Bobby, Mandi, Gipsy, Ninjo, Bule, Susu, Madu, and Lou scampered down the deserted beach. The boys crashed into the raging surf while Gipsy rolled around in the black sand. Our twice daily walks with our eight Bail dog charges made us feel extremely fortunate to have the lifestyle that we have.
The beach was just a 5-minute walk, past rice fields and a couple of expensive looking resorts. The dogs knew every inch of this walk, including which house to tip-toe passed so as not to upset a neighbourhood dog in Lou's case.
The beach was the perfect place for the dogs to play, sniff, and blow off some steam. They also enjoyed picking through the food offerings laid down by the Hindu villagers.
This was to be our daily routine for two months. That was until disaster struck.
Coming back from our usual walk late one Sunday afternoon, Mandi (the oldest female dog and pack mediator) picked up some discarded food at the top of the driveway. Before we knew what was happening Mandi was fitting and convulsing violently. Wrapping her up in a towel, we jumped on the scooter and sped to the nearest vet.
House sitting our way around the world
Two and half years ago Julie and I quit our corporate day jobs and set off to explore this beautiful planet. We stumbled into house sitting by accident after reading a travel blog. During the last 30 months, we have house sat in Italy, New Zealand, USA, UK, Thailand, and Indonesia. We have been very fortunate to look after some wonderful pets and make some amazing new friends.
Most of the dogs and cats that we have cared for have had a perfect start in life. Taken in as puppies or kittens by loving owners and treated as one of the family. There has been the odd rescue dog and feral cat but nothing like what we volunteered for in Bali.
Now just about anybody would jump at the opportunity to spend two months in the tropical paradise of Bali. There was no shortage of applicants for this sit. In fact, we weren't the first choice. But when the original house sitter pulled out for health reasons, Eli contacted us and asked if we would step in. We were over the moon, doggie heaven on a tropical island.
All is not well in paradise
The relationship between the Balinese and one of the oldest dog breeds in the world is one of convenience. The Bali dog has roamed the streets of this island for thousands of years. Unlike most domestic breeds the Bali dog has remained fiercely independent and can survive without human contact.
Some Balinese dog owners care for their dogs in the same way we do in Western countries. However, the vast majority have a very different relationship with their dogs, more like a co-existence, a sharing of space with the dog coming and going as it pleases. For the Balinese, a dog provides security against spirits and thieves, keeps the rat population down, and is a companion to children. For the dog, they get somewhere relatively safe to lay their heads at night as well as some food scraps to supplement their scavenging.
But when the dog becomes ill, falls pregnant, or when their owners can no longer afford to keep them, they are left to fend for themselves often in deplorable condition. Bali dogs face other challenges too.
In 2008 there was a rabies outbreak that killed 78 people within 12 months and resulted in nearly three-quarters of the 600,000 dog population being culled. Today the local government runs a regular rabies injection programme. Coloured neck ribbons are a clear sign that a dog has been vaccinated. Unfortunately, though, the outbreak has fueled a fear of the Bali dog that didn't exist before.
It is also estimated that 70,000 dogs each year are killed for the dog meat trade. Many of these suffer terrible, cruel deaths. A recent undercover report by Animals Australia highlighted this inhumane practice. The charity is also working hard to highlight the brutal meat trade with the Governor of Bali.
And then there are the poisonings. Some locals drop meatballs (bakso) laced with strychnine or potassium to kill unwanted and/or unwelcome dogs.
It is against this back drop that Eli fell in love with this corner of Indonesia while on holiday. She quit her corporate life in Switzerland exchanging it for island life quicker than you can break open a bar of Toblerone. That was four years ago since then this determined young woman has made Bali her home and set about helping as many street dogs as she can.
Eli estimates that she has spent over €50,000 of her own money rescuing, nursing back to health, and rehoming over 100 Bali dogs and cats. Spending her savings is not the only sacrifice Eli has had to make. She told us "having a long term relationship or normal friendships, are sometimes hard with my passion to help dogs and always putting them first."
She also has to jump back into the corporate world for a few months each year to top up the bank account. This is when she seeks out trusted house sitters to take care of her much loved pack.
The eight pups that we were looking after were all in pretty bad shape (click here for photos of when rescued, images are pretty graphic) when Eli rescued them. The worse being Ninjo, who was suffering from a severe case of mange, distemper and was malnourished. The photos of Ninjo before treatment are heartbreaking. It was touch and go if he would make it at all. But after several months of intensive vet care, and two years of fortnightly injections for demodex and mange. He beat the odds and is now a big cuddly mutt, very loyal, gentle, and loving. We don't have favourites but….
Susu, one of the teenagers, was another one that was in terrible condition. He was found in a nearby rice field with a broken pelvis, mange, very malnourished and with a high temperature from an infection. Today Susu would not look out of place in a Disney movie. He's so soft and loving. Quite a goofball at times.
Each of the dogs has their own story of survival, each one of them lucky to have found a loving friend in Eli. But Eli would say she is the lucky one. As much as she would like to, Eli is unable to help every dog.
Race to Survive
Clutching Mandi, we ran into the vet surgery. Five veterinarian staff immediately began trying to combat the poison with saline drips, K1 vitamin injections, and a charcoal solution.
Despite a valiant effort, there was little they could do. Her age and size made an impossible task even harder, and sadly Mandi passed away. The vet told us that he had seen ten dogs that week due to poisoning, they only managed to save one.
Having gone back to the house to check on the other dogs, Bule, a young bitch, was showing signs of poisoning. Clutching Bule under my arm, I rode one-handed on the scooter to the vets through the madness of Bali traffic putting both our lives in danger.
Unlike Mandi, Bule had size and youth on her side. It was a tense couple of hours as the vets treated her. She responded well, and we are pleased to report that Bule is back to her normal self and enjoying beach life.
The manner of Mandi's death changed the dynamics of the house sit for all of us. From that point on we transported the dogs twice a day to the beach in a trailer hitched to a scooter. Our hearts beating faster every time one of the dogs picked something up on the beach (including a rotting chicken corpse). She was only a little dog, but Mandi left a big hole in the pack dynamics and our hearts.
An almost impossible task
Contrary to popular belief, the Bali dog can be trained. These eight pups are a testament to this. With support from a local friend, Eli has put in many hours of training with each dog to help them adjust from street life to pampered pets.
We have been blown away by the passion and enthusiasm that Eli has for her Bali dog rescues. At times it feels like an almost impossible task. Like painting the Golden Gate bridge with a toothbrush and one arm tied behind your back. It's relentless, but one of the many things that Eli has going for her is determination, by the bucket load.
Since returning to Bali several weeks ago, Eli has provided treatment for cancer and mange to seven street dogs. She has also fostered Moka a young pup with no back legs.
All this comes at a cost
You can make a difference to a Bali dog's chance of survival and help Eli to continue with her marathon efforts.
Make a donation using the Paypal account ‘firstname.lastname@example.org' to her charity Help 4 Bali's Street Dogs Every cent/penny/rupiah counts.
For example, it costs in US$:
- $10 - Food for a week for one dog
- $30 - Complete vaccination programme
- $65 - Sterilise female dog
- $26 - Sterilise male dog
- $15 - Treat mange and any parasites for three months
It has been a privilege to house sit for Eli and her gang of eight. We hope to see them again soon.