When Linda Buller walks into her dog shelter in Ubud, Bali, dozens of animals run to her, barking and howling for her attention. Their wagging tails show how they feel. But it has not always been like this, the Australian artist and animal lover said.
Street dogs are ubiquitous in Bali. Mangy, thin, hairless dogs, many with serious skin diseases, roam the streets of Denpasar, Ubud, Sanur and Kuta. The sight of a dog with wounds around its neck or limping across a street is a common one.
There are an estimated 600,000 dogs living in Bali. Some are strays, but other are owned by communities or families that do not care for them.
Buller introduced Turbo, a black dog delighted to see Buller, who said the dog had not been so friendly when he first arrived two days ago.
Turbo had been hostile and attempted to attack her.
“All Turbo wanted to do was bite me. He wanted to kill me. But the only reason he was acting like that was because he was so scared. Turbo might think that all human beings are cruel because they treat dogs very badly,” she said.
Buller first saw Turbo walking down a street in Ubud. He was hairless and unhealthy and she spoke to the owner about him.
“I said, I’ll take Turbo and treat it and will give it back. He said ‘Whatever’,” she said. “Now I don’t want to take Turbo back to owner.”
She said dogs in Bali were more independent that most domesticated dogs, as they do not require lots of attention and are more autonomous. The Balinese leave the dogs to run free and fend for themselves.
Balinese Veterinarian I Nengah Jaya Kusuma, who works at the Bali Dog Center, said most people were indifferent to the animals.
“People just don’t really feel a connection with the dogs,” he said.
This phenomenon bothered Buller’s conscience.
“Twenty years ago, I hoped that someone would build a shelter for the dogs and take care of them,” she said.
But eventually she stopped hoping and started to take care of them herself. She began by taking sick dogs home and treating them in her house. Her neighbors were not pleased.
“They were noisy,” she said. “I sometimes came home late and the dogs would great me by barking.”
Last November, with the help of Janice Girardi, the founder of the Bali Animal Welfare Association, Buller opened the Bali Dog Center in Ubud.
Some 50 dogs, including 30 puppies, are being treated at the center. As of July, the center has released 50 dogs to be adopted by caring families.
“Only people with a heart and who can be trusted would be allowed to adopt a dog from here,” she said. Buller had refused a request from a family with a four-year-old daughter, because the little girl once pushed a puppy into the pool.
The center is modest with most of the buildings built one at a time. Buller said that she ran it from day to day.
“The funding comes from generous people. Sometimes tourists come and see this place, think that it’s great and hand out 50 bucks,” she said. With a running cost of Rp 10 million (approximately US$1,100) per month, she said that the center was holding on.
Another organization working to improve the situation of Bali dogs is the Bali Street Dog Fund. BSDF is an Australia-based charity for the dogs in Bali. Established in 1999, the organization is attempting to help the plight of the thousands of dogs in Bali.
Paula Hodgson, co-founder of the Bali Street Dog Fund said in an e-mail that the BSDF has been working in conjunction with Balinese vets who travel around the island to treat dogs six days a week.
“This year the BSDF has funded a mobile unit for Ubud/Gianyar region which is directed by Janice Girardi,” she said.
The organization is currently setting up a 24-hour emergency SOS van.
“The emergency van is so needed due to dogs being hit by cars and left to die, if they survive their injuries are often horrific,” she said. The van would also respond to poisonings. Hodgson said that nine dogs were poisoned last week and with no 24 hour emergency van, the dogs died.
Buller added that people should treat their dogs well because dogs can be companions for the sick and elderly and work as guards.
“I think dogs are special because I think dogs are here to teach us unconditional love,” she said.