Belang is starting to warm up to us – a little! I’ve been reading the Tiga Wasa Guest Book and there are lots of comments about Belang. Other guests have experienced the same issues we have – if you get too close, Belang will step back or snap! Another guest mentioned the very sad look in his eyes. I would add to that saying a look of fear and distrust is evident. Obviously, he has suffered human abuse, or maybe he has just not been domesticated. Since Cliff and I are here for a full month, I am hoping to build more trust with him. Just yesterday, while we were having pesto pasta (say that three times quickly!) on the lanai, I noticed he was laying comfortably beneath me, quite near my leg, but not touching. After dinner Belang did seem to enjoy the pasta left-overs!
Today I decided to take a heel from a loaf of bread and see if I could coax Belang into taking it directly from my outstretched hand, still allowing for some distance between us. He did. But later, when I tried to give him a much smaller biscuit (kind of a cross between a buttery cracker and a small flat cookie with coconut flavoring), he wasn’t as willing. Apparently, the biscuit was not large enough to provide a sufficient barrier between us. When I dropped it on the small rug where he lays outside, he readily enjoyed the snack and grabbed it between his paws to gnaw on it like a typical Westernized dog would do with a bone or treat.
Cliff has tried to break through to Belang as well. We have learned to make very slow and expected movements. Being sure that Belang is aware of us before we approach him, calling out his name quietly. Sumi feeds something to Belang every day. Typically, a mushy, wet bowl of rice. I watched Sumi feed Belang today and he began eating before she even finished filling his bowl; he usually waits for me to back away when I put food in his bowl before he digs in.
In Bali, as well as Bora Bora, dogs are treated much differently than in America, and other Westernized parts of the world. Dogs are seen more as either just another creature of nature, or a security asset. Dogs are not petted, cuddled and pampered in the way we treat pets in America. They are also not cleaned and groomed and live their lives strictly outdoors. Kind of like how we might treat birds. We might buy bird seed, but don’t necessarily feel responsible to feed the birds daily. Cliff and I did purchase a large and expensive (everything is shipped in from Papeete) bag of dog food when we were house sitting in Bora Bora since there were five dogs to feed, all belonging to one neighbor directly next door. So, left-overs would not suffice. We watched the dogs there eat everything from mango peel scraps (a favorite) and watermelon scrapped right down to the white rind, to raw live crabs that infested the entire yard. We had great laughs over the dogs having crab for dinner!
Bali is a much larger island than Bora Bora, and by population there is no comparison. However, the density of semi-feral dogs seems less on Bali than on Bora Bora. In part because of a rabies outbreak on Bali over five years ago where hundreds of thousands of dogs were destroyed. I use the term semi-feral because the dogs still mostly rely on humans for food, and the Balinese would consider this an important distinction separating the semi-feral dogs from completely wild dogs. Semi-feral dogs are quite a problem in Bora Bora, and there is a big sterilization program underway that is showing signs of success. Also, the dogs in Bali are not as large as Bora Bora overall. So, it’s not as intimidating to take a walk in Bali! Mostly the dogs will not bother you if you don’t enter their territory.
Coming from a land where it is the law that a dog must be on a leash (…or “lead” to my Aussie friends), it’s hard to comprehend dogs running about freely. At one point on Bora Bora, we were debating on renting (hiring) a vehicle. I was recounting the list of pros and cons of renting a car versus a scooter to Automne, a young fellow world traveler we met on Bora Bora, originally from Belgium, when she wisely added, “You don’t want a scooter because of the dogs. They might bite your leg!” Something we hadn’t considered. With only a $300 difference to rent two scooters over the course of a month versus a car, and the ability to easily haul groceries every few days, we had already decided on a car. This new piece of information just confirmed it. Oh yeah, there was air conditioning too! I did later meet a fellow tourist on a Bora Bora lagoon tour who had a bandage on her lower leg, calf region, from being bit by a dog in Papeete. It didn’t stop her continuing her tour, but it was surely an inconvenience.
I think the key points to keep in mind if visiting Bali, and other non-westernized islands, is that dogs should not be treated as pets. Don’t try to befriend the dogs meandering about; think of them like wild monkeys. Both can carry rabies and if bitten, you must get treated. Also note that Bali can run out of the rabies vaccine, so this could require a trip to Singapore. If treatment is not begun within 7 days, it will be fatal. We learned a lot of this info while getting immunizations in Denver before our trip where we received the first rabies shot in the series, which does have some value. The rabies vaccine process can be started before you leave, but it is somewhat futile because if you get bitten by a rabid dog or monkey, you still need to go through the whole process again. So far, I have never met anyone who has gotten rabies.
The history of dogs on Bali is truly fascinating and scientifically very significant. Prior to 2004, outside dogs were not allowed into Bali. The DNA of the original Balinese dog prior to 2004 consisted of a combination of Australian Dingo, Chow Chow and Akita. In fact, the original Balinese dogs are considered the “protodog,” with huge scientific evolutionary genetic data concealed in their gene pool. Recent major conferences have been held in Bali to review the implications of new breeds entering the island. Additionally, Bali dogs have spiritual value, even though they often eat the offerings left for the gods, apparently this is not an issue. Helps keep vermin away too!
In case some of you are wondering, as I was, I looked up what Belang’s name means in Indonesian. Quite interesting! As you can see from the photos, he has white and black markings all over his small-to-medium sized body. Sure enough, Belang means “Striped.” Like we might name a dog “Spot.” Visually, Belang looks very similar to one of the original Balinese dogs. We may never be able to pet Belang, however we are pleased to be part of his life for a time and help him come to know humans as his best friend.