By: Christine Hogg
Growing up, Larisa Graham loved cats. When the time came to buy a house of her own, owning an animal wasn't in the cards for Graham, who, as a filmographer is a frequent traveller. After a visit to the Eagle Valley Humane Society and Animal Shelter in Eagle, Colorado, where she lives with her husband, Graham was introduced to the concept of fostering a cat. "There are a lot of older cats there who no one will adopt, and they need a break from the shelter from time to time," Graham said. "From there we just kind of fell in love with these older cats." Graham's affection towards vulnerable and at-risk animals led an older shelter cat named Jamba into her heart and home, where she remained for a year before succumbing to poor health. Though her time with Jamba was short, Graham says she's grateful for the moments they had together and for the experience itself. "We were glad that she was able to live out her last year with us and not in at the shelter," Graham said. "After that we wanted to help as many of these older cats as we could."
Since fostering Jamba, Graham and her husband have cared for six cats over the last two years. Now, she is turning her attention towards helping victimized animals on an international scale. In a few months, Graham will depart to the region of Bali, Indonesia, to support the efforts of BAWA, a local non-profit organization committed to finding loving homes for Indonesia's neglected, abused, and abandoned animals. Founded in 2007, BAWA directly relieves the suffering of animals by providing emergency response and rescue, food and medication, rehabilitation and adoption.
BAWA practices humane population control, disease control and runs intensive education and advocacy programs for sustainable improvement to animal welfare now and into the future. In such a crowded region, Indonesia has hundreds if not thousands of animals in need who can be found in the streets, on the beaches, and roaming through the villages of Bali. As an active supporter of the Humane Society in the U.S., Graham was eager to get involved with an organization that shared similar views. "I thought it would be very interesting to see how animal rescue works in other parts of the world," Graham said. "I've also been interested in visiting Indonesia. As an animal lover I thought this would be an amazing opportunity to see this region."
Graham has been shooting and editing video for six years now but has worked in the industry for over a decade. To date, her travels have taken her to Thailand, Cambodia, Japan, Vietnam, Argentina, Uruguay, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, France, Portugal, Croatia, Italy, and Mexico, where the heart of her business lies in filming weddings. After shooting a friend's wedding, Graham realized just how much she loved the creative expression and storytelling aspects of the job and decided to work for herself, where she continues to enjoy the freedom of her own schedule and the ability to travel, which she cites as one of the things she loves the most.
As she prepares for her trip, perhaps one of the most interesting elements that await her in Bali is the famous Bali Heritage Dog, who is BAWA's major area of focus, aside from saving and rescuing animals every day. A mythical, beautiful, and indigenous mutt, the Bali Heritage Dog is said to be the oldest living breed in the world, meaning its origins date even further back than the Australian Dingo. The Bali dog’s DNA is a mixture of the Australian Dingo; the Chow-Chow, originally from Northern China; and the Akita, a large Spitz breed of dog originating from the mountainous northern regions of Japan. This protected genetic diversity makes the Bali dog strong. It can survive on the streets in the harshest of conditions without the veterinary attention needed by western breeds, which accumulate daily at the BAWA sanctuary.
Due to a law prohibiting the import of dogs to Bali being lifted in 2004, the Bali Heritage Dog is decreasing in numbers quickly as more and more people choose to keep purebred Western canines as pets. Bali’s heritage dog is now threatened with extinction as a unique breed through a combination of crossbreeding, mass culling, and the dog meat trade. While familiarizing herself with BAWA's work, Graham's interest was peaked by the Bali Heritage Dog. "I think it would be cool to make a video just about the Heritage Dog," Graham said. "I had never heard about this before, and I think it's important to spread awareness." Although excited at the prospect of meeting and interacting with people from new cultures, Graham understands and recognizes the possibility and probability of seeing animals in distress and working to tell a story through film that captures the organization's efforts. "I've been preparing myself for months," Graham said. "I know it will be hard but this experience and filming this organization will 100 per cent be worth it."
To make a donation towards Larisa's project, click here.