help. As Janice, myself, and Kate Atema (the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s Director of the Companion Animal Program) approached, it was clear the dog had been starving.

Every rib was visible, and its dull and dirty fur was sunken where there should’ve been a full belly, strong legs and hips. But starvation was the least of our concerns.

In moments of strength, when the little black and white dog sat up, we saw its wide eyes were glazed over. Not only were its muscles stiffening and tremoring throughout its body, you could see the muscles behind its eyes pulsing, causing the whole eye to tremble. So profusely was it salivating, that white foamy bubbles were covering its chin.

Every time a car passed it shot up in terror. At some moments the dog’s body went rigid and he would collapse against the curb. I can’t think of any word to better describe the feeling of this poor dog than to say it must have been in absolute agony.

There is rabies on Bali and the neurological symptoms combined with the excessive salivation gave us reason for concern. But Janice also recognized the symptoms as those of poisoning by strychnine. Rabies not only causes agonizing death, human’s fear of rabies has often resulted in dogs – healthy dogs – being poisoned en masse.

Janice jumped into action and immediately sent our driver off to find a local veterinarian.

Whether it was rabies or strychnine this dog needed to be relieved of its suffering, and not die terrified and alone along the side of the road. But as we waited for a veterinarian, a villager appeared with a large chunk of wood – a club. He told us that he intended to beat the dog to death.

Barely able to hold itself upright, the team finally was able to at least prevent the dog from meeting a much more gruesome passing.

The man insisted the dog was going to bite everyone. He stood so close his face was mere inches from Janice’s. And he was yelling. I couldn’t understand the Indonesian he was speaking, but I could understand a voice thick with anger and hostility. Locals began to gather in shop fronts and around corners. The angry man came and stood in front of us with his makeshift club, ranting. Janice turned to Kate and me with a nervous smile, “I’m more scared of him than a potentially rabid dog,” she said.

As the man continued his yelling he paced up and down the street. One of his friends appeared bearing a sickle – a very large knife maybe 2 feet in length. Now they’d decided to hack the dog to death. Janice kept asking them to go away. She tried to explain the dog was harmless, helpless, and that a vet was on the way.

By this time the little dog had collapsed on the sidewalk and was barely moving. There were about 10 children standing behind us. If the man and his posse were allowed to beat and hack this sick and defenseless dog to death, I thought, what is it that these 10 children would learn?

How could we ever teach them that animals have feelings and deserve compassion if this is how they saw their community deal with a dog in pain? The three of us sat anxiously awaiting the return of our driver and the assistance of a veterinarian.

But when our driver returned there was no vet. By now the dog was lying listless on the sidewalk and a pool of saliva had collected on the bricks below its mouth. The man now threatened, “I’ll give you three minutes and then we’re going to kill it!” We had to leave.

But we weren’t leaving the dog behind. A kind shop owner offered a large empty rice sack and we used it as makeshift gurney. Gently the dog was picked up from the street and placed into the back of the van.

As soon as we sped off Janice and the driver were immediately on their phones trying desperately to find a local veterinarian. As we drove the dog convulsed, but then settled to the rumble of the engine. There was so much relief. Finally, a veterinarian was found and we were on our way.

But as we drove the dog became ever more still. In the cool comfort of the van, within about ten minutes of our leaving the village, he silently passed away.

Before Bali’s island-wide vaccination campaign, the government (as many governments have done) spread a message of fear, and a solution based on strychnine that was ineffective as it was cruel. And when a community is both terrified and misinformed, it is ripe for the kind of anger and cruelty we observed today.

We don’t know yet exactly why this poor dog was suffering as it did – whether it was disease or poisoning. But we can be sure it was one of the two. And we also know that both are unnecessary and preventable.

During my time on Bali I have found most Balinese people to be incredibly kind and warm, not at all like the angry posse that harassed us and threatened the dog today.

I hope that as dogs are vaccinated, communities grow safer and people are properly informed about rabies, the goodness of the Balinese people will overcome their fear, and dogs will no longer suffer in the manner of the one that died in our van today.

-- HL

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