Real Life

Read about Kelly Austin’s shelter for undateable dogs

The generous Kiwi mum has set up a shelter for old, injured and disabled canines in Bali
Putu Novoyana

Kelly Austin remembers the first time she saved a life – originally from Whitianga but now living in Bali, she was walking near her Canggu home in 2017.

“I saw these kids in a rice paddy laughing and realised they were drowning kittens,” recalls the 39-year-old. “I managed to save three kittens, which I found homes for.”

Kelly and her husband Tony, a fellow Kiwi who works in the Queensland mines, first moved to the tourist hotspot in 2015, with their sons Marcel, now 17, and Lennox, 11. Daughter Winter was born three years later.

“There’s a lot of freedom in Bali and we wanted to give our kids a better life,” she explains.

With Tony spending two weeks of every month in Australia for work, Kelly found things to occupy her time.

“Whenever I see anyone in need, whether it’s a person or an animal, I can’t a turn a blind eye,” she admits.

After the kittens came three dumped puppies that Kelly found homes for. Word got around and before long, people were leaving animals on her doorstep.

“We saved around 19 cats and dogs in our first two years,” says the big-hearted Kiwi, who once paid someone to rescue kittens stuck in a drain.

In 2017, they headed back to Whitianga for family reasons and Kelly started a homewares shop, Gathered Collab, which she still co-owns today. But in 2020, with the pandemic bearing down, their lives unravelled.

“Tony got stuck in Australia and I couldn’t open my shop or sell online. In the end, we were apart for two years.”

The fresh start they’d planned in Queensland didn’t work out, so in July last year, the family once again packed their bags for Bali.

“It’s the country where both me and my marriage were the happiest,” she tells. “We focused on getting our family back on track.”

And it wasn’t long before people began asking Kelly if she was going to resume rescuing animals.

“I didn’t set out to start an animal charity and I don’t call myself a dog rescuer, but if anyone needs help, I’m there!”

Kelly adopted two three-legged street dogs and while on a bike ride in central Bali with her friend Alanah Dalton, who moved to Indonesia from Christchurch in 2015, the pair found numerous suffering animals.

“Once you get off the tourist tracks, that’s when you see animals in distress.”

That included a dog with an open wound from a rope embedded in its neck, and another whose puppies had been killed by her owner and was crawling with maggots.

“It was horrible,” Kelly recalls. “I knew we had to do something, that we couldn’t leave these animals. It’s hard because you don’t want to offend the owners, but usually they can’t afford to do anything or don’t know how to get help.”

That day, the Kiwi friends rounded up five dogs, which they took to a local vet.

“We put the call out to family and friends for donations to help pay the bills, and people were so generous,” says Kelly.

The issue they faced was what to do with the rescued dogs once they were nursed back to good health.

Jess Budiasa, an Aussie-Indonesian friend, came to their rescue by offering space on her land, which is about two hours north of Canggu.

“Jess and her husband were incredibly generous, and thanks to donations, we were able to fence the area, making it safe and dry for the animals,” says Kelly.

The three friends called their sanctuary, which opened in August, The Undateable Bali Dogs as a nod to the type of pooches they specialise in.

“We don’t tend to have puppies because it’s easy to find cute puppies a home. We take in the old, injured and disabled dogs – the ones we don’t think anyone will want to adopt – and we give them a comfortable retirement.”

Kelly with fellow rescuers Jess (left) and Alanah.

The sanctuary is currently home to eight dogs, but having recently expanded the space, they’re now able to care for many more animals.

Kelly admits she was “blown away” by the generosity of New Zealanders who help fund vet bills and food costs.

“Kiwis have such big hearts!” she enthuses. “There’s a huge need for what we’re doing because all the shelters here are full, so if you find a dog in need, they physically don’t have the room for them. Every time I put the call out for financial help, we get it, which I’m hugely grateful for.”

For the generous Kelly, it’s all about giving back to her adopted home.

“We’re visitors in Bali and my hope is to leave it better than I found it. We’re lucky to live here and I want to give back, so if anyone needs help, whether that’s a human or an animal, I will do it.”

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