Is It Okay to Adopt a Street Dog on Holiday?
I’m in an abandoned theme park in Bali, peering down at the dishevelled buildings, the walls littered with graffiti and a maze of overgrown foliage. Hidden in a little nook among the ravenous mosquitos is a litter of whimpering puppies, squirming in the crumbling walls that confine them. Their malnourished mother is nearby, attempting to scavenge for food.
These are my first experiences in Bali, and the preconceived notions I had of this idyllic island paradise are dissolved. The streets of the island are flooded with neglected dogs. Some pets yes, but mostly strays, all of which have fallen victim to human existence, yet all we seem to do is zip past them on the streets without a second thought, caught up in the concept of a perfect, relaxing holiday.
The reality of the situation is these suffering pups desperately need help, and there is so much tourists can do. But so many aren’t doing the right thing.
‘SOS – URGENT HOME REQUIRED BEFORE RESCUER EUTHANASES HIM! This gorgeous boy was dumped by his western owners when they left the island, and now he’s looking for his fur-ever home!’
This is a common Facebook post in one of the many localised online community groups in Bali. People have an ambition to help the street dogs of Bali, but they fail to realise that temporary adoption is not the only, or the best option.
Bali Adoption and Rehabilitation Centre (BARC) is a non-profit organisation that has rescued and rehabilitated over 4000 dogs on the island. They aim to relieve suffering, abuse, starvation and neglect. They provide medical care, a home and sterilisation of animals, and they also educate school children about how to care and respect animals. Currently, they care for more-or-less 350 homeless dogs and puppies, surviving 100% on donations – donations that are virtually non-existent.
I sit by the office, observing the few staff nursing frail pups bundled in blankets. Countless dogs run around me, getting tangled amongst my legs; others lay solemn and silent nearby, trying to cool down on the tiles.
I meet Caramel, a lush-haired golden hound who lacks the ability to stand after being slammed down by a car. Cha Cha viciously growls at me as I pass – he is scared, unable to see me. It looks like his eyes have been gouged out, leaving behind thick, grisly scars. Kate, a new arrival, is gaunt and hairless. She never ceases wailing. And Helena: frail, exhausted… human.
Helena is a petite Indonesian woman who dedicates her life to saving street dogs, working tirelessly every day at BARC to care for these animals. While so many ignore the helpless dogs, she deprives herself of food to care for the seven puppies that crowd her small home and works endlessly. You can see the passion on her face and the stress on her frail structure.
“If we don’t have money what can we do? Sometimes it’s very hard, honestly, but we cannot give up,” she sobs, fingers chasing the tears tumbling down her cheeks.
A Polish tourist has just delivered another victim in desperate need of help. I can see the young backpacker’s blood beginning to boil as she gestures, stress seeping from her pores. She wants to help, and the possibility that BARC may not be able to care for the sickly dog she has brought devastates her. The small, crowded organisation is overwhelmed by masses of animals in need, and this one may be more than they can take.
People become enraged, refusing to contribute as they assume they have done their part by delivering the dog, not understanding that caring for an animal is a long-term commitment.
This is the pattern and simultaneously, the problem. The few that follow their human instinct and desire to help these defenceless animals temporarily can simply worsen the issue. People deliver wounded animals; they dump plastic bags jammed full of live puppies on the doorstep. They have good intentions; however, without funding, nobody can provide for them.
“We love animals so we can’t ignore them,” Helena says.
Perhaps the greatest problem is the expats who attempt to play the hero. They “rescue” and adopt young, helpless pups while they’re on holiday, only to return to their home countries within a few months, abandoning these now domesticated dogs in harsh conditions, unable to fend for themselves as wild animals.
So what can we, as foreigners, do?
We need to take responsibility for our actions, especially in a country where most local facilities don’t have the resources to do so. The everyday sights of miserable dogs on the streets sadden us all, yet there is so much that can be done to make a change. We can volunteer at local shelters, donate and spread awareness. It’s human activity that harms these innocent animals. Malnourishment, neglect, abuse and car accidents are the most prominent causes of sickness and injury for dogs in Bali. As Helena witnesses every day, “All the destruction in the world is caused by humans, not animals … not the dog, not the chicken, not the snake – the human.”
Temporarily adopting a street dog might feel right at the time, but it’s probably not going to make a positive impact in the long run.
Cover by Joseph