Cat in a hammock

One of the puppies at BAWA









Anyone who’s traveled to third world countries can usually tell you about the stray dogs and cats that abound, usually looking pretty haggard with skin conditions like mange or ring worm, or horrible deformations or wounds from animal fights or getting hit by cars. Bali is no different, although leaps and bounds are being taken to change the conditions of the animals here. Ubud, our temporary home, is where the Balinese Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) is based. This was my first week volunteering at the clinic, a relatively small compound for such a huge and important operation. Both the clinic and their one animal ambulance (the only on the island) run 24 hours a day, responding to calls regarding animals all over Bali, spaying and neutering cats and dogs, attending to skin problems or broken bones, rearing and socializing abandoned pups, and what has become one of their main focuses – vaccinating animals and responding to potential rabies cases – a virus that is now a full-on epidemic in Bali. Before I even went to the clinic I was warned: You will see dead animals. You will see people euthanizing hopeless animals. And perhaps the worst news I heard, I would most likely witness the beheading of dogs postmortem, which is the only way that the clinic can send the brain (the part of the body that is affected by rabies) of potentially rabid dogs to be analyzed for the virus.

The BAWA store in Ubud. The clinic is about a 10 minute drive from here.

I’m not a squeamish person for the most part, but I was definitely on guard when I entered the clinic for my first day of volunteer work. But my apprehension soon evaporated as I met the friendly and knowledgable Indonesian staff and vet nurses, and the vets who come from all over the world (England, Australia, America) to get experience and lend a hand for the cause. Because it was BAWA alone – the product of an American woman living in Ubud – that took on rabies in Bali and challenged the Indonesian government to stop simply killing the animals (which does not get rid of the problem), the organization has drawn a lot of attention via word of mouth, television channels, and radio stations like NPR. Because of this, the clinic – which would normally take on around 60-70 dogs and a fraction of that number in cats – has now grown to 120 dogs and over 40 cats, with more coming in every day. And besides for a handful, they are all puppies or kittens. When you walk in the main entrance, you immediately see the overflow – cages that would have been inside the compound and housing only one puppy are now lining the main entryway and sometimes hold two or more pups. There are designated areas for dogs with skin problems, those with kennel cough, those recovering from kennel cough, dogs recovering from surgery, newly admitted puppies, adoptable puppies and dogs, dogs that need to be isolated, dogs that are under observation for rabies, and a whole area that is for cats only. They have even taken in a pet monkey, Dexter, that was abandoned and we have become close already – he turning over my fingers checking for bugs, and grooming my arm of vagrant pieces of dirt or sand.

It is pretty incredible to see what they do everyday. There are dozens of intakes of animals a day, and each one has to be checked out and sometimes quarantined for some time. There are people walking into the clinic at all hours of the day to see about adopting, and since there is no set procedure, someone from the small staff must drop what they’re doing to help them and give them information about available dogs. There are surgeries, injections, and medicines given frequently. Then there are the tasks that I help with: feedings, washings, walks with the older dogs in the rice paddies, laundry, cleaning floors and crates, socializing the puppies and teenage dogs, etc.

It has already been quite an experience, and I’ve seen a lot in my short time at BAWA. The people who work in and around the organization are fun and friendly, but they take this job and what it means for Balinese animals very seriously – as they should. Rabies is very real here. It is an epidemic. And even though other animal organizations are popping up in the area, I feel BAWA is the one that is truly making a difference by challenging the Indonesian government’s strategies for eradicating rabies, as well as their growing education program taking place in Balinese schools. I’m so happy I have the chance to personally see and interact with this organization and the animals it aims to help, and hopefully next week at BAWA will bring more adventures and experiences my way!