The Balinese Street Dog has been part of the day to day life and community of every Balinese compound, Banjar, Desa and onwards since the beginning of time.
Wrongfully maligned as being an unwanted and unnecessary part of Bali there is very little understanding of the role that the Bali Street Dog has played, and continues to play in the complexities of life on Bali.
“Where ever you see a Balinese man, you will see a Bali Dog.”
These words have been told to us many times, by Balinese who are living true to their culture and who are environmentally aware of the fragile balance of their island home.
The words are true. In the vast majority of cases, where you have a Balinese you will eventually see a Bali Dog. But why?
Bali Dogs are not pets, the relationship they have with Balinese people does not fit into the cultural context of the Western dog-human relationship. This is difficult to interpret and is often misinterpreted as the Balinese not wanting or not caring about their Bali Dogs. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The average Balinese compound will have 5 – 6 Balinese Dogs. No one within that compound will generally claim ownership of these animals. So if you walk around Bali asking ‘who’s dog is this?’ You will come away thinking the island is full of strays that no one owns or cares for.
Bali Dogs are not strays, they are not homeless.
90% of the free roaming dogs you see on the island have a home.
Balinese do not classify ownership of pets in the way that Westerners do. If you ask people where a dog ‘stays’ then you will generally get a thumb gesture in the direction of the compound that the dog calls it’s home.
The Bali Dog is first and foremost a working dog. It has a function and several roles that it must perform. If it fails to perform theses required roles and steps outside of its boundaries it is dealt with swiftly and sometimes cruelly. This approach and attitude is not unlike the normal social norms of a Balinese Banjar. There are expectations placed on each community member, if these are not adhered to or lived up to then punishment ensues.
The primary function of the Bali Dog is that of guard dog. The dogs guard the family compound, their classic pose is that of them sitting on the compound steps with their legs dangling over. When they do their job and jump to attention with a full faced snarl at the sight of any intruder into their territory it is impressive and a little intimidating – they are just doing their job.
Farmers use packs of Bali Dogs to protect their rice fields, their livestock – their income, and have been doing so for generation after generation of both farmer and dog.
The Bali Dog does not just guard against intruders of the human kind. They have a function to not only guard but warn their family when spirits enter the compound. Balinese will tell you that the Bali Dog has very different barks, and the one that indicates the presence of a spirit is very distinctive. Some Bali Dogs have differing barks for different spirits – a true professional Bali Dog.
Bali Dogs also serve useful purposes such as keeping snakes out of the compound, or at the very least of altering the family that a snake is in the compound. They do have a distinct snake bark as anyone who has shared their life with a Bali Dog will attest. This is an essential part of Bali life, by letting the family know a snake is in the compound the Bali Dog is protecting the family’s chickens and eggs and therefore their food source. The Bali Dog is also protecting the young of the family by ensuring snakes are dispensed of before small children find them an interesting yet deadly plaything.
The Bali Dog also serves as a disposal unit, keeping down the piles of trash and offerings that accompany human life in a Balinese compound and village. Without the dogs to be the mobile garbage disposal units then the trash and the offerings pile up. Piles of rotting foodstuffs encourage rats, without any natural predator the rats prevail and multiply at a great rate spreading disease and eating food supplies, crops and encouraging snakes into the compounds.
The Bali Dog not only has a place in the society and culture of Bali but it is also a part of the eco system, you remove it and there will be natural consequences.