By Twig Mowatt, The Bark
On a steamy June morning, employees of the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA) are engaged in one of the most rewarding parts of the job: delivering puppies to an enthusiastic group of new owners -all sixth-graders- in the town of Ubud. The students have completed a course in animal welfare, making them eligible to participate in the second annual Bali Dog Idol contest to see who takes the best care of a family pet. Last year, 18 students completed the six-month challenge, which required them to answer questions about responsible dog ownership and strut their pup in front of a live audience. The event proved to be such a success that this year BAWA, the sponsor, has increased the number of contestants to fifty.
“I’m so excited,” says 10-year-old Dayu Bintang, after selecting a female puppy from the BAWA van. “My family is going to help me take care of it. It’s our first pet.”
Though the young girl has never before shared her home with a dog, she knows that many stray dogs roam the streets. In fact, two forage through trash near her as she holds her new puppy. If the power of education and the joys of pet companionship work their magic as hoped, then it’s not just this one puppy who will benefit from the Idol experience. Bintang and her family may also begin to look more kindly on the dogs outside.
“Education is by far the most important program and the one I care most about because it’s the only hope for lasting change,” says California native Janice Girardi, who founded BAWA in 2007 after doing years of her own animal rescue work following her move to Bali to start a jewelry business. “But it’s the program that I end up giving the least amount of attention to because the other problems are so much more pressing.”
Most pressing by far is the excruciating balancing act that requires Girardi to weigh the importance of preventing dogs from being born against preventing dogs from being killed. That is, does she direct BAWA’s limited resources into the spay-and-neuter effort that stops endless litters from being born and then dying on the streets, or does she put her effort into a massive rabies vaccination campaign to save dogs from being killed by strychnine under the government’s elimination approach to rabies control?
Next: Life for animals living in Bali