I want to preface this article by stating that I am an absolutely devoted animal lover, I always have been, and during all of my travels over the last ten years or more if I see a chance to help or support a genuine organisation who are there to help animals of any kind then I will take it.
I have seen so many organisations over the years that are doing fantastic work in animal conservation and protection. On the downside to that I have also come across so many profit making organisations that use terms such as animal sanctuary as a front for their business and care only for profit and tourism, not the animals, and because of them I have an almost instinctive distrust now of most places that claim to help animals until I have investigated further, especially if they are part of the faux voluntourism trend.
I’m glad to say BAWA is so far removed from that end of the spectrum.
The Bali Animal Welfare Organisation (BAWA) is based in Bali, Indonesia, and is an amazing non profit organisation that does a lot of essential and much needed work to help the dogs and cats of Bali. Based primarily in Ubud where they have a shop face on Monkey Forest road and a clinic just a short distance away, they also run a 24 hour animal ambulance that tries to cover as much of Bali as possible. They inoculate, feed, spay and home Bali’s dogs and cats with a strong foster and rehoming programme, and do a lot to try and relieve animal suffering and overpopulation and minimise the spread of rabies. The clinics and the ambulance service are vastly underfunded and under resourced, but are doing an absolutely remarkable and wonderful job despite this thanks to the skill and dedication of both its permanent and volunteer staff.
Bali and Indonesia in general have a huge problem with unwanted, abandoned and feral dogs roaming the streets. Part of this is due to the way dogs in particular are viewed in Balinese society. There are deeply ingrained cultural beliefs based on the animism aspect of Balinese Hinduism that dogs are demonic entities, the undesirables, and unworthy of any care or attention. On a practical level this means that at best many people view dogs as nothing, as not worth the time or money to care for. They really are seen as simple functional tools, to be used as security or even food and then forgotten about. Thankfully not every Balinese citizen is like this however, many are in fact extremely caring and loving towards animals. This aspect of their culture is simply one factor that does have an influence on the mistreatment of animals.
Along with this general mistreatment of dogs, and other animals in fact, is a growing problem with rabies. This has led to the unfortunate mass cullings of dogs in the last few years, but this is completely ineffective and BAWA is fighting an uphill struggle with combined education and inoculation programmes to control the disease.
But despite all this it is heart warming to know that some people do care, and BAWA has done a lot to restore my faith that there are people in Indonesia that are motivated to help these adorable animals. I know that dogs and cats aren’t the ‘A list’ animals that so many voluntourism poseurs come looking for so they can get a nice profile picture of them cuddling a baby tiger or an orang utan (another topic that gets me right on my soap box!) But that does not mean they are any less deserving of our help. That does not mean they are any less worthy. The dogs and cats of Bali really do benefit in so many ways from the kindness and care of those who work at BAWA, and the support given by so many locals and travellers, because BAWA really is a not for profit NGO that relies on the kindness and donations of it’s supporters.
My own experience with BAWA was bittersweet as it usually is in any true animal charity or sanctuary. It is heartbreaking to see the condition that some of the cats and dogs are found in and hear some of their stories. The illnesses, injuries and general mistreatment and malnourishment of the cats and dogs is soul shattering,and that unfortunately is not an exaggeration. The confused mixture of anger, disgust, sorrow and pity at how anyone can treat an animal like this is by now an unfortunate familiarity.
But then when you see these gorgeous animals being treated well at BAWA that mixture of negative emotion is completely turned on its head. It is still heartbreaking to see them hurt or injured, but it is at the same time completely uplifting to see them on the mend, to see them treated well, with love and respect. It is heartwarming to see how happy they were to have some love and attention from people who truly do care about them and have a passion for animals at the same time. It was amazing to see the dogs and cats so happy just to be fed and housed in nice conditions, just to be treated with care and compassion.
The pens and facilities at BAWA really are excellent too, especially so considering the limited resources they have. They are not perfect of course, and there is a huge need for donations to help improve and expand the facilities there, but the pens were all spotlessly clean, comfortable and relatively spacious, and allowed the dogs and cats to live quite happily where they played with donated toys, slept on donated beds and blankets and ate donated food and treats.
I also had the fortune of stopping by their headquarters on Monkey Forest road a few times, it was just round the corner from the homestay I was staying at, and spoke to the dedicated and passionate volunteers at length about the work they were doing there (and spent a considerable amount of time playing with the dogs and cuddling the beautiful and sadly blind Maya who is absolutely spoilt with attention and treats!). The headquarters is part business centre and part shop, so one of the easiest ways to help them is simply to drop by and pick up a trinket or three, I don’t care if you don’t need a postcard or a fridge magnet, and it doesn’t really matter that the T shirts they have don’t fit you, buy them anyway! It helps a lot knowing that every single penny – without exception – gets funneled straight back to the animals welfare.
BAWA doesn’t just concentrate on dogs however, there is also a huge problem of abandoned and mistreated cats in Bali, and they make great efforts to care for their feline charges as much as the canine ones. Villa Kitty, a shelter housing 80 cats and kittens at Lodtunduh in Ubud, is a sister company of BAWA. It was originally formed as part of the association itself and has now grown out of necessity into an entity in its own right, with the plight of abandoned cats and kittens becoming ill, injured or dying growing year after year.
The first time I visited it took me a little while to find Villa Kitty, even despite the excellent directions given to me at BAWA’s headquarters, because I walked right past the deceptive little pathway off the main road, and carrying bags full of food, toys and other supplies on a hot and particularly humid day wasn’t ideal! But it was more than worth it when I finally did find it, just knowing I had done even the tiniest thing for these poor, gorgeous animals was enough.
Villa Kitty is only a small place, but infinitely welcoming as the staff are genuinely passionate about caring for the cats and kittens there, and it truly does show. The pen area was absolutely wonderful to see too, and just like the home of their canine counterparts, despite the serious underfunding of the organisation the cats had really good, clean and spacious areas to run around and play in. It was just so nice to see that despite their lack of funding and resources, they really made an effort to make a home for these cats, and one of my overriding happy thoughts of my time in Bali is sitting in the healthy room with the dozens of cats all playing in both the indoor and outdoor spaces.
If you are in the area, I urge you to pop in and visit, even if you cannot spare the time to volunteer it is just to drop a few locally bought supplies off or spend some time giving the cats and kittens a bit of good old fashioned TLC, it is all welcome. There are so many ways you can help BAWA if you happen to be heading to Bali, or even if you are not you can still help.
If you are in Bali you can always volunteer your time. If you are a vet or a vet nurse, or work with animals in another capacity your skills and time is much in demand and would be infinitely appreciated, but even if you are not the puppies and kittens at the clinic always appreciate a little taking care of! The day to day care of the animals, including bathing, walking, feeding, playing and the odd cuddle or three is always needed. There are always too many animals, not enough people. So if you think you can help in any way then please do so. The only requirement is that you have been fully vaccinated against rabies and that you can give a minimum of two weeks and not visit any other animal shelter to try and minimise the spread of disease.
The dogs and cats are also in constant need of food, blankets, toys, collars and a whole host of other essential supplies, and BAWA have a wish list of items that they need the most at any given time on their website. If you can bring any supplies with you from home or buy them in Bali, then you can drop them off at BAWA headquarters or at the clinic itself in Ubud.
Alternatively you could always simply fundraise or donate directly through their website.
Whatever you decide to do, if you are an animal lover you have to show your support to these wonderful, kind hearted people and help these animals who deserve just a little bit of care and attention. The staff and volunteers at BAWA are doing a fantastic job taking care of the dogs and cats (and occasionally snakes and monkeys too) of Bali, and are performing an essential public health service. So if you are in Bali and you can spare the time, please help. If you can’t then consider helping in other ways because they truly are doing a wonderful job, but they can’t do it without help.