The Last Bali Heritage Dog

Across the ravine, a dog sends its voice into the dense black night.  Beside my bed Tika’s ears prick and she raises her muzzle to reply.  For a few moments the timeless call and answer of the canine race echoes through the jungle.  The barks vary in length and cadence; a conversation is taking place.  I know that Tika has a different vocalisation for these social communications, for strangers at the gate, and for a monitor lizard in the chicken yard. Very interesting, canine language, but at four in the morning it’s just a bloody nuisance and I ask her to be quiet.

The connection between the dogs reflects at least 2500 years during which this highly social breed has been communicating across Bali’s rice fields and deep ravines. Tika wears a collar and sleeps on the carpet by my bed, but she is a pure Bali heritage dog — an ancient breed whose genetics preserve the history of canine evolution.

In 2017 Udyana University hosted an international conference on the Bali Dog supported by the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA).   Dr Ben Sacks of the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at the University of California (UC) Davis presented a fascinating account of the evolution of the Bali dog and its importance to science and the community.  He strongly advocated its protection.

The often-scorned Bali dog is actually very special. These are neither mutts nor mongrels, but pristine dogs. “All dogs are descended from the grey wolf, Dr Sacks explains”. “About 7000  years ago the dog of today was born in Southeast Asia.  It spread rapidly to replace earlier proto-dogs and become the unique indigenous dog of Bali, Australia (dingo), and other regions, and eventually giving rise to the Kintamani, saluki, chow chow, Akita and basenji and other indigenous breeds.”

Between 2000 and 2003 the DNA of 3,000 indigenous dogs from all over Bali was tested in the Veterinary Genetics Laboratory at UC Davis. The research revealed that Bali’s indigenous dogs held one of the richest pools of genetic diversity of all the dogs in the world. “The Bali dog is one of the  few remaining indigenous dog populations,” says Dr Sacks. “Its genome is valuable to science.”

Bali is home to two unique indigenous dogs — the Bali heritage dog and the Highland Kintamani. The Bali heritage dog has lived on the island in its pure form for at least 2500 years, possibly much longer, and the Kintamani probably evolved as a sub-type .  Because of its very rich DNA, the Bali heritage dog presents a wide range of colours and markings.

The Balinese have been keeping these dogs for millenia; canine and human skeletons have been found buried together in sarcophagi in West Bali. The dogs are very territorial and protect the temples, shops, livestock and fields of their human families as well as killing rats and repelling snakes. Bali dogs are intelligent and easy to train, and possess great character and charm.  By nature they hate to be confined and like to roam in groups; this gives the impression that they’re feral.  In fact over 90% of Bali dogs are owned, although many Balinese don’t care for their dogs as a Westerner would; they are seldom sterilised or treated for medical problems.

But they have a strong place in Bali’s culture and religion. “Bali dogs are very faithful, clean, healthy and smart pets,” says I Gusti Ngurah Bagus of BAWA. “Until recently they lived in every Balinese compound. Their genetic variation makes them resistant to the diseases and genetic conditions common in breed dogs; they are easier to feed and care for.

“Their genetic purity is now under threat which is very sad for the Balinese; we are losing a part of our heritage that was here before we were. We need to work together to preserve the Bali dog.”

Those of us who live in Bali or visit often may have noticed that there are many fewer dogs on the street these days, and they look different.  It’s not our imagination.  The population of pure Bali dogs has dropped by a shocking 80% over the past decade.  

There are several threats to the survival of the Bali heritage dog. The most serious has been the mass culling mandated by the government in an ineffective attempt to control the current rabies epidemic.  This has removed at least 400,000 dogs from the gene pool.  The dog meat trade (warung RW), which is very strong in South Bali, accounts for at least 60,000 dogs a year.  But the most insidious threat has been the hybridisation with ‘breed’ dogs in Bali.

The ironically named purebred (breed) dogs were developed over the past 200 years to select for specific traits.  Breeding ‘purebred’ dogs is a multi-million dollar international industry.  Puppy mills are common in parts of Indonesia, including Bali, where dogs are forced to breed frequently in poor conditions.

“Before 2004 breed dogs were banned from Bali and the DNA of the Bali heritage dog was largely undisturbed,” says BAWA founder Janice Girardi. “But now breed dogs have become status symbols for the Balinese. They’re often allowed to roam and aren’t sterilised because of the higher economic value of the puppies. The resulting inbreeding with the Bali heritage dog is a serious threat to its genetic integrity.  Only an estimated 20% of the dogs in Bali today could be considered pure Bali dogs.”  Other threats to the Bali dog include acts of cruelty, disease, poisoning, street accidents and neglect.

The rapid disappearance of the Bali heritage dog is worrying to geneticists.  “There are too few remaining lineages of unique indigenous dogs in some regions and Bali is in danger of losing this dog with its very valuable ancient genetic signature,” says Dr Sacks. “ Bali dogs contribute unique information about the past.  Diluting the genetics with crossbreeding means information is being lost before we even know all the questions.”

BAWA is very active in all dimensions of the complex issues of animal welfare.  It maintains Bali’s only free 24/7 animal ambulance; if you see an animal in trouble, call the BAWA hotline at 0811389004.  Its rehab/adoption program places up to 60 rescued dogs a month in permanent homes. A free sterilisation program for Balinese-owned dogs is available for banjars that request it.  BAWA’s education program brings trainers into elementary schools to teach children about responsible dog ownership.   And it advocates tirelessly for animal rights.  Obtaining funding for its excellent programs is a constant battle.  Please consider supporting BAWA’s work with a monthly donation , however modest, through

Some communities are beginning to focus on the cultural importance of the Bali heritage dog.  Sekehe Asu Bali Utama (SABU) is a grassroots club in Kemenuh, Sukawati with a mission to build a healthy dog population while combating rabies.  Almost 50 members and supporters promote education about canine health, welfare and population control in the banjar.  The community has become more dog-friendly and people now find, rescue and adopt puppies.  There are now four Sekehe asu in Gianyar.  Perhaps a banjar might undertake the project of breeding pure Bali heritage dogs to keep the DNA secure.

Tika lies at my feet as I write, her alert eyes scanning the garden.  Suddenly she bounds to her feet and barks at a sound behind the wall. Those of us who share our homes with Bali heritage dogs mourn the almost certain disappearance of this unique canine.   What a loss it will be to science, to Balinese culture and to the world if the voice of this ancient lineage falls silent forever.


Magic Carpets


Once upon a time, many miles away and many years ago, I sat in the ballroom of the Hilton Hotel in Singapore with several hundred other people.  It was my first carpet auction.

Singapore was famous for these auctions.  Piles of glorious carpets from Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and obscure bits of central Asia covered the stage.  They were dramatically displayed one by one, each more beautiful than the last, their ages and merits described.  Bidding was invited.  Hands shot into the air, numbers were chanted, another magical carpet unfurled.  I had never attended an auction of any kind and knew nothing about carpets.  But I’d just moved into an old restored house with acres of white tiled floor… I bought six carpets.

It was my last carpet auction. Clearly I could not be trusted in this kind of environment.  They were all so beautiful, my hand just kept jumping into the air somehow.   Finally a friend dragged me out of the room before I could do further damage.

But I loved the carpets.  Each was a distinct work of art, humming with the energy of the many animals and people who’d had a part in its creation.  The sheep whose wool had been sheared, the cotton farmers, the dyers, the designers, the loom makers, the weavers – all had a presence.  The carpets gleamed like jewels on the floors of the old house, adding a rich dimension of colour and elegance to each spacious room.

When I moved to Bali in 2000, the carpets came too.  I knew I’d be moving from a big house to a very small one and that my life would be much simpler – that was the purpose of the move.  But incongruous as they would be in my new life, I couldn’t leave my lovely carpets behind.

A fine carpet, gently used, will last for generations.  After 16 years in Bali, my carpets looked a couple of centuries older.  My house is largely open and there’s no glass in the windows, so over the years dust gathered between the tight knots in volumes that my underpowered vacuum cleaner could not clear. But worse than dust were the dogs.

Dogs have a natural affinity for carpets.  In the daytime they prefer the cool tile but once the sun goes down they head for the nearest carpet.   What harm can a dog do to a fine carpet? Let me count the ways.

The most innocuous substance they leave on a carpet is dog hair.  Of course, dark haired dogs prefer light carpets and vice versa, for maximum visibility of the shed hair.  Then, if the dog happens to ingest grass or bite a toad in the garden or otherwise feel that a good vomit is in order, the dog will head for the nearest carpet on which to vacate its digestive system.

Bali dogs seem to be born housebroken and accidents are extremely rare even with puppies. But in the early days I somehow acquired a dachshund pup.  Gentle reader, dachshund + puppy = disaster for carpets.  It is not a breed that is easy to housetrain anyway and Daisy had spent her first months with a friend whose house had no doors, so the dog was able to come and go at will.  Never having learned to ask to go outside or discriminate between inside and outside, Daisy was hell on the carpets.  If I made her sleep outside she would cry all night.  Our  ten years together were long and pungent.

Over the years anything that could be discharged from a dog orifice found its way to the carpets.  Kalypso, my Kintamani dog, became blind, deaf and demented at the end of her long life but never messed inside the house until her last night on earth.  I woke to hear her convulsing on the carpet beside my bed, and will spare you a description of the type and volume of body fluids which had to be cleaned up after we buried her in the garden.

Then when the puppies arrived late last year we entered the era of bones.  Puppies chew things, and in order to distract them from shoes, pillows and furniture I began to provide them with meaty raw bones.  We must have gone through several pig carcasses in those six months.  And unless I remembered to close the door the pups would make themselves comfortable on the nearest carpet to chew their treats, adding a patina of blood, sinew and marrow to the mix.

Of course all the dogs liked to chew on the fringes and the edges.  Dead rats, birds and sometimes even chickens were brought into the house and laid reverently on the carpet by my bed, which saw the most intense action.  Wayan Manis and I would diligently scrub the grubby bits but as the years went by the carpets dulled in colour and their energy dimmed.  The whole house was getting dimmer, really.  I’d lived here for 14 years and was trying to find the energy to paint again, and get to Klungkung for fabric to re-cover the cushions.  But life was busy and I kept not getting around to it.

A birthday was looming but no plans were afoot.  That was fine with me; I was now in favour of only acknowledging the ones that ended in 0.  A couple of friends suggested going to Amed for a night just prior to the unbirthday and I agreed to go along.  We left at 9 on Friday morning and meandered lazily around Karangasem for that day and the next, sleeping at the new little eco resort Balila Beach outside of Amed.

It seems that at 0905 on Friday a small army of friends, tukangs, electricians and pembantus descended on my humble cottage.  Five weeks of intensive planning, many spreadsheets and truckloads of materials came together in a whirlwind two-day home makeover.  At times there were 20 people beavering away in my little house.  The interior was completely repainted with a new feature wall, lights repositioned and new shades installed, new shelving and curtains fitted, the seating area expanded, reupholstered and loaded with cushions and the bed linen replaced with fine Egyptian cotton and goose down pillows.

I am not particularly observant, especially when 10 of my friends are industriously pulling the wool over my eyes and purloining my keys. I had no clue.  I arrived back home at 8 on Saturday night to find my house utterly transformed and a noisy group of smug, exhausted and slightly drunk friends finishing off the birthday dinner I’d missed.  It was the most gobsmacking, mind-blowingly amazing birthday present ever conceived.  My fresh and delightful new house looked like something out of a magazine.  I still can’t believe the amount of time, planning, designing, shopping, making, work and resources that went into this epic act of love.  How I cherish the dear, mad friends from Ubud, Sydney, Arizona, Barcelona and Macau who made this happen.  You know who you are.

The next morning I wandered the house in daylight, marveling at the lilac bathroom and mirrored kitchen.  But where were my carpets?

I found them rolled up in the laundry shed, deemed too grubby to return to my now spotless abode.  Oh, the shame.  Then I remembered Farah’s, an Ubud shop selling hand woven carpets.  Soon a nice gentleman came and took my shocking carpets to Denpasar where the evidence of canine misbehavior was professionally removed.

The carpets are back, gleaming like jewels again.  They are a little worn after our 25 years together, but so am I.   Another quarter century of dogs and dust will give us all that much more character.

Extraordinary Encounters — an Interview with Dr Christopher Laursen

by Dr Christopher Laursen,  Historian of Religion
in my own words | extraordinary experiences
Spiritual Housekeeping
January 22, 2013


 Extraordinarium features personal experiences of the extraordinary as a way to explore their diversity and to broaden the conversation about how such experiences impact people’s lives. Publications such as Fate and Fortean Times have featured such personal experiences over the decades as a way of giving experients a voice, and part of Extraordinarium’s mandate is to do the same – to ensure that those who have extraordinary experiences have a forum in which they can share them first-hand, in their own words. From there, critical inquiry and respectful discussion can follow. 

Foreword by  Dr Laursen
Cat Wheeler has been living on Bali since 2000.  A Canadian expatriate  raised in Vancouver, she is a writer, social activist and Reiki Master.  Her book Bali Daze  is a lively series of brief anecdotes about living there, building her own house, adjusting to the way of being on the island and setting the scene for the nuances of Hindu-Balinese culture which is truly unlike any other in the world. 
I  had tea with Cat one cool, rainy season afternoon at her shady home in Ubud which is situated on the edge of a ravine – the place where an alternate dimension exists, where the Orang Sungei – the River People — live.  She writes in her book, “The River People are generally friendly and sociable, but have been known to become angry when people throw rubbish down the riverbanks.  Then they will drag the polluter down, sometimes to his death.”  One of her dogs, Kasey, had met such an unfortunate fate in the gorge beside her home.  Afterward, Cat recalled to me, she would dream of him and record these dreams – to find out that her housekeeper Wayan Manis had shared the same dream. 
Cat shared several extraordinary incidents that she experienced over the past 30 years, both in Singapore – where she lived in the 1990s – and since moving to Bali.  Here, she shares six of these moments.  What I find striking about them is the variety of experiences.  Encounters with sword-wielding apparitions, shoe-throwing energies, things going mysteriously missing, a moment of transoceanic synchronicity that led to a friendship, and possessed schoolgirls. 

The Haunted Rowhouses

In Singapore I lived in one of a row of old houses that had been built by the British as officers’ quarters.  After Independence the street had gone downhill and they were used as drug den — prostitutes, gangs, very  rough trade — for about 30 years.   Just before I moved in they’d been all been  renovated and gentrified, but they were still inhabited  with spirits.    
My friend Donna moved into a house two doors down from me but she was often on the road working,  leaving  the house empty.  One night had dinner at my house with some friends.  Donna went home  but very soon she was back, her eyes like saucers, and told us there was something weird going on in her bedroom
Four of us went to her house:  myself,  Donna, Nicole and Jenny, who is very psychic and intuitive.  She and I learned Reiki together and had been doing very interesting experimental work together for several years at that time.  So we all went next door and up the stairs, opened the door to Donna’s bedroom, walked in, and there was a WHOOSH of cold energy.  Whenever I’m in the presence of something like that, my left side feels chilled, so I knew there was a presence.  Nicole and Donna ran out and huddled together half way down the stairs.  Then Jenny entered the bedroom and immediately doubled over and started howling.  I put my hands on her shoulders to try and keep her grounded, very aware of an energy in the room.   
After a little while, I thought, Enough of this.  So I opened all of the doors to the verandah and said, “Okay, that’s enough!  You don’t belong here! Out you go!”  I started jumping up and down and making loud noises.  I had no techniques at that time.  There was a kind of sound and a blast of energy went out the bedroom door.  Donna and Nicole said they felt it pass them on the stairs as a cold wind, then it was gone.  This was my first experience, a long time ago.   I phoned a few people and asked how to clear spaces but no one could help me, so I had to create my own  technique.  And because this kind of thing is all about intention, it worked. 
After that I started to get calls from neighbours.  There were a lot of old energies from that period of gangsters, drugs and prostitutes – a lot of really sad, stuck, lost spirits hanging around.  Sometimes I’d wake up in the night feeling as if someone heavy had sat on the side of my bed, and I’d have to get up and clear the bedroom.  
I had a big upstairs room where my Reiki Master would teach when she was in Singapore. I apprenticed with her for 18 months before I became a teacher myself, mostly at my house.  One evening after a workshop when the students had left, several of us were unwinding over dinner downstairs. Suddenly there were two loud bangs overhead and I went up to check it out.  My Japanese roommate kept her shoes in a bookshelf at one end of the long narrow hall.  Something had taken her shoes and thrown them down to the other end of the hall. 
So we all had to go upstairs, open up the doors and windows and clear it.  It took some time, I guess because we hadn’t cleared the room where we’d been raising energy for two or three days and it had really built up.  Finally we felt it was gone and went and finished dinner.  Donna returned home and immediately discovered that it had moved to her house!  In one way or another, we got quite a bit of practice in that neighbourhood.
I call it spiritual housekeeping.  If you’re in a space that’s dirty, you have to clean it!  It’s not dangerous.  The energies are not usually angry or malevolent.  They’re just sad and stuck.  But I always protect myself well first as standard operating procedure.

The Dinner Guest

I live on a very highly charged piece of land, according to the Balinese.  I’ve had a couple of Balians – shamans – visit me here, walk around, come back and say, Not many people could live here.  The River people live in the  deep ravine to the east, my .  fence forming a boundary between my garden and an altogether separate dimension where Balinese people generally do not venture.  
It’s a very lively piece of land. The dogs sometimes just stand and stare at one corner where the jungle crawls up from the river to shade the edge of the garden.  There are certainly spirits in the ravine.   Once I had a dinner party  with eight people around the table.  I sat with my back to the forest,  chatting to a friend who was sitting beside me.  She happened to look past me [to the forest] and said, Oh my God!  I whipped around and just caught the edge of a huge face rising up out of the dark jungle on the other side of the wall; the face was perhaps three metres high.  Just as I was trying to focus on it, it pixelated and just dissolved away.  Colleen and I were the only people who saw it.  Perhaps it  wanted to join the party.
Because this is such a highly charged piece of land and because of the work I do, I put up a physical barrier, a boundary wall which very clearly separates my side/your side.  I’ve asked that it be respected. It’s not unseldom that things happen on the other side, but th River People do honour our agreement and stay out of  my house and garden.

Dismembered Warriors

One of the strangest things that ever happened to me took place before I moved here, about 25 years ago.  I went with a friend to Candidasa in August, the cremation season.  We stayed in a little place near the se and our room had an ylang ylang (grass) roof.  I’m allergic to grass roofs and I asked the staff to make up a bed on the bale (a roofed wooden platform) in the walled garden, so I could sleep outside.
The Balinese consider it absolutely mad and terribly dangerous to sleep outside, because of all the spiritual activity. They themselves sleep in closed-up rooms, usually with the windows tightly shut.  That night before I went to bed, I laid symbols and intention all around the bale; it just seemed like a good idea.  All around – at the beach, in the mountains, in the distance and not so far away – there was chanting, gamelan music, there was drumming, all kinds of death ceremony rituals going on in the night.  There was a hum of energy in the air and I had a hard time falling asleep.  I opened my eyes at one point thinking, What’s going on here?  It’s so lively.  
I sat up.  Coming at me out of each of the three walls of the garden were these apparitions: faces, masks, swords, severed hands.  They’d fly out of the walls right up to the edge of the bale.  And then they’d disappear, pixilate, where I’d laid the symbols and protection.  It was like watching a  movie.  After quite a while I wished it would stop so I could rest, but only when it began to get light did the action stop.  I was exhausted but intrigued.  

The Possessed Schoolgirls

One day there was a possession in the school across the street.  I heard people screaming and running and the school loudspeaker ordering everyone to go home, quickly.  My Balinese staff told me I should go help.  I asked whether it appropriate for a  foreigner to do that and they told me it was.   So I put protection around myself,  climbed the steps of the school against a tide of hysterical teenagers and teachers running out, and started to hold the space for a girl who was possessed.  
I’d never seen this phenomenon before and  I looked it up on the Internet afterwards.  It seems to be not uncommon with teenagers of a certain age in many countries. There were two girls — one was catatonic and the other I can only describe as crazed, enraged, demonically possessed.   I sat and held space for the catatonic one.  Her friend, to her credit, was bravely cradling her.  The other girl was possessed by a dark entity, she was full of ferocious energy.  If she’d had a knife in her hand, she would have attacked  everyone in sight.  She would rage for a while  then periodically collapse and huddle, shivering and exhausted, behind the school temple before the demon rose again. 
My housekeeper Wayan Manis came and joined me after a while, which was very brave for a Balinese.  We probably stayed there for an hour, until finally someone sent a car around and they took the girls away.  I asked for holy water and the principal, who was also a priest, sprinkled it over Wayan and me.  The teachers told the girls to take a month off, go see a Balian and do what needs to be done.  But a week later, the girls insisted on coming back to school and the same thing happened again.

Catherine Wheeler, it is not your time to die…

About 20 years ago I was thinking about moving to Bali from Singapore.  I came here with several friends and we stayed on the south coast.  Early one morning four of us went walking by the calm sea, about three metres from the waterline.  Suddenly a big rogue wave came up, two metres tall – a wall of water – and hit us like a train.  My three friends were swept up a surge channel.  I was luckily thrown into a breakwater because I can’t swim.   It was a very traumatic experience. We were all banged up, there was a lot of mud and blood, but no one was seriously hurt.  
Maybe ten years after this event, I received an e-mail out of the blue from a woman in Argentina.  She wrote, You’re going to think I’m absolutely mad.  I study dreams and last night I  dreamt of a bay in a tropical area; a boat was rocking and the waves were high.  There was a feeling of danger, but a voice said very clearly, “Catherine Wheeler, it is not your time to die.”   I Googled Catherine Wheeler and your name came up.  You must think I’m crazy. Does it make any sense to you?
I wrote back to say yes, it made perfect sense in its own strange way!  She’d dreamed about an event that happened to me a decade or so before; a very immediate dream with my name very clearly stated, so she was able to find me.    We became friends.  She’s a journalist and has featured me in a couple of articles in the Argentinean women’s magazine she writes for.

Dealing with Dark Forces

Ibu Kat has encountered many things living in Asia.  But, as she shows in the following experience, she’s empowered herself to maintain control of the spaces she occupies.  It’s a skill that she’s developed over decades using the practice of Reiki and intention. 
My first house in Bali was also by a river, and there was a very dark energy around it.  It was a horrible house!  Things were constantly disappearing.  I’d be alone in the compound with the front gate locked.  I’d put a hammer on the table, go answer the phone, come back and the hammer would be gone.  Things like that were constantly happening.  Items would be gone, never, ever to reappear, which I found very annoying. 
Then one night, my puppy disappeared.  He was on a long chain on an overhead line because the fence had not yet been finished and the house was near a busy road.  I went to the gate to see off a visitor and was gone for maybe 30 seconds.  When I got back to the house the dog was gone.  The chain was gone.  There hadn’t been a sound.  I was absolutely furious by this time.    I stood on the porch and shouted, “Alright, that’s enough!  This is my space, not your space.  This has got to stop!  I’m really fed up with this.   Go!  And send back my puppy!” 
Then I went and sat in my office and huffed.  Two minutes later there was the sound of a rattling chain and the wet, muddy little puppy ran in to sit at my feet.  Where had he been? How had he disappeared in utter silence trailing that long noisy chain?  He was pretty spooked and very glad to see me.
That was a big lesson for me.  I learned that here in Bali  you must have very strong, clear boundaries.  Sometimes, the spirits are malevolent here.  There’s a lot of black magic being thrown around out there by the Balinese; it can be dangerous.  I protect myself against it.  
Be fearless.  Fearlessness is different than courage, it’s a state of being.  You get there after being frightened a lot; you eventually work your way past it.  Bali is an energy vortex.  There’s always something going on.  Keep your balance.  And don’t be afraid. There really is nothing to fear except fear itself.
May your path be joyful.