Print|Text Size: ||
Saving the Dogs of Bali

Coming from Girardi, these aren’t idle words. Before she founded BAWA, she spent years loading injured dogs onto makeshift cardboard stretchers and driving them over an hour to the vet in Denpasar. Now she can call the 24-hour animal ambulance that she funded through BAWA.

A highly acclaimed jewelry designer, Girardi creates collections for Sundance, Red Envelope and other high-end outlets and puts most of the profits into BAWA, an organization whose programs include a 24-hour clinic that provides low-cost treatment to local animals and cares for rescued puppies and kittens until they can be rehomed, and the ambulance, which is staffed with a vet and dog-catchers (mercifully adept at using a net). The ambulance responds to calls from around the island and treats street dogs for skin and internal parasites, wounds and starvation.

With funding from the Bali Street Dog Fund of Australia, BAWA also runs a spay/neuter van that goes into the field six days a week, conducting up to 40 procedures a day in “M*A*S*H”-style setups, and treating skin conditions and wounds.

Other BAWA initiatives include an educational campaign, which Girardi is hoping to expand—in part by videotaping a public service announcement on animal welfare with a well-regarded local high priest. She is also trying to help craft Indonesia’s first animal welfare laws, and she oversees a feeding program in which at-risk dogs get daily meals. (Girardi herself feeds about 40 dogs a day on her commute.) BAWA staff members rescue puppies in immediate danger, sometimes socializing them in the offices of the jewelry company. (Employees often share their in-boxes with napping puppies.)

Because not enough adoptive homes exist—particularly for adult dogs—Girardi treats and returns older dogs to the locations at which they were found.

Treat-and-release works here because the “Bali Dog” is a pretty savvy and resourceful animal, who—if health and food requirements are met—can have a perfectly fine life without the trappings that most dog-obsessed Westerners would consider essential. Similar to the dingo, they’re indigenous animals beautifully adapted to their surroundings. Typical Bali dogs are long and lean, with very short hair. They’re also super-smart, naturally wary and inexhaustible barkers. In other words, Ubud isn’t overrun with Shih Tzus and Golden Retrievers that would be helpless on the streets.

“True Bali street dogs—those who have never had a home—can be happy if they have their own corner of pavement and if they have access to clean water, food, medical care and sterilization. That’s our goal,” says Paula Hodgson, co-founder of the Bali Street Dog Fund. “I have seen many street dogs who are well-fed and healthy (thanks to BAWA) and are happy to sleep on the warm pavement.”

Of course, reaching this goal takes a lot of manpower. BAWA employs 30 full-time staff members and could easily keep twice that many busy around the clock. With funding so precarious in this economy, Girardi is increasingly turning to volunteer help. Any enterprising animal lover can be put to immediate good use. Vicki Parker of Melbourne, Australia, is so committed to the cause that she goes twice a year, typically helping set up for operations and walking the beaches to assist dogs in distress.

“It can be very heartbreaking,” she says. “But the work is challenging and very rewarding and Janice is such an inspiration.”

Though the pace of progress may be achingly slow, there are clear signs that BAWA’s message is taking hold. For instance, Girardi now receives calls from community leaders two or three times a week, requesting help with unsterilized or ill dogs; even a year ago, it would have been BAWA’s job to initiate contact. BAWA’s outdoor traveling clinics overflow with repeat clients, along with their friends and neighbors. At one outpost, a little boy is given a liver treat for one of his dogs, and he carefully breaks it in half to share with the other dog at home. Dogs with collars, and some on leashes, are becoming a common sight on the streets of Ubud.

Twig Mowatt covered the drug war in Colombia for the New York Times and the Associated Press and now writes about animal issues. She works closely with dog rescue organizations in Puerto Rico and with GREY2K USA. grey2kusa.org

Photography by Anne Marie & Holli Hollitzer

More From The Bark