After 2 travelicious months in Europe, I returned to Bali, plunging headfirst into a voluntary dog-ful universe. These are not just any dogs; they are 4 Bali rescue dogs owned by a British couple that went back to the UK to visit family and friends for a few weeks. S & B invited me to dog-sit while they were overseas. So, I’ve been watching over them – or, perhaps more precisely, as it turns out: they’ve been watching me.
The Bali rescue dog is a curious phenomenon. (You can read more about them, and the island-wide efforts to save them, here and here. With thousands of dogs left abandoned, caged, mistreated, out on the streets or dumped into boxes and left by the roadside, this pervasive, island-wide status quo long ago reached a crisis point. Somehow these dogs have survived – despite being plagued by rabies, mange, broken bones, blindness and a host of other illness and injuries. Their resilience is formidable.
My first experience with the rescued Bali street dog was with Blackie – a sweet pup I ended up fostering for awhile, when I still lived in Ubud. But she was ONE. This foursome has kept me on my toes. And tested me – and my patience and commitment to them – every single day.
Amigo is papa-bear of the family. He is a huge black chunk of insecurity and laziness, planting and plunking his huge bulk in between another of the dogs and myself; wordlessly insinuating himself into a tete-a-tete. He dare not be excluded from a conversation or love-fest. Amigo is also gifted with the most precious sad-puppy eyes I’ve ever seen. “Give me more love and attention, please,” they beckon. Words aren’t necessary. His message is loud and clear. “Let me in…don’t forget about ME!”
Months ago, Amigo lost his canine confidant to illness, following which he became so distraught that S & B adopted Archie. The pup of the lot, Archie is the only pale-skinned pet of the bunch. He may be squatter than the rest but he more than makes up for his short stature by his kinetic energy; far out-dashing and leaping any of the others. He is also the slowest eater, which I ascribe to his need for slow chewing, or perhaps – he’s developed a devilish penchant for taunting the others with nibbles they’ve long ago licked up while he still savors. If you should unlock the front door minutes after your departure (never mind, hours later), you would do well to prepare yourself for a full-frontal attack; Archie yelps and leaps into your face without pause, preventing you from even crossing the threshold.
Amigo and Archie, by now inseparable and lately eager to spend the nights sprawled on my bed (and across any of my presenting limbs), had a rough start to their respective lives; both left by the roadside. As if that wasn’t bad enough. But there is worse.
Annie and Angel were castoffs of a different kind; their lives clouded by an extensive history of abuse. One look at them – Angel, in particular – and you might guess so yourself. The trauma is written all over their faces. Smeared all over their bodies. Surely, embedded in their cells.
Annie is on high alert at all times; her primary coping mechanisms being barking or chewing off and into tiny bits anything in her vicinity that is worth biting off. On the other hand, Angel’s species of trauma is sui generis; unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed. Hyper-vigilance incarnate. It took her weeks to even dare approach me, smell me, eye me closely, offer her paw from a safe distance. She would glare at me, run off and hide – on a distant couch, under S&B’s bed, in a corner – whenever I came into view. Her eyes widened; blinking wouldn’t happen lest she missed the wisp of a perceived threat.
I let her be. I learned not to look in her eyes straight-on. I carefully avoided walking too close to her; placing a treat on the floor, far enough away from her, but within reach as soon as I turned away – unlike Amigo and Archie, who would ravenously snatch from my hands.
And yet. There was hope. One day, Angel set her startle response and ever-suspicious mind to pause; and pawed her cautiously-sniffing nose into the warmth of my waiting hand. Annie came in close for a patting, a hug, a whisper in her ear. She knelt and snuggled her back against my knee. Amigo, perhaps threatened by the diminishing fears of others, plunked himself on my leg. (Don’t forget about me!) All the while, Archie lay out in the sun, spying on the lot of us.
In S & B’s absence, these 4 As have chewed up the garden, a few towels, a pair of flip-flops and the tail end of a garden hose. They’ve strewn dried leaves all over the house, wreaked a bit of havoc, played and picked (friendly) fights with each other, snoozed in the blazing midday heat and watched me water the plants in the cool evenings. They’ve eaten well, and stayed hydrated. They are at home.
And, to my great surprise and comfort, each one of them – friends and angels – has taught me a few lessons. They’ve also shown me what is possible when abandon, abuse and trauma have been seen, understood and given the space and time to transform.