Chilean Street Dogs
As I walked through the streets on the day I arrived in Santiago, Chile for the first time, snapping photos of the colorful street art and breathing in the cool October air, something unexpected happened. I noticed I was being followed.
I was a stranger in an unfamiliar place and I could sense the trail at my ankles. That day I boldly decided to turn around and face my trail head-on and approach this character that had been following me around all afternoon. I spun around only to notice that there were others… a pack had formed and they stopped in their tracks, their eyes not diverting from the bag of crackers I had in my left hand. They had six eyes on me, standing on 12 legs… these followers were anything but threatening. That was my first introduction to the friendly, charismatic street dogs of Chile.
Anyone that has observed stray dogs in countries outside of Chile may be surprised by the appearance of these Chilean furry citizens. I must admit that during my first encounter I believed these dogs to be pets of the shop owners that were just well behaved and allowed off of their leashes. These Chilean dogs were well mannered and appeared to be well fed. They weren’t what you would imagine of the thin, dirty, rabid dogs you might find roaming the streets of your home country. The stray dogs in Chile are relaxed, friendly, courteous and very domesticated. You must be thinking – really? a street dog?
I began to observe these guys as I noticed them more and more around the city. It’s speculated that there are 2.5 million stray dogs in the country of Chile so they are hard to miss and are definitely part of your commute around any major city there. Don’t worry about these furry friends getting in the way though, they’ve learned the rules of the road and it shows. I was amazed to watch the Chilean dogs stop at traffic lights, cross at crosswalks and look both ways before walking through traffic. They’ve adapted to life on the streets and they know their stuff! One afternoon I watched one of the Chilean dogs bark at a car that was stopped at a green light while all the other cars advanced through the intersection – is it possible that this canine knew?
I have to admit that the stray dog situation in Chile really speaks to the kindness and sense of community in the Chilean culture. While these dogs may not be their pets or owned by anyone in particular, the citizens are quick to be sure they are well cared for. It’s this kind of selflessness and generosity that keeps people coming back to the beautiful country of Chile, because travel isn’t just about seeing a new place, it’s feeling like family in a new culture. And in Chile, even the four-legged friends are family.
It also became very clear to me that the stray dogs in Chile are really part of the culture here and that the citizens accept them as part of the community. The people of Chile often feed the strays that hang out near their homes. You can even find dog houses in some of the local parks for those cold Winter nights. It’s definitely not all sunshine and rainbows for the furry variety of Chilean citizens. The winter are cold and many of them can’t handle that exposure to the elements. Also most of them don’t have access to any medical care and so small infections or diseases can be terminal. These Chilean canines are rarely spayed or neutered so the number of stray dogs continues to rise. There are organizations in place that are raising money to improve the situation for these guys, but it’s a constant battle as the number of them continues to climb.
If you are a fan of these fur babies you can enjoy them during our horseback ride in the Andes. These are rescued strays. Walking around in Santiago or Valparaiso you will find many stray dogs, unfortunately.
An article by Anna Lee Grymes