It's a race against time. One team of rescuers loads up vans and pickup trucks with nets and cages. Their mission: save dogs from the wrath of Mount Agung.
Bali has been on high alert since local disaster officials warned that the long-dormant volcano was about to blow. The villages, all of them located in the 9-12 kilometer danger zone around the active Mount Agung volcano, were vacated weeks ago.
Local residents fled their homes, leaving behind their pets and, in greater numbers, the packs of wild dogs that call the island home. Packs of semi-tame beach pups and village dogs are a common sight throughout the Island of the Gods. While many seem like strays, they are just as often owned by someone but just allowed to roam free, according to research conducted by Cambridge and Udayana universities.
But local laws meant to curb the spread of rabies restrict the transport of dogs across district lines, preventing owners form taking their pups with them to safety even if they wanted to.
"People who wanted to evacuate their dogs were being told they weren't allowed," said Linda Buller, the founder of the Bali Dog Adoption and Rescue Center, or BARC. And then there's the strays, the dogs with no masters, who have no one to help them in the case of a natural disaster.
Enter a motley crew of animal welfare workers and local volunteers. Rescue teams, led by organizations like BARC and the Balinese Animal Welfare Association (BAWA), have been risking daily trips into the forbidden danger zone—braving the potential destruction of an eruption—to save as many wayward pups as possible. "In the red zone, there are still dogs that we haven't rescued," said Dwi, BAWA's hotline operator and ambulance coordinator. "We have taken about 80 dogs to the temporary shelter."
It's unknown exactly how many dogs are currently in the danger zone. The island is full of them. Some estimates place the island's total "village dog" population in excess of 48,000. Those left in the abandoned villages face the risk of a brutal death by lava and hot ash clouds that can reach temperatures as high as 800 degrees Celsius.
BAWA is rushing to find and rescue as many dogs as possible into a temporary shelter in Rendang district. The organization send volunteers out on motorbikes to find and record the location of animals still in-need of rescue, Dwi explained.
"They will disperse to new areas and take notes on the locations of stray dogs or get information from local residents about animals that still need rescuing in their homes," Dwi said.
Locals say some dogs have grown more aggressive since being left to fend for themselves. Overly cautious canines, the ones who refuse to be captured by hand, are left some food with the hopes that they will be a bit more tame tomorrow.
"If that's impossible then we use nets or darts with sedatives, although we try our best to not use the darts since it could cause trauma," Dwi said.
Meanwhile, BARC takes a different approach. Partnering with other animal rights groups, it focuses on feeding the dogs rather than taking them in. But seeing so many pups in need of care, the organization, too, have had to bring in about 40 dogs. Many are in need of medical attention, with issues ranging from simple skin diseases to more life-threatening injuries. BARC has partnered with Sunset Vet to provide medical treatment for the injured animals. Local residents evacuated in such a rush that a lot of village dogs were injured in the chaos, explained Ebony Owens, the operations manager of BARC.
"It was a mass evacuation and a lot of pups and dogs were injured, with people leaving on bikes and cars, and the confusion of dogs wanting to follow their owners and getting hurt," said Owens.
Both organizations told VICE they will continue to care for the dogs until the potential disaster is over. They said that the local government was trying to help the animals, but relief crews already had their hands full with evacuation shelters full of human beings.
"The government is trying to make things better for the animals," Buller said. "Of course, their priority is to save humans."