The Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) is a non profit organisation based in Bali, Indonesia, and is dedicated to save and protect the animals of Bali and Indonesia by providing emergency response and rescue, rehabilitation and adoption as well as education and advocacy programmes, and relies heavily on donations and volunteers, meaning travellers and backpackers are in a unique position to help BAWA save the dogs and cats of Bali.
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 twenty 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.
A Genuine Non Profit Organisation.
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.
If you are staying for any length of time in Ubud then you are perfectly located to visit or spend a bit of time with the awesome volunteers at BAWA. They have a shop face on Monkey Forest road and a clinic just a short walk away, (near to Villa Kitty), and another shop in Sanur. The work BAWA does is not only amazing and noble, but is essential for the care and survival of the animals of Bali and Indonesia.
Bali’s Dog ‘Problem’.
Bali and Indonesia in general have a huge problem with unwanted, abandoned and feral dogs roaming the streets and unfortunately part of this is due to the way dogs in particular are historically viewed in Balinese society. There are still deeply ingrained cultural beliefs based on the animism aspect of Balinese Hinduism that still persist today, where dogs are seen as 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.
Many homes and compounds have a number of dogs that are technically not feral or stray, but because of the functional relationshop between the dogs and families and farmers, are allowed to roam the island relatively freely and sometimes in large packs. They do this because the Balinese see them as a tool to keep threats away from their home, to guard against snakes and rats and protect crops, not to mention the practical aspect of reducing food waste and keeping food offerings from rotting on the street.
So dogs may not technically be stray just because they re wandering the streets in packs, but this cultural relationship with animals has done nothing to help population control or the control of numerous diseases, including rabies.
Thankfully not every Balinese citizen is like this however and attitudes are changing. Many individuals are in fact extremely caring and loving towards animals. This historical aspect of their culture is simply one factor that does have an influence on the mistreatment of animals. For those who do love and care for animals however there is often a practical aspect to caring for them that not everyone is able to fulfil. Cost. To be perfectly frank not everyone who owns a dog can afford to care for them, sometimes they can’t afford to feed them, and there is no judgement on that, which is why BAWA assists these families as much as possible with feeding programmes and vets fees.
The Rabies Problem In Bali.
Bali was historically rabies free, but was introduced to the island sometime in early 2008, most likely from an animal travelling from a neighbouring island or the mainland on one of the many boats that land their daily, and after that point grew to an island wide epidemic.
The big problem was that because it was unexpected, Bali had no way of expecting, detecting or treating it. The island had no PEP policies in its clinics, had no diagnostic facilities, no disease surveillance strategies and no vaccines for the dogs. This led to an island wide panic and government policies that led to barbaric and inhumane culling policy, a policy tht waas later proven to be completely inneffective counterproductive and needlessly inhumane. As a result Rabies continued to be epidemic in the country, and in 2015 a severe shortage of the rabies vaccine on the island made the situation far worse.
Thankfully since 2009, BAWA, working alongsdie the WSPA and the Australian government have worked hard on mass vaccination programmes and campaigns, and have offered better alternatives to the governments culling programmes. Rabies does continue to be present and a problem on the island but is nowhere near a significant risk as it once was, and there is hope that Bali may be rabies free again in the future, all thanks to the work BAWA has done.
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.
24/7 Hotline and Ambulance.
BAWA run a 24/7 hotline for anyone to call if they see an animal suffering or in distress, and recieve on average 60 calls every single day. In response to this they run Bali’s only free animal ambulance that will pick the animals up and treat them in their own free veterinary clinics, all of which are run entirely on donations. Not only do they help the abandoned and semi wild animals, but also family pets who may be ill or injured but simply cannot get treatment because their family cannot afford it. The importance of this core BAWA service really cannot be overstated, without this service countless animals will suffer and die every single day. 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.
Emergency Response and Rescue.
As part of their hotline and ambulance service, BAWA often finds itself responding to calls for emergency response and rescue, from animals stuck in wells, needing rescuing from inhumane conditions in private collections, investigating cases of abuse or neglect, illegal dog fighting, the meat trade or even disaster relief rescue, and it is not just dogs and cats either, civets, monkeys, birds and more are all protected by BAWA.
Unfortunately Bali occassionally suffers from natural disasters in the form of earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanic eruptions, and BAWAs emergency team are there to facilitate immediate rescue where possible, look after those animals who have no one to care for them and care and support for families who own dogs and cats in the aftermath of these emergencies.
Street Feeding Teams.
BAWA runs Bali’s only street feeding van, a small truck filled every day with food and water and tries to cover as much of Bali as possible, giving free food to animals both wild and owned by families who may not always be able to afford to feed their animals. To many dogs this is a vital and life saving source of nutrition that they simply would not get anywhere else.
Rehabilitation & Adoption Services.
Bawa not only rescues and treats animals, it also rehabilitates them through socialisation programmes and a lot of TLC and gets them ready for their forever homes which they provide through a robust foster care programme.
Humane Population Control.
Unfortunately in Bali many unwanted animals are shot, poisoned or simply left to die, and during rabies epidemics are purposely culled by the government regardless of their health. This is cruel and barbaric, and wholly unneccessary. BAWA works hard to provide a sustainable and ethical solution to this problem with a programme of humane spaying and neutering and vaccination, reducing the prevalence of disease, especially rabies, and keeps the healthy population at a level where all dogs and cats can be adequately fed and cared for.
Helping the dogs and cats of Bali is far more than just reacting to emergencies, it is also about preventative education. BAWA runs a positive education programme that works with the islands schools and community leaders to teach kindness and compassion for animals and bring about long term change in attitudes toward animal welfare.
BAWA also takes the fight for animal advocacy and welfare to the courts and the government by campaigning for active changes in the law to provide protection from cruelty, to ban dog fighting and the dog meat trade, and to end the practices of poisoning and culling.
Volunteering At BAWA.
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 and cared for with genuine love and respect.
It is heartwarming to see how happy the animals were to have some love and attention from people who truly do care about them.
The pens and facilities at BAWA really are excellent and it was so heartwarming to see the animals treated as best they could be, 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, even though it seems that they are the focus sometimes. 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 true home for these cats to get them ready for adoption in their forever home, 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.
How You Can Help BAWA.
BAWA is doing some amazing work in Bali and is completely dependent on donations, volunteers and goodwill. Not everyone has the time or veterinary skills to volunteer long term and provide much needed veterinary care for BAWA, but there are always a wide variety of ways you can help.
Put quite simply BAWA needs funds to continue its important work, and there are two ways you can donate, either as a one off donation or by becoming a Friend Of BAWA and providing a continual donation through subscription. Every single penny helps.
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, especially hard to get items like medication, or buy them in Bali, then you can drop them off at BAWA headquarters or at the clinic itself in Ubud.
If you can’t donate directly and aren’t currently in Bali, maybe you can do a little fundraising while you are saving up for your next big trip? BAWA gives a lot of fundraising resources to help you do just that.
Most unqualified volunteer opportunities with BAWA do not work directly with the animals as BAWA uses trained specialists to rescue, rehabilitate and rehome Bali’s animals in need. Specialist skills and qualifications such as veterinary medicine are always sorely needed. Unfortunately the Indonesian government has strict regulations that prohibit international veterinarians from practicing in Bali but your skills can still be put to good use as consultants, teachers and advisers for Indonesian vets.
There are occassionally positions tovolunteer within the BAWA shops or with the street feeding teams, so email BAWA directly with the skills you have to offer them and see how they can best make use of them.
The areas travellers can help out in most are in a support capacity. BAWA often needs volunteers for specific campaigns or projects, and are always in need of specialist skills in graphic design and product design, photography and filmmaking, writing, social media projects, IT and website development, fundraising, sponsorships, event management and administration. A lot of travel bloggers would fit those skill categories quite nicely!
The Animals Always Appreciate Any Help You Can Give!
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 you.
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