I knew full-well when we set off on this trip that I’d have to confront many issues that morally outrage me such as the global sex trade, homelessness and animal cruelty. These issues are prevalent enough in so called ‘developed’ countries like the UK but we found that as soon as we hit Indonesia they became even more visible; in particular we were struck by the plight of Indonesian street animals.
As we journeyed through Java, Bali, Lombok and the Gili Islands, we couldn’t help but notice all the starving, neglected cats and dogs roaming the streets along with the weary horses made to relentlessly pull tourists along in carts or carry them up mountains. In Jakarta we were also heartbroken to see a monkey chained up and forced to perform tricks while a child begged passersby for money.
When I lived in London I did some volunteer work for the Mayhew Animal Home, which included writing for their magazine. For one feature I interviewed a Mayhew vet, Ursula, about the work she does neutering and vaccinating street animals in countries like Nepal. Even though she’d seen some horrible cases of animal cruelty abroad, I was struck by how understanding Ursula was about it. Many Asian countries just don’t see animals the way we do in the western world, she explained to me, animals usually aren’t kept as pets; they’re seen as a monetary asset, a source of food or as pests. Ursula stressed that the most important thing when tackling these issues is not to judge other countries for their animal welfare policies; governments often have enough humanitarian problems to contend with without worrying about animals.
Despite this realisation, it’s still hard to contend with seeing starving, injured and abused animals in the streets when you travel and we saw plenty of them in Indonesia. Andrew and I are determined to find an ethical way to volunteer for both a humanitarian and an animal welfare organisation during the course of our travels, so we were interested to check out the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) when we were in Ubud.
Indonesian Animals – A Trip to the Bali Animal Welfare Association
The BAWA was set up by an American woman in 2005 and focuses predominately on rescuing and rehoming street dogs and cats in Bali, however the organisation also helps neglected and abused monkeys, horses and dolphins in other areas of Indonesia. We visited the BAWA shelter in Ubud, which can hold around 200 dogs at a time, as well as a smaller number of cats and costs a staggering 250,000 American Dollars a year to run.
We were shown around the shelter by a member of staff who taught us a lot about the issues surrounding animal welfare in Indonesia. We weren’t allowed to take pictures or video in the shelter, but as we walked around we saw plenty of starved and neglected street animals, some suffering from skin conditions which are a common problem. Plenty of other animals are brought into the shelter following road accidents (not a surprise considering how manic drivers can be in Indonesia) whilst others are ex-pets dumped at the shelters when their owners become bored of them or once they’re fully grown and aren’t quite so cute anymore.
While we saw a few cats during our visit, the shelter was predominantly filled with dogs. Our guide explained that this is because dogs generally receive worse treatment in Bali, partly because the Balinese believe that if you live a bad life, your punishment is to become a dog when you die; whereas if you’re good you’ll become a cat. It’s a bit strange then, that dog meat is also seen as a delicacy in Indonesia and dogs are often kept as pets simply to be fattened up and slaughtered; one fillet of dog meat can cost IDR1,000,000 (£66), the woman at the shelter told us.
As well as treating, rehoming, vaccinating and neutering stray animals, the BAWA work on educating local people about diseases and animal welfare. Staff regularly go out to small villages to vaccinate and neuter animals and talk to the locals; one issue they’re particularly keen on raising awareness about is rabies, which is apparently widespread in Bali, although no one has concrete figures on exactly how many cases there are each year. While the disease can be contracted by cats, monkeys, bats and rats, it’s most commonly spread to humans by dogs; so it’s important for the BAWA to vaccinate as many animals against the disease as they can and teach local people how to spot the symptoms.
Our trip to the BAWA was illuminating and heartening and we’re glad we took the time to visit; it’s only encouraged us to make sure we find a way to help street animals at some point during our trip through Asia.