The Trouble with Bali Dogs

The Trouble with Bali Dogs

For a Bali dog, the fact that Sisi even existed at the age of eight was nothing short of miraculous. Sure, she had the personality of a cardboard cut-out unless you were clutching a bag of food, but other than this mild social disorder, she had no real health problems. So when the whites of her eyes turned stoner red and she started to vomit without even eating it afterwards, we knew something was up.

Trouble was, Sisi wasn’t mine. She was the beloved pet of the caretaker of the house I was renting, Nengah and his family. They adored her, and it was common to see Nengah in all his tattooed glory kissing Sisi all over when he finished pumping his homemade concrete dumbbells. But as I watched the family eat plain rice for dinner most nights and get about in our cast-off clothing, I figured paying vet bills probably wasn’t on the top of their list of priorities.

Finding a balance between not forcing my western medical ideals down Nengah’s throat and not letting Sisi die on the lawn of the house I was renting was tough. It took five days of her drinking pool water and lying about like a used condom for me to work up the courage to approach Nengah and ask if he would like me to take Sisi to the vet. To my delight, he didn’t seem at all affronted by my interference, so his daughter Kita and I bundled the woolly mop into the car and set off for a local animal hospital.

It wasn’t a difficult exchange – the vet wasn’t in, so the nurse poured a tin of cat food on the floor as a test. Sisi ignored it, so the nurse rubbed the Whiskers into her gums. Sisi gave the nurse a look of pure despair, and it was conceded that yes, the dog was indeed ill. I paid a deposit, and we left Sisi to stay overnight.

At 10pm, I received a text.

“Hello Mrs Gemma, how about the skeletal x-ray? We haven’t been able to diagnose. We must do the x-ray to diagnose exact. Thank you Mrs Gemma.”

I wasn’t entirely sure why a sick dog would need its bones examined, but I agreed on the basis that perhaps her cause for illness was that she’d swallowed the scooter key I’d lost earlier that week.

Five days and 20 messages seeking authority for more tests later, the vet assured me that Sisi was eating again and was fine to come home. Her owners were delighted, and Nengah accompanied me in the car so I didn’t have to lug Sisi home by myself.

At the clinic, Sisi waddled happily down the hallway towards us looking distinctly healthier. The vet–a pudgy woman with a particularly anusy mouth—waddled behind her, eyes widening as she caught sight of me in the flesh.

“We’ve come to take Sisi home!” I announced.

“Mrs Gemma,” the vet said, pronouncing my name with a hard ‘g’. The way she spoke was slow and simpering, as though she was used to speaking only to small domestic animals.

“There are three reasons why we let dogs go home. One, because they are healthy and ready to leave. Two, because they are street dogs and no one can pay for them. Three, because their owner doesn’t care enough to treat them, and forces them to leave.”

I looked at her blankly. She pursed her lips.

“We haven’t yet tested Sisi’s liver. I think she has endometriosis. I think her liver is bad, and that her uterus is filled with pus.”

Nengah, not understanding a word, beamed. Sisi wagged her tail.

Gesturing wildly, the vet then launched into a lengthy explanation of Sisi’s suspected medical conditions in Indonesian, of which the only words I recognised were “sick”, “dog” and some numbers in the millions.

Nengah’s face darkened, and he shook his head. The vet switched back to English.

“If you love this dog like you love your daughter,” she said to me, “—and I know I love my dog like I love my daughter—you will pay for Sisi to have ongoing treatment. You will pay for her to have her liver tested, her uterus tested, and then her uterus removed.”

“Sisi’s not actually my dog,” I said guardedly. “She’s Nengah’s, so the treatment is up to him.”

“Well then,” she replied, “if you love this family—if you really care about this family and are a good person—then you will sponsor them and help save their dog’s life.”

“In their country,” she said to Nengah, pointing at me, “an operation like the one Sisi needs costs $2000. So expensive! But here, it’s very cheap for them. Only 2.5 million ($250AUD). It is nothing to them.”

Not quite knowing who the “they” were that considered $250 a small amount to spend on someone else’s dog, my jaw hardened.

“You don’t even know for sure she has endometriosis,” I said. “Why did you text me saying she could come home?”

The vet pretended not to hear me.

“I want to take Sisi home and care for her there,” Nengah said.

The vet was no quitter. She headed down the hallway, beckoning me with a chubby finger towards a room: “Come, Mrs Gemma.” A beeping sound indicated an animal was in there, under the knife. “Come look at this poor, helpless dog.”

“I don’t want to!” I said, almost shouting. “Can you just stop?”

She shrugged grimly. Nengah began to drag Sisi towards the door.

“We’re taking Sisi home,” I said, through gritted teeth. “Does she need any medication?”

10 minutes later, armed with tablets and creams and instructions about their thrice-daily administration, I approached the counter to pay. The vet brandished a piece of paper in the air triumphantly and slammed it in front of me.


I passed it to Nengah. He signed, and I took the bill.


Now, I’m financially stable, but I’m not “owns a jetski” financially stable. The vet tore an enormous hole in my wallet, but I swallowed my pain so as to not let Nengah know I was hurting as I handed over my credit card.

Back in the car, the driver threw back his head and laughed for a long time as we relayed the encounter.

“Trik dokter!” he guffawed. Nengah nodded, his arms locked around Sisi’s neck in a tight embrace. There was no need to translate the phrase into English.

“In Bali, if a dog is sick,” the driver said to me, “you just open its mouth and feed it a young coconut. Just shove it down its throat. Local remedy.”

I tried to make my wince look like a smile. Sisi’s tail thumped against the window.

“Next time, huh?” he said.

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