Meet the Balinese girl who is devoted to rescue Bali’s stray dogs...
It was one cloudy day when I saw Agung Dewi playing with some of her dogs after she came home from school. To Agung Dewi Laina Pertiwi, the dogs are part of her life. Three years ago, Agung Dewi’s life, who was only 13 years old when I met her last year, was saved by a dog that her father brought. Now, she and her family live together with more than 35 stray dogs which she keeps in their small house in the village of Mas in Ubud, Gianyar.
The story began when she was poisoned by an expired piece of bread that she picked up at a food stall in 2014. She had to be hospitalized for two weeks. Her father, Oka Yasna, said that Agung Dewi’s condition was weakened each day due to the poison. Dewi could not consume any food. “Until one day, I saw a little black stray dog on the street in Bitra Village on my way to the hospital,” Oka reminisced. “I picked up the dog and gave it to her in the hospital. I said, ‘Dewi, I bring you a dog, you’re in love with the dog, right?’ Then, I put the dog next to her.”
A miracle happened. “Agung Dewi suddenly threw up three times,” Oka continued. “Then, she sat down, smiled and hugged the dog. She asked for some food. The next day, she wanted to go home to take care of the dog. And the doctor allowed her to go home.”
Ever since then, Agung Dewi believes the dog is her savior. Selem, the black stray dog, soon became a part of her life. And every time Agung Dewi sees a stray dog in the village, she takes it home and adopts it together with Selem. There was a time when the number of the dogs she adopted reached almost 60. Still, Selem remains her favorite and always follows wherever Dewi goes, even to school. The relationship between Dewi and Selem reminds me of the story of Hachiko in Japan, a dog which is remembered for his remarkable loyalty to his owner, Professor HidesaburõÌ„ Ueno, even more than nine years after Ueno’s death.
In mid-2015, rabies was a major problem in Bali. The problem led to a culling of wild dogs across the island, a policy that invited protests from many NGOs and animal lovers, including Agung Dewi and her family. “In 2015, some officers from The Department of Animal Husbandry of Gianyar came to our house. They wanted to take our dogs due to the rabies issue. I was totally against that. I told them that our dogs have been vaccinated. I even showed them all of our dog’s control books. Our family tried hard to protect these dogs. We do not want Dewi to be sad and sick again if she knew that the dogs were treated poorly. I strongly disagree that we need to kill dogs just to prevent rabies,” Oka said. To which Agung Dewi added, “I don’t like the idea of people killing dogs.”
Having a lot of stray dogs at his home, Oka often got a negative stigma from his neighbors. Even so, that didn’t stop his daughter from adopting more stray dogs. And though the family is financially weak, Oka ventured to rent land away from other residents for ten years, to make sure that no one is disturbed by the dogs. The modest shelter is built with some help from friends and relatives. “I just want my girl to be happy and healthy,” said Oka. Agung Dewi added, “I want to be a police woman when I grow up so I can punish those who kill the dogs.”
A Symbol of Loyalty
In the Balinese culture, dogs are historically important as they are believed to symbolize “Tyaga” which means “bhakti” or sincere devotion. In Mahaprashtanikaparwa or the “Book of the Great Journey” – a part of the Mahabharata, an epic ancient story from India – a black dog is told to follow Panca Pandavas (the five brothers) and Drupadi (the wife of the five brothers) as they journey to heaven.
However, one by one the travelers died – only one of the five brothers named Yudhisthira and the black dog survived and made it to the top of Mount Mahameru. Then, God Indra came to pick Yudhisthira up to heaven, but he told Yudhisthira that he should not bring a dog into heaven. Yudhisthira refused the request as the black dog has been a loyal companion from the beginning of his journey. Suddenly, the dog transformed into God of Yama, Yudhisthira’s father. It turns out the Gods were testing him and Yudhistira passed the test. He then managed to go to heaven.
Contributor : Agung Parameswara
Magazine issue > Little Loves