My biggest song had the line: Every time I look around and indeed, every time I look around there are eyes. Four.
Four little hopeful or loving eyes. Two peer up from a sausage shaped creature just above ground level (that’s Chippy – named after the dachshund my parents gave me for my 7th birthday – he lasted 15 years, until Christmas 1977 – that was a terribly tearful family day as we opened gifts from ‘Chippy’ that had been under the tree before he was euthanised with harrowing back pains) and the other two some 30cm or so higher, from Star, our Bali street dog who, at almost 6, is almost certainly likely to be the last survivor of her six siblings, given the horrendous life dogs are given on that island – ignored, tortured, beaten, poisoned and diseased.
These eyes are always with either myself or with Brigid when we are home. When we are away they sit at the top window impatiently watching the soi until we return, refusing, as far as we can tell, to eat or drink until we walk back in. The return is ritualistically celebrated by a feast of biscuits, mixed with wild yelping and leaping.
They love us. Many dogs feel the same way about their family and there is an oddness about the way such interspecies love can be so profound and unconditional.
We love them too. These dogs, are, after all, smuggled treasure, and at some cost.
In 2009 when we decided we wanted out of Bali, or at least made the move that we had in principal decided on a year or so earlier, our options were narrowed by these four eyes. Neither Brigid nor me could bring ourselves to leave the mutts behind.
The problem was that most countries – at least the ones we considered – were not open to dogs (or any other animals) from Indonesia. There was the fact that Indonesian mutts, even the vast majority of those who live with caring humans, are not vaccinated or given the regular treatments that dogs in many other nations get.
That ours were was neither here nor there – as Indonesian dogs they were persona (or canine-a) non-gratis in all but about six places meunless we wanted to put them in a cage for six months at massive cost.
That restriction was further complicated by the rabies epidemic that has ravaged Bali for some four years now (officially since the end of 2008 but as any resident will tell you, for much longer) which has, once again, officially, killed some 114 people (once again unofficially nobody know exactly but it’s likely much higher), a number that is sadly only going to grow as any attempts to tackle the problem are stymied by endemic corruption and incompetence as is the Bali way.
One of the attempts to combat rabies, was quite bizarrely, to ban all animal imports and exports from Bali. Imports I can vaguely get (but surely treated cleared animals would be ok – although that’s complicated by the fact that a piece of paper in Indonesia is only as good as your last bribe 1). Exporting, especially to the places in the world where rabies exists, is harder to justify banning, assuming the hounds have been fully vaccinated and are healthy (ours always have been and we have the booklets to prove it, although the one that came with the dachshund from the pet shop we discovered was forged to save money and she almost died).
We were aware that we could possibly find a home for Chippy but the Bali dog was going be a problem. Even the Balinese who we knew to have taken Bali dogs before as puppies discarded them when they were no longer cute. Star, too, is nervy and lacking in the sort of confidence it would take to re-bond with a family after being poked and teased incessantly by the local kids as a puppy and kicked by our staff when we were not around. She cowers and is terrified of strangers.
So, yes, we were limited by all these. Once they were out of Bali we had far fewer problems as Java and Jakarta, with a simple quarantine and the right papers would let them go to any accepting country. These countries included much of Asia and the USA, but not Singapore or Australasia which had the strict controls as above. New Zealand is, very understandably, paranoid about these things.
As a New Zealander, I don’t mind that at all.
A trip to Bangkok while we were musing all this over solved the issue. I could live in the royal city as could Brigid. And so could the dogs – if we could get them out of Bali.
Talking it through with people who knew how it was done put us touch with the right guy.
As with everything in Indonesia, money is the key. Simply put, to get the dogs out of Bali, large bribes had to be paid.
Thus one morning in October 2009 the two dogs, in their new cages, were handed over to the two guys who were going to take them to Jakarta via Java’s notoriously bad jalans. Mostly the thirty-hour trek would be just boring. However, on the boat to Java, from Gilimanuk in Bali, the girls were in real danger. If they were found they would be summarily killed, either by strychnine, a bullet each or simply being tossed over the side of the boat. To get around this they guards and officials on the boat were heavily bribed but even then there was a danger the guys would simply take the money and kill them regardless.
Our guy assured us that our ‘fees’ were heavy enough to get the dogs across. And heavy they were. The costs of getting the dogs out of Indonesia were about five times the human cost.
Once in Jakarta, given that we had all the correct health papers (and we were sure our dogs were fine) they would be put on a plane. The last hurdle was the quarantine. The Thai government didn’t require this but Indonesia insists that dogs sit in a quarantine for several days. This is not as easy as it sounds as there seems to be both a death rate and, we were led to believe, a false death rate whereby the dogs would be sold and the owners told they had died 2. Chippy was more at risk than Star was.
To get around this our guy paid for surrogate dogs to go into the quarantine before ours left Bali. On arrival, the certificates were provided and the dogs taken to the airport where they were handed to Brigid (I had gone on ahead to BKK to ready the house).
In Indonesia, people who are supposed to go to jail do similar things.
It was Haj time and the terminal was packed full of the devout going off to wander around an old rock in the desert. Into that wanders Brigid with two howling dogs, happy to see mum. Dogs are profoundly unclean – haram – and the pilgrims, I am told, scattered. The guy from the airline took the dogs, sending them down the belt to be loaded, and then furiously washed his hands.
Three hours later I was in Bangkok, at the always intensely crowded Suvarnabhumi airport waiting. Inside Brigid and Bella were also waiting, this time at the oversized baggage counter, where two dogs arrived on the large elevator from below. They howled. The whole airport could hear them howling.
Brigid went to the customs counter to pay the import fee (just a few dollars – legit this time) but the dog guy was missing. At smoko. The fish guy was there but could not help. Outside the howls of the two mutts, desperate to get out of the cages with freedom and a loving hand so very close, were rattling and echoing across the four levels of the airport. Everyone at arrivals was looking around searching for the reason.
I stood behind a pillar, ready to leap out and grasp the dogs and my family as they came through, which, a few minutes after the dog guy returned, they did.
So yes, we smuggled, greasing the way with dollars as we did so, and I guess that makes us as complicit as the others who cross that ethical boundary but I’m gonna plead our dogs’ lives, especially the much loved Bali dog who would have been homeless and shortly dead – or dinner….
2014 edit: Little Chippy passed away in Bangkok, much loved, on May 25, 2014. Her ashes will be scattered on Sanur Beach in Bali, a place she loved.
- you can never be totally sure that the doctor or architect you use in Bali has actually been to the tertiary institute named on that certificate proudly displayed on his or her office or surgery wall ↩
- this happened in Bali too to people we knew, when the caring vet said their pedigree dogs had died. They discovered the truth after insisting on seeing the bodies and a junior staffer, ignorant of his boss’ fraud, showed them other dogs ↩