KARANGASEM, Indonesia — As the small convoy carrying volunteers, dried food and canned meat pulls up before a revered Hindu temple on the slopes of Bali’s Mount Agung volcano, dogs trot out from the mist shrouding the temple’s cascade of steps. In between snarling over rank and territory, they gulp down their rations.

Pura Besakih, known as the “Mother Temple” by locals, is usually busy with thousands of tourists and rows of stalls hawking spicy meatball soup, but it is now deserted — bar its canine residents.

An animal welfare organization founded by a Californian woman who has made Bali her home is making daily forays into the danger zone around the menacing volcano to feed the hungry temple dogs and rescue village dogs left behind by fleeing communities.

Janice Girardi, who has lived on the Indonesian tourist island for more than 30 years, said she’s a little nervous about getting close to Mount Agung, but is still making sure the animals are treated humanely.

“We’re just seeing a lot of starving dogs and a lot of scared dogs,” she said.

More than 140,000 people have fled from the surrounds of Mount Agung since authorities raised the volcano’s alert status to the highest level on Sept. 22 after a sudden increase in tremors. It last erupted in 1963, killing more than 1,000 people.

“Luckily the earthquakes have stopped for a bit, because what we were seeing last week, we were up on Tuesday, when all of the big quakes were hitting, and we were going up, everybody was panicked running down, and we just saw dogs running crazy, running amok down the roads,” Girardi said.

For the past week, Girardi and volunteers for the Bali Animal Welfare Association have been driving up the mountain to retrieve roaming and chained-up dogs.

The group rented an empty pig farm and created an animal shelter, which has quickly filled with more than 70 dogs, many brought in by people leaving the area. They’re just getting started on a second shelter.

“People are bringing us their dogs that have been up in the red zone,” said Girardi, who also runs a jewelry business on the island, which is known for its beguiling beaches, elegant Hindu culture and lush tropical interior. “They’re telling us where they are or they’re running up, getting them and bringing them to us.”

Girardi, who was born in Pennsylvania and grew up in California, says she was 21 when she first came to Bali in 1973 on a vacation and never really left.

“Ever since I was little I loved animals, and when I got here I was really surprised because nobody had them as pets, nobody would give them a water bowl,” she said. “That was such a weird concept.”

Author photo
FADLAN SYAM
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