The Jakarta Post
Baiq Desy Marlina, 37, has been a savior of stray dogs and cats for two decades. However, media coverage has brought disapproving neighbors to her door. Now, she has to move at least 105 dogs and 39 cats – some of which have been with her for six to 10 years – to other places.
Since the story of her and her dogs was picked up by the media, Desy has faced criticism and online bullying. She cited several media outlets that ran her story without interviewing her, not giving context over how her mission benefited the larger public – they only presented it as religiously controversial, as she is a Muslim woman who wears a hijab and takes care of dogs.
Desy is a resident of Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, a predominantly Muslim province. In most forms of Islam, dogs are considered unclean and Muslims should do their best not to touch their saliva. Earlier this year, another woman taking care of dogs, Hesti Sutrisno, 37, sparked online debates for keeping 11 dogs as pets in her home in Tangerang, as reported by tribunnews.com. Hesti wears a niqab.
“I have asked them for more time, at least until I can sterilize all the dogs,” Desy said, responding to the demand to send her dogs away from the neighborhood. Recently, she was also threatened via phone calls and text messages, some of which were death threats.
Since the story of her and her dogs was picked up by the media, Desy has faced criticism and online bullying. (Courtesy of Baiq Desy Marlina/-)
Lombok Island, a growing tourist destination, has many stray dogs. Along the southern coast of Lombok, there are more than 500 stray dogs, according to Desy’s estimate. The population will only continue to increase without human intervention. The stray animals are prone to rabies and often cause traffic accidents, especially among motorcyclists.
Scouring the streets for strays
Every weekend or on national holidays, Desy hits the streets of Lombok to search for and save stray cats and dogs. If she finds any, she brings them home, takes care of them and nurses the old and wounded ones. Male dogs are sterilized to avoid overbreeding.
The cats are kept at home and some are given to close family, because cats are more welcome in Muslim society. Desy cannot keep her dogs at her home in Kopang village, Central Lombok district, where it is forbidden to have dogs as pets. Instead, she keeps her dogs in Mataram City and West Lombok. However, Desy has been forced to find new places to house them as the locals began protesting after her story went viral.
“Cats are not an issue, but I have to provide special places for the dogs. I have offered two puppies for adoption, but I will pay for their food and sterilization process when they grow up,” she said.
Desy’s mission is not cheap. She spends Rp 6 million (US$429) to 7 million per month on food alone. The cost is even greater if her pets are sick or have to be sterilized. For sterilization, she pays Rp 650,000 per female dog and Rp 400,000 per male dog. Desy is hoping that local hotels and restaurants will help her to provide food for the animals.
“Stray dogs will continue to exist. There must be an effort to control the population without killing them. I’ve done this for a long time, and since then there has been constant criticism from the people,” Desy told The Jakarta Post. She added that there had not been any help from the regional government, despite the fact that her mission also benefited the public. Two years ago, she reached out for help by sending out a request for shelter from the government. To this date, the letter has remained unanswered.
Having faith that Allah helps her
Her mission began in 2009. Then, Desy worked freelance in sales for instant noodles. She was tasked with returning expired instant noodles to a factory in Mataram.
Lombok Island, a growing tourist destination, has many stray dogs. Along the southern coast of Lombok, there are more than 500 stray dogs, according to Desy’s estimate. (JP/Panca Nugraha)
Desy felt it was a waste to just throw away the instant noodles, thinking that it would be beneficial for animals since there were many starving stray cats and dogs. So she only returned the instant noodle packages. The noodles themselves were softened in water and given to stray animals.
“That was during the 1999 monetary crisis. I was only paid Rp 100,000 per month,” she said.
Now, Desy runs a business online. She also puts animals up for adoption through Facebook. Through social media, she accepts donations from fellow animal-lovers, starting at Rp 100,000 per month. Some even offer to pay for the sterilization of her dogs.
Desy has faith in what she has done and believes that Allah has helped her to keep going this far. She said she understood the Islamic teaching about dogs and had a system to abide by it.
“I know what I am doing. I prepare spare clothes and clean myself. I believe that all good things will bear goodness as well, and the bad things will bear badness, even to stray dogs,” she said.
“Believe me, there is an indescribable happiness when you save even just one stray puppy, because it also helps us for bigger things in the future.”