- Helps Some Animals
- General Animal Advocacy
- Inspired Creation of Better Organizations
- Linda Buller
- Ebony Owens
- Animal Abuse
Bali Adoption and Rehabilitation Centre (BARC) is known for helping street dogs in Bali. But what goes on under the surface of their flashy branding is shocking. Not entirely hidden from public scrutiny is the rotten core in this organization. Any conversation about animal welfare in Bali invariably leads to the repugnant reputation of BARC founder, Australian expat Linda Buller.
I tend to keep my own council rather than blindly accepting public criticism. So when BARC invited me to Bali to consult for their proposed monkey sanctuary and train local staff it seemed like a good opportunity to discover the source of the criticism while contributing to primate protection in Indonesia, specifically Bali, a place close to my heart. BARC intended to build an enclosure for rescued Macaque monkeys who are victims of the illegal wildlife trade; a noble cause that I couldn’t resist. However they had no access to people with relevant primate experience so I agreed to travel from Costa Rica and donate to the project. What could go wrong?
Setting The Stage
BARC’s coordinator Ebony Owens arranged to cover expenses to and in Bali during the project from their Spring 2014 crowdfunding effort. They agreed to look after my visa requirements, provide food, accommodation and transportation during the project. At that time we expected the project development and subsequent training period would take 3-6 months build the enclosure and train local staff on primate behavior and caretaking.
Not long after I arrived I was exposed to persistent character assassination campaigns waged by Buller and Owens against current and former staff, volunteers and allies. This behavior occurred with disturbing frequency and seemed to be directed against anyone and everyone who questioned BARC’s tactics and “leadership”. Individuals expressing legitimate questions and concerns were promptly harassed and subsequently vilified on the two womens’ social media channels then cast out of the organization or they simply left of their own accord, taking their support with them.
After suffering a six-week downward spiral of BARC’s mismanagement I met with former volunteers, staff and supporters to investigate a list of identified issues; what I discovered was much more than just negligence, which certainly explained some of the strange personal politics going on. Owens was documented telling female staff in BARC meetings to stay away from me as I was “going to be her husband” Which was apparently why she brought me to Bali. This disgusting revelation also explained much of Owen’s (and Buller’s) change in behavior towards me which had soured after gleaning I was not, nor would I ever be interested in such a relationship. It wasn’t long after BARC abandoned their agreed upon obligations and promptly left me without resources on the island. To add insult to injury, their character assassination campaign against me through my friends on social media began immediately thereafter.
What follows is an account of my experience with BARC: who are by far the most incompetent, detestable bogans I’ve ever had the misfortune of working with. I hope that exposing their behavior to public scrutiny will raise awareness and accountability among all interested parties.
Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. ~ Robert J. Hanlon
Between June – July 2014, Buller was witnessed screaming obscenities at an isolated and extremely stressed rescued monkey while intimidating him and physically attacking his cage; placing baby monkeys in cages surrounded by barking dogs and subjected them to constant torment; needlessly causing undue emotional trauma on rescued monkeys by keeping them in isolation; refusing adequate social care and attention for new rescues; physically abusing young monkeys to entertain sanctuary guests and potential donors who later complained in confidence about ill animal treatment; failing to maintain healthy environments for monkeys whose cages were littered with plastic take-out containers, water bottles, litter and refuse.
Buller is undoubtedly an animal hoarder surrounded by people who genuinely want to help animals. The situation with her was bad enough when they were just helping dogs; but now branching out into primate rescue, they’re in way over their heads. Here’s a few specific examples.
A sub-adult male has been kept alone in a 3 x 3 x 5 cage since his “rescue” and unwittingly tormented for months. BARC staff are clueless on how to deal with his aggression towards anyone nearing his cage. George was previously kept as a pet but exhibits neurotic, stress related behaviors which are undoubtedly exacerbated by his extreme confinement. His chronic pacing, bouncing and overall high level of agitation often lead to violent outbursts towards anyone within arms reach. After several weeks of waiting for BARC to get organized we finally transferred George up to the Tabanan sanctuary property where Buller insisted the monkey cages be placed next to the dog enclosure housing hundreds of barking dogs. Again, this is another basic failure in understanding animal behavior and basic primate care that directly resulted in increasing George’s stress load. Day and night he was constantly surrounded by abusive Indonesian workers and curious or aggressive dogs. Even though a suitable, quiet location was available for the temporary cages, Buller refused recommendations to provide expected and adequate standards of care. This is particularly disturbing from an animal welfare organization.
It was during his most stressful time stuck just inside the sanctuary gates near the dogs that I expressed concern to Buller about George’s behavior. She laughed it off indignantly, and made it clear she cared little for my concerns as she seems to consider herself a primate expert. Not a surprising development perhaps, considering Buller enjoys telling people she’s also a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine, I had to wonder what other delusions she possessed. In defiance, Buller approached George’s cage and stuck her chubby face up to the bars. George’s expected threat expression was immediate and intense as he lunged across the small cage, reaching through the bars to claw at Buller’s face. She shrieked in terror, stumbling backwards into the mud. No sooner had George retreated than Buller was scrambling to her feet looking for a stick, she banged repeatedly on the cage screaming “YOU’RE A FUCKING ASSHOLE GEORGE!! YOU’RE A FUCKING ASSHOLE!!”. I watched in silent shock. This was the founder of an animal welfare organization and she was setting a clear example for half dozen sanctuary staff watching the debacle take place. It gets worse.
One afternoon at the Tabanan sanctuary property, I was placing enrichment plants in each of the monkey cages while the sanctuary manager Wayan sat watching and smoking a cigarette at his nearby guard hut. He spoke enough English to have basic conversations with, so naturally I took to teaching him about primate care and behavior. His usually lovely wife also took an interest in the monkeys. No sooner did I think they would be excellent candidates for primate caretakers was Wayan waving a lit cigarette in front of Georges face, just outside the cage bars.
“George, come come. Come George”.
I stood nearby, quietly concerned. My mistake; naturally I thought he couldn’t be serious. Wayan taunted George sufficiently with the cigarette until George finally reacted, lunged through the cage bars to grab the burning ember from Wayan’s fingers. George reeled from the pain, screeching at Wayan and retreating to his small shelf to inspect the burned flesh. This is the reality of what these animals are facing at BARC. Psychopathic staff with no understanding of compassion, yet going through the motions for a paycheck.
BARC’s highly publicized crowd-sourced fundraiser to rescue Rocky was a moderate success. Collection tins are still to this day located around Ubud to raise money for Rockey’s “care”. It was allegedly these funds which would help pay for the design and construction of the monkey sanctuary, required staff training as well as my expenses in Bali yet I’ve personally witnessed Owens using Rocky funds to buy dinners for BARC staff and who knows what else. The public have little idea that Rocky has been neglected during her entire time with BARC. She’s been kept in isolation and prohibited the much needed socializing and contact to begin her long rehabilitation journey. Rocky is a lovely, gentle adult female who has lived most of her approximately fifteen years on a short chain attached to a tree in a local neighborhood. Although Rocky was “rescued” by BARC she was subsequently put into a small cage in solitary confinement while Buller repeatedly refused to allow expected introductions and socialization with the other rescues. Even after Rocky was relocated to BARC’s Tabanan sanctuary Buller refused to allow much needed social contact and introductions to suitable new friends.
Part of my responsibility there was there to manage the formation of a healthy troop, through establishing relationships with the individual rescues and facilitating bonds between suitable orphans. Each of them have their own story that needs proper consideration. The troop would eventually live together in the finished monkey enclosure but this process demands daily interaction, building trust between them and myself, and encouraging social contact between amenable individuals at the various stages of rehabilitation. It’s expected to be an ongoing process to say the least. Buller’s clear lack of understanding about primates threatens their safety and their very well being. But more than that, her negligence will invariably result in the serious injury and death of some of these animals. No better example of this would be Buller’s arrogant assertion to place a frightened young rescued female who had never been around monkeys before, in with the neurotic, and often violent George, who had previously tried to scratch and bite her through the cage walls when her adjacent cage was placed much too close thanks to Bullers arrogant and ignorant interference. George would have undoubtedly killed the new female yet Buller, on her once a week trip to the sanctuary openly mocked all concerns for the animals’ welfare outside her own handicapped comprehension.
The really sad part is that Buller’s bullying tactics didn’t go unnoticed by the monkeys. Whenever she was present, one or two particular sub-adult females displayed aggressive behavior and threat gestures towards other newer rescues. This is fairly typical troop behavior which Buller completely discounted. The subsequent stress set off the entire group into near hysterics while the new rescues, who were all placed in adjacent cages were understandably terrified of their neighbors during the uproar.
Public perception is a key element of success in any movement or community. In a developing country like Indonesia, alienating the local community is tantamount to organizational suicide. Yet this is precisely what Buller and Owens have been doing with their unprofessional antics in recent years. The consequences may be fatal, and not just for the animals involved.
Summer 2014, in the days leading up to the opening of the long overdue and over budget adoption center, community tension between BARC leadership and local villages reached unprecedented levels. Buller had effectively pissed off all levels of Bali’s community structure from Banjar to Regency. Tabanan authorities threatened to shut down the sanctuary and kill all 100+ dogs on the premises, thrusting BARC into hysterics behind closed doors. When we thought it couldn’t get any worse, a knife wielding assailant from the local village burst into the adoption center one night, threatening the staff and volunteers with bloody violence. Someone was going to die if BARC went forward with the opening. Buller was forced to bribe the village into allowing the facility to open while behind the scenes repeatedly threatened to hire the island’s intensely feared Laskar Bali, the extremely dangerous mafia pervasive in Bali’s business-organized crime complex.
BARC’s illegal paid volunteer program was promptly ended after the organization was reported to both Indonesian and Australian authorities for Indonesian immigration law offenses. They had been signing up and collecting significant volunteer revenue from people on tourist visas while BARC staff used the services of a corrupt immigration agent to keep them in the country. Owens and Buller were known for encouraging this illegal activity and even using the services themselves. Owens had been a known employee of BARC for years while in the country on tourist and social visas. When this program was exposed to public scrutiny Buller quickly acknowledged the closure of the volunteer program on social media channels. Owens reportedly soon fled home to Australia to orchestrate visas to again access Indonesia.
Personal visits to their facilities including the adoption center, clinic, sanctuary, volunteer housing and Linda’s house gave a good indication of their situation. Locations where the public was likely to visit, such as the adoption center, were kept relatively clean while other locations were a disgusting mess. The toxic environments commonly found in BARC’s facilities illustrates they are out of their league in nearly every aspect of operations. Leadership and staff show disturbing levels of incompetence, negligence and at times, as I witnessed, even malice towards animals.
Initially I lived at BARC’s volunteer house. A modest Indonesian residential two-story that constantly reeked of excrement and chemicals. The stench was sufficient enough to bring bile burning up your throat. The dozen disabled resident dogs bathed the lower floors in urine and feces which wafted up through to the top floor inspiring chronic thoughts of death by toxoplasmosis. Even the once daily cleaner wasn’t enough to keep the place satisfying even the most lax health standards; recontamination occurred promptly afterwards. The house was a sickening, toxic environment worthy of being condemned.
A few steps inside the “clinic” on Jalan Pengosekan and you’d likely have slipped in a pool of piss while dodging through a slick feces minefield. Naturally the three or four entitled white staff are “too busy” to clean the floors, so the injured and disabled dogs drag themselves, open wounds from amputated legs and all through this mess for hours until the overworked local staff can re-address the floors. I shouldn’t have to stress how unacceptable this standard is, and it’s not uncommon, in fact day in and day out the clinic is a sickening place to visit.
Buller’s home is what you would expect to see from a textbook animal hoarder. Dozens of dogs kept in several different pens around the house’s back yard far too close to the adjacent numerous monkey cages, all of which were too small for their primate occupants. Baby monkeys were in cages at eye level of barking dogs and showed signs of severe emotional distress. Raising concerns to Buller elicited indignant responses and her caustic attitude made it patently obvious she believes she knows more about animals than anyone else possibly ever could.
Between Founder Linda Buller and Coordinator Ebony Owens, you’d be hard pressed to figure out which one of these two women is more destructive, caustic or disturbingly incompetent. An appropriate allegory here might be Buller’s unfortunately hilarious attempt to train a massive, over-aggressive rescue dog. She lead him to the middle of a cleared field in attempt to provide guidance and training. The dog clearly wasn’t interested in listening or behaving. As Buller became more vocal and forceful, she was promptly attacked by Wally the Pig who had just excitedly escaped his enclosure. Naturally the massive boar tried repeatedly to mount Buller as she screamed in horror, scrambling on all fours in the mud shrieking for help. As I was several hundred meters away in the second story of a bamboo house, all I could do was spit my coffee out my nose and force out some scalding, half-choked laughter. It’s shameful I know, but it was pretty damn funny to see Wally put Buller in her rightful place. Back to the allegory, I’ll leave it up to you to decipher the meaning of Buller vs the dog vs Wally the Pig.
On a a very serious note, in 2012 BARC received a massive $60,000 AUD boost from a supporter and her family in Australia, $30,000 of which was a loan. These funds were apparently to be used in acquiring the sanctuary property in Tabanan and improving animal care programs. Suspiciously, Buller ended up with a new car and an art gallery while the dog sanctuary crammed hundreds of dogs into inappropriately small spaces and the cacophony of this barking horde caused distress to anyone within earshot, not least of which was the nearest village, further exacerbating strained relations with the local community.
Given how BARC treated me, I set out to answer some questions by speaking to former staff, volunteers, and supporters. The list of confidential complaints and concerns were profound, and more than enough to warrant investigation by both Indonesian and Australian regulatory bodies. I spoke with several international volunteer veterinarians while there who expressed grave concerns about BARC’s hack job mentality which seemed to infect all aspects of their organization. Unfortunately these international professionals who had come to help and contribute to animal welfare efforts on the island left feeling hopeless, dejected and completely disillusioned with BARC and the future of the movement in Bali.
Given Buller’s threats to hire the mafia to intimidate the local village authorities and opponents plus her personal lack of oversight of negligent staff; encouragement of chronic defamation of other organizations (particularly BAWA) and individuals; loss of key staff due to BARC’s low standards (highly respected Indonesian veterinarians); and all while being peppered with public accusations of everything from fraud, mismanagement, harassment and abuse of staff and volunteers, embezzlement of donation funding and even tax evasion; one is compelled to wonder what exactly drives Buller’s offensive behavior. For a bit of profound insight into her character, this video is as far as you need to go.
During my stay there, BARC was still running their illegal volunteer program which has since ended due to a flood of reports to Indonesian and Australian authorities from harassed volunteers, disgruntled donors and former allies alike. Complaints were filed citing numerous abuses but one of the most common threads is that of unqualified staff doing invasive medical procedures on animals. Other foremost concerns include BARC’s inappropriate use of donor funds including Buller and Owens daily Taco Casa Mexican restaurant lunches, Buller’s new art gallery and several undocumented international holidays for the two of them. It’s interesting to note how a cash-strapped non-profit who cannot care for all their animals suddenly has ample revenue to sponsor their two core staff in the above-mentioned ways.
The loss of other key staff who were critical in the formation of BARC’s professional branding, PR, fundraising, and support was a major blow. After each loss, lessons were not learned and the chronic abuse from Buller and Owens towards their own team continued unabated. Clearly the two of them feed off each other, incapable of learning from their many mistakes.
The inability to keep key, qualified staff in place, coupled with the blowback effects of having their major donor call in payment for the sanctuary loan yields a fairly elementary conclusion: BARC is predestined to self-destruct and they will inevitably become victims of their own shortcomings.
Frankly, I’m disgusted at Linda Buller and Ebony Owens, they’re a disgrace to the animal protection community and to everyone who struggles to build the movement especially in developing countries where progress is a delicate balance of politics and good intentions. For those who have supported BARC without knowing the heinous incompetence governing this organization you’re entitled a marginal amount of plausible deniability. However, those who know full well of BARC’s behavior and yet do or say nothing for self-interested reasons should be openly chastised at every opportunity. The only reason BARC still exists is because you choose to remain silent.
Ultimately, animals currently housed at BARC will continue to suffer until moved to more competent facilities with qualified caretakers and responsible governance.