“Since COVID-19, the care for dogs in Bali has become less of a priority”

A conversation with Dewi Pertiwi and her father who take care of 80 dogs.

When we walk towards the gate of Dewi’s house we’re welcomed by the noise of sixty barking dogs. They don’t just bark, they enthusiastically jump against the fence, happy to see strangers visiting their compound. The gate has two doors, one opens for us on the outside, the second one opens after the first has closed, to make sure none of the dogs leaves the place. Seventeen year old Dewi welcomes us with a smile while the dogs welcome us with jumps on our legs. My friend Manu joins me to translate the conversation with Dewi and her father and she’s been to this place many times already.

Everyone in the village knows where to go when you find kittens or puppies abandoned in the street. Dewi and her family take care of the animals, giving them food, shelter and even medical care if needed. Although the capacity of her place almost reaches it maximum at the moment and the donations have decreased since Covid-19.

Dewi Pertiwi (✍️ by Kazuaki Senno).

Their work depends on donations

We’re standing a few minutes amongst all the dogs before Dewi’s dad guides us to the concrete table at the back of the inner court and offers us kopi Bali. The dogs sniff our stuff, they pee on my bag, they show us that we’re in their place and – when the barking stops after 5 minutes – that we’re respected. We sit down with the four of us and multiple dogs on the table in front of us and the floor around us. Dewi’s mother is there as well, carrying one and a half year old Bagus, the son of Dewi’s brother. The child’s mother left when he was only one month old.
The house consists of two compartments and a courtyard in between. Around the patio are several dog cages, big and small. One of the dogs is tied to the only tree in the space, because he possibly bites you if he was walking around freely. Five or six birdcages hang on the ceiling and below them smaller ones are kept on the ground with puppies in them. A group of little dogs is being fed by Dewi’s mother and another small one is locked up separately because of his skin disease.

Sick dogs get treatment with the medicine Dewi has in her house. She gets support from a doctor who comes by every week and even explains to her how to vaccinate the animals. The people in Mas, a tiny village south of Ubud, where Dewi lives know where to find her and appreciate her work. The banjar – the Balinese village community – gave her an official permit to execute her work. Although town gossip suggests some folks envy her and others don’t like the fact that she keeps so many dogs in one place. When they were living in their family compound, neighbours started to complain when the amount of dogs they kept reached the limit of 15. Dewi’s father decided to lend money from the bank to rent the property where they’re staying now. They will need to renew and thus pay for the lease again in 3 years from now, which is a big financial expense but it doesn’t stress them out. Their work depends on donations and there hasn’t been a shortage of gifts yet. Although times were better when tourists were still visiting the island, the mindset of living by the day instead of worrying about tomorrow helps them a great deal.

Miraculously, Dewi woke up from her coma

After the short introduction and the encounter with their dogs we move to a quieter space to continue our conversation. We drive to one of the warungs nearby – not too close though, to prevent rumor gets around – and we start talking about how it all began. Dewi was in 4th grade and about 9 years old when she ended up in hospital due to food poisoning. Her father was on his way from home to visit her and to bring some new clothing when he found a small black puppy alongside the road. The heavy rain made him realize he couldn’t leave the little dog out there by itself, he tells us with his hand on his heart. So he decided to bring Selam – that’s how they named him later on, meaning ‘black’ – to Dewi’s hospital bed where she lay in a coma. The doctor couldn’t at first appreciate the initiative of the father but allowed the puppy to come close to Dewi eventually. Miraculously, Dewi woke up from her coma after Selam had licked her body and started to throw up continuously, helping the poison to get out of her system. She left the clinic the same day and feels called ever since to take care of dogs.

It was a shock to the doctor, who couldn’t believe that she recovered so fast and he visited her weekly to check up on her. He continued doing that until his death three years ago. The doctor was convinced it was her path in life to connect with dogs. The head of the spiritual community told her the same when he visited Dewi’s house after he’d heard what had happened to her.

“You are one in a thousand people who has a special mission in this lifetime”, he said to her.

Even though her recovery went smoothly, there was some sorrow of her becoming a different person than before the illness. And something did change in regard to Dewi’s feelings for dogs. Where she didn’t even really touch dogs before she got sick, she now couldn’t pass sick dogs without taking them home to take care of them. She’d take Selam to school with her, upsetting the teacher at first but getting approval because of her good results. And when in the beginning at some point her father got rid of tree sick dogs in their home because he realized they didn’t have the medicine to properly take care of them, Dewi stopped eating until her father brought the animals back to her. That’s how strong her purpose is.

The situation became worse since COVID-19

Rescuing dogs and cats in Bali is a never ending story because people abandon animals on a weekly basis. It makes Dewi very angry.

“The first problem is that the Balinese want a pet when it’s cute and little. But once they discover some kind of problem, a skin disease or other illness, they just dump them in the cemetery or market”, she tells with a soft voice while leaning at the table with her arms crossed.

She educates people as much as possible about sterilization and dog behavior – like for example that barking is normal – but the word of mouth isn’t enough to change the attitude of many. “Some people keep dogs for breeding puppies and then turn them into a commodity. And other Balinese focus more on their tourism businesses instead of on their dogs. The situation became worse since Covid-19 has left people without a job, frustrated and worried about the financial troubles and therefore they don’t prioritize the care for animals”, Dewi ads.

Her father wishes for the rich Balinese to make more of an effort in this issue. “Most of the support we get is from normal people, sometimes they’re even poor. Or from foreigners who stay on the island. But I’m disappointed in the Balinese people who live in big villas and have money to spend”, he explains while emphasizing his regret with hand gestures.

there isn’t always enough money going directly to the care of animals

Nonetheless, both father and daughter are hopeful for the future. Dewi almost finishes high school and is able to spend more time on the care of the dogs soon. When asked if she doesn’t want to continue study, she explains how she rather spends more time with the dogs.

“Even when we’re at the beach, she can’t wait to go home and feed the animals. She lets them eat first before she grabs food herself, otherwise she feels sorry”, her father adds.

It was clear for Dewi that her calling would evolve into the current state of living with 60 dogs, several cats and a few birds. Although the relatives drink the same beverage in the warung where we’re chatting, their opinions aren’t always the same. Dewi’s father raises his eyebrows and answers with his eyes wide open that he didn’t expect it at all to become so big. His previous life as a woodcarver looked very different. But he doesn’t leave a doubt that he won’t stop supporting his daughter in her work.

There are other organizations in Bali who take care of dogs and cats and Dewi tells us that she used to collaborate with some of those initiatives. But she thinks there isn’t always enough money going directly to the care of animals and she prefers organizing things herself. People donate dog food or cookies and sometimes bring rice, potato or chicken for the nasi sela Dewi prepares in the evening. It is also possible to help them out by taking the dogs for a walk in the late afternoon. The young lady seems confident about the future and has just one message for people left: “Before you decide to have a dog, cat, or even a human being, just realize that it’s a responsibility you need to take to the end. If you’re not able to be fully responsible, don’t do it.”

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