Up until a couple weeks ago, all Putih, a Bali puppy, had ever known was life as a refugee.
Many evacuees, who began their exodus when Mount Agung’s alert level was upgraded to the highest alert level on Sept. 22, were unable to bring their pets to the crowded, government-supported refugee camps.
Putih was just a week old and her eyes weren’t even open yet when she was taken, along with her mother and one other sibling, to a makeshift dog camp in Menanga at the Artha Agung, a resort that was about to have its grand opening, poised to become a space bustling with travelers eager to experience the close-up views of its volcano namesake.
Now empty, with almost no guests since Agung first began stirring, the resort, a “comfortable” 13 kilometers from the volcano’s crater, agreed to rent space on its grounds to the Bali Animal Welfare Association (BAWA), where the local non-profit could keep evacuated dogs safely outside the 12-kilometer danger zone.
Named for the Indonesian word for “white,” the color of her coat, Putih became the only pup of her litter when her sibling sadly passed at the Menanga center.
You can see Putih’s a feisty survivor. The smallest of the puppies housed at Artha Agung when Coconuts Bali visited earlier this month, it was clear she was the bossiest. Always the first to the food bowl and quick to tell other larger pups off with a yip and a low growl.
Finally, now that her family has returned to their slopeside-village, Putih too has made her way home to them. The family had just the month before left the evacuation camp and moved back to their house in Junggul, a village that lies just seven kilometers from the crater.
Putih’s humans, Nengah Sudiani, her husband, and their two children, aged six and eight, had spent five long months at a camp for refugees in Karangasem’s Rendang District before heading back home in early February, once Mount Agung’s status was downgraded from the highest alert level and their home was no longer in the volcano’s exclusion zone.
Like most Balinese in the villages that dot the area, the family owned some cattle before the volcano started stirring, and lived as farmers, tending to flowers for the Hindu canang sari offerings and beans.
But the family sold their cows in a rush, at less than 50 percent the typical value once they were forced to evacuate. Sudiani choked back tears telling us about the millions of rupiah her family lost from the cattle’s sale, when Coconuts Bali tagged along with BAWA to return Putih a couple of weeks ago.
“My husband asked BAWA to take our dogs when we had to evacuate,” Sudiani said.
The reunion with the family was a bit awkward for the puppy, as the family’s kids were eager to play with Putih, but the puppy was standoffish, unfamiliar with the kids, never having met them after evacuation.
However, Putih’s mother, a nervous yet protective black and white dog had been returned from Menanga about a week before her pup, so Putih was at least greeted at home by a familiar face and tail she could hide behind.
It took a parcel of food to finally coax Putih out of the kennel in which she had been transported home.
With Janice Girardi, a longtime champion of the island’s dogs, at the helm, BAWA has sheltered more than 300 canines evacuated from the volcano like Putih over the past six months. The “volcano dogs” were kept in four different locations in Karangasem, including Artha Agung.
BAWA currently has two of these “volcano dog” shelters (one has already closed) in the Besakih area — near Bali’s holiest and largest of temples — and one in Padang Bai.
Most of the dogs have since been brought home; however, there are about 30 left who already have owners, but are still being cared for by BAWA, Girardi estimates.
In addition to caring for the pets left behind, BAWA has been sending daily patrol teams to feed the dogs on the slopes of the volcano who are either strays or simply never brought down the mountain for evacuation by their owners.
With the network of roads connecting villages around the volcano left more or less obliterated by landslides and lahars — debris-filled cold lava flows — conducting feedings for the volcano dogs has been a challenging and risky operation, but not an impossible one.
“We usually take four-wheel drives, as many areas are too difficult or impossible with roads washed out,” Girardi told Coconuts Bali.
Some days it’s teams of three, sometimes teams of five, she says.
“If people are home but they have lost everything, we go twice a week and drop off enough food to the person responsible in the village to help feed the dogs, but in other villages, we go daily where people are still evacuated or mostly evacuated.”
With Mount Agung still active and some villages within the four-kilometer exclusion zone still evacuated, there’s currently no end in sight for BAWA’s volcano dog feedings.
Photos: Jan Glenn/Coconuts Bali