A dog's life in Bali

By Joanna Mathers

A shelter helps some of the island's neglected residents. Joanna Mathers reports.

Workers say caring for the dogs at Barc is sometimes its own reward.
Workers say caring for the dogs at Barc is sometimes its own reward.

Dogs to the left, dogs to the right. Dogs on the ground, dogs on tables. Big dogs, small dogs, bald dogs, blind dogs. At Bali Dog Adoption and Rehabilitation's (Barc) Good Karma Clinic in Ubud, there are dogs everywhere.

I love animals. An overseas holiday isn't complete without meeting some locals of the furry variety. And although dogs don't fall into the "exotic animals of Southeast Asia" category, Barc had an excellent write up in the Lonely Planet edition on Bali so I thought it worth checking out.

Made, the driver for Ubud Dedari Villas, a small, charming resort where I'm staying in the village of Bedulu, knows exactly where to go.

For an island known for its peace, spirituality and powers of healing, Bali has proved disappointing when it comes to the way it treats animals. The place is packed with mangy, sickly creatures that are simply crying out for love and care.

The drive from Bedulu to the Good Karma Clinic on Jl Raya Pengosekan is achingly slow but interesting. We pass the entrance to Goa Gaja, or Elephant Cave, a 9th-century temple complex with beautiful pools and sculptures. We crawl past stores and factories selling elaborate stone statues of gods and beasts. Made tells me to avoid it: "I'll take you to someone I know," he grins.

Made explains that Balinese people like dogs (or "cicing" in Balinese) but they often can't afford to look after them. "Balinese people often have guard dogs," he explains. "But it can be expensive to get them treated if they become sick."

So many dogs with even simple health conditions get thrown out on the streets.

After about 30 minutes, we arrive at the clinic. I'm overwhelmed by the noise. A cage of whimpering puppies lies to the right, another cage to the left. "We've had eight puppies in this hour," explains Amber, the administrator.

As we walk, Amber tells me the Barc story. The founder (expat Aussie Linda Buller) moved to Bali from Melbourne in 1997 to start a small Chinese medicine clinic. She was horrified at the condition the street dogs were in, and began rescuing them.

"[She] picked up lost, abandoned, suffering pups and took them home for rehabilitation. It wasn't long before her house became a zoo, so she decided to set up a centre that could act as a rehabilitation facility for these suffering animals."

The first incarnation of Barc was set up 10 years ago in an abandoned art gallery on Jl Raya Pengosekan. Linda funded this with money from her clinic; she also held exhibitions to raise money.

"The lease on the old art gallery recently ran out," says Amber. "And due to a massive fundraising effort, a large property north of Ubud was purchased."

The dogs that are waiting for adoption, or who can't be re-homed, now live here. Barc is a no-kill shelter so even unadoptable dogs can live out their lives in peace. She tells me a new adoption centre is also being developed, just along the road from the Good Karma Centre. All up, Barc now has more than 200 animals (mainly dogs, but also cats, monkeys and pigs) in its care.

I'm introduced to some of the centre's most notable residents. There's Stevie Wonder, a big white boy missing an eye and barely able to see from the other. Betty and Basil, basset hounds rescued from a puppy farm (most purebred dogs in Bali spend all their lives in cages and are used for breeding). There's the bald Linus Dean, just six months old and rescued from a marketplace where he'd been living on rotten food. And the heart-melting sisters - Mischa, Marsha and Moira; puppies dumped outside that morning.

It's not an easy visit. Many of the animals are terribly sick, injured or suffering from skin disease. Amber says it can sometimes feel like a losing battle.

The Barc team is committed to these creatures, however, and you can tell they are making a difference. Although there are many unhealthy-looking dogs in Ubud, there are others who seem well looked after. Part of BARC's mission statement is to educate people about animal care, and the message may be (slowly) getting through. "Return visitors have said that the dogs in Ubud look healthier than they use to," says Amber. "But it's hard to see this sometimes."

After my tour, I sit in the lush backyard, sweating in the humidity and emotionally jarred. Amber and basset hounds Betty and Basil join me. I ask what can be done to help. "We need volunteers, we need money, we need supplies," she says frankly. As if reading my mood, Basil pops his nose into my open palm. I reach behind his ears and give him a scratch. His tail wags. "They make it all worthwhile," smiles Amber. And as Basil stares up at me with his big, dark, droopy eyes, I can't help but agree.

Barc Good Karma Clinic is located on Jl Raya Pengosekan in Ubud. Most taxi drivers can take you there. See www.balidogrefuge.com

- Herald on Sunday

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