The Bali Animal Welfare Association’s street feeding team does some amazing and under appreciated work helping the stray dogs of Bali. Find out what happened when I spent a day with them.
I have to admit I was filled with mixed emotions at the reception desk of my hotel. I was waiting to be picked up to spend a day with BAWA’s street feeding team, working around the island to give food and water to the islands many dogs. On the one hand I knew I was going to see something positive, something worthwhile and as an animal lover I was genuinely looking forward to it. On the other hand I was dreading seeing the reasons to why the team I was about to spend the day with was needed at all.
I was looking forward to in some small way seeing these abandoned dogs getting a meal and the care they deserved, but I also really wasn’t looking forward to seeing any of the suffering they all go through. I needed to man up. I am an emergency nurse for crying out loud, a charge nurse in fact. I am used to seeing people with all manner of horrific injuries and illnesses and I can block myself off to every one of them so I can do my job.
But this is different. Animals are involved here, specifically dogs, and I can’t block myself off to an animals suffering the way I can a human beings. I know that sounds weird, but it’s why I became a nurse, not a vet. I just had to steel myself and do my tiny part in the hugely important work BAWA does every single day to help Bali’s animal population.
What is BAWA?
The Bali Animal Welfare Organisation is a not for profit organisation that aims to save, protect and improve the lives of all Bali’s dogs and other animals. Run entirely on donations, they provide food and medication, rehabilitation and adoption, emergency response and rescue with Bali’s only free 24/7 animal ambulance and perhaps most importantly intensive education and advocacy programmes that focus on sustainable animal welfare, rabies and the protection of the native Bali Heritage Dog, a genetically unique and at risk breed of dog.
Meeting the team.
Adi, a volunteer who has worked with the street feeding team for over a decade, was eager to get going when I met up with him, and we set off throughout Bali on a mission to feed stray dogs. He explained to me how he had pre determined routes through the various regions within Bali that he tried to get around every day out of necessity to ensure that every area was covered fairly, as well as stopping randomly for stray dogs that were simply roaming around the streets.
The street feeding team help ensure that thousands of abandoned dogs on the island are fed and healthy every single day, far too many are left abandoned, malnourished, sick and injured, and rely on the volunteers of the street feeding team to provide them with nutritious healthy meals and treatments daily.
A large cage made up part of the frame of the street feeding truck, a strange hybrid of a flatbed truck and a motorbike, and Adi explained that occasionally he came across sick or injured dogs that required emergency treatment, and in those instances the feeding truck became an impromptu patient transport back to the clinic.
A huge part of me hoped the cage would not be needed today.
It wasn’t long before we came to our first stop, a long stretch of road with a lot of compounds on either side. A couple of dogs had already spotted us and were running alongside, barking excitedly at the sight of the truck, but when we stopped dogs seemed to appear out of nowhere and ran the full length of the street to greet Adi and wait for their meal.
Putting out generous helpings of food, which was a hearty mixture of rice, eggs and meat as well as the occassional bit of dry dog biscuits, onto grease proof paper, we began placing the food parcels on the ground. The dogs went mental with excitement and tucked in, the hardest part was trying to get enough food on the ground in time so that everyone got their fair share!
Waiting patiently for the dogs to finish, Adi gathered the paper and set off again to his next rendezvous point. This time there were even more dogs who appeared out of nowhere and sprinted toward us like children on a sugar rush chasing an ice cream van!I don’t care what people say about dogs, they are highly intelligent animals and knew exactly what the appearance of Adi and the street feeding truck meant!
It was like being mobbed by a swarm of excited groupies, Adi was like a canine pop star and his grin gave the fact away that he absolutely loved it!
Even when we stopped to drop off some food for a random stray roaming down the street, other dogs would often appear and come running toward us, looking for food. And without fail they all got fed and watered.
Watching the dogs as they tucked into their meals, I noticed that even amongst the strays the dogs looked generally healthy and well fed. None had visible signs of malnourishment or disease, no ribcages showing or open sores, and that is a stark difference to when I was last in Bali a couple of years ago. I don’t have any empirical evidence for that and I know this is just based on my own observations, but to me it showed how good a job the street feeding team were doing all over Bali.
It was genuinely heartwarming to see.
It is a difficult task, to ensure that every dog on the island is fed, watered and treated. They can feed on average up to 187 dogs per day. 187. Every single day. That is a huge number, but somehow they manage, and they manage extremely well thanks to the dedication and work done by the volunteers and donations. It cost $15 per dog per day to fully feed and medicate them, so please consider giving a donation if you can.
But it is not just stray dogs that BAWA feeds, they also work with locals to ensure that compound pets are well fed too, providing support to the many families in Bali who love their pets but may not be able to afford to keep their animals well nourished.
A respectful, responsible and sustainable ethos.
I was already impressed by the work BAWA does for Bali’s animals, but what really impressed me was the underlying paradigm of respect and mutual cooperation with locals that they worked under. As we pulled into another compound, an old woman smiled and waved at us both, glad to see Adi and happy the help he was providing her beloved pets, and laughing at me rushing to take a few photographs before grabbing some food for the dogs myself.
Animal welfare is still a relatively new ideology in Bali, and part of BAWA’s success has come from working with the hearts and minds of locals. By not only feeding and caring for the animals who are stray and abandoned, BAWA tries to work at the root of the problem and support family compounds with animal care so that dogs aren’t abandoned and mistreated in the first place.
And I saw that work first hand when the old woman smiled at her dogs getting a good, nutritious meal.
Why keep the dogs on the streets?
There is a normalised culture in Bali where animals roam free. They believe they are the reincarnated spirits of their ancestors and whilst dogs do have compounds that they live in, they are allowed to wander as they please and protect the land from evil spirits. That is why BAWA doesn’t pick up the stray dogs and rehome them, because they already are home. The streets are their home, the compounds they sleep in are their home.
BAWA does when necessary work toward adopting out rescued dogs who have been treated, cared for and need a good home, but on the whole if the dogs are already on the streets then BAWA works hard to respect local culture and keep those dogs in the streets that they already call their home. It is just a matter of making that home environment safe for them. Safe from undernourishment and disease, safe from the cruel dog meat trade, safe from aggression, safe from neglect and poisoning. Just safe!
That shouldn’t be a problem groups like BAWA still have to fight for in this day and age.
Unfortunately not all of these dogs are assured a protected future. There is still a great deal of abuse and neglect the dogs and other animals of Bali have to contend with, not least of which is the insidious dog meat industry and the Bali governments own misguided and immoral culling policies in the face of a rabies endemic they are causing by not allowing a genuine and proven vaccination programme to run.
So what can you do to help?
Fortunately there are things we as travellers can do to help.
- If you see something wrong or any type of mistreatment then speak out, don’t just let it happen.
- Talk to the owners of the mistreated animals if possible or if safe to do so.
- If there is a business involved where animals are being abused, neglected or mistreated (even something as simple as a homestay with a dog chained up and neglected) then refuse to do business with them, but more importantly explain to the owners exactly why you won’t give them your business.
- You can donate directly, every little bit helps.
- If you are heading to Bali and are in any position to bring a few things with you to donate, then BAWA have a wishlist of things they urgently need, from simple dog toys and blankets to veterinary supplies and medicine. Whatever you can bring will be greatly appreciated.
Remember, dogs don’t have a voice. Animals don’t have a voice. The gentle and intelligent animals of Bali – in the world in fact – rely on us to speak for them. They rely on people just like you or I to be their advocate and stand up for them when they cannot do so themselves. It takes the support and the willpower of every single individual working together to change things. So let’s do just that.
My day with the street feeding team gave me a tiny glimpse into the amazing work these selfless volunteers do every day. It was heartbreaking knowing that these animals need a service like this at all, but infinitely more heartwarming to see that they are getting the care, the attention and the love they deserve in a society where they are still by and large at risk. As the food ran out for the day and I bid Adi goodbye, I wished I could do more to help.
All animals have as much right to live in Bali as safely and as comfortably as people do. And with BAWA’s – and your – help, there is a future in sight where they can do just that.
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This post is in no way sponsored by the Bali Animal Welfare association and there are no incentives involved for the links placed within the article. This is a non profit cause I genuinely believe in and wish to help promote.