Free-ranging urban dogs

Not every dog has a home. In fact the majority living in Chile don’t, but I have learnt through my short time here that its not necessarily a bad thing.

Upon arriving in Chile the first time I saw the first homeless dog. I turned and asked my boyfriend why doesn’t the council or someone collect the dogs and put them in a home or a shelter? its so sad – I remember thinking.
There is hardly a stray dog around for long in NZ ..someone would make a call they would be picked up and taken to the pound. But why not here? there’s too many?
I often think back on my question my ‘naive’ question.
Am I conditioned to think a dog is better off in a shelter where no doubt he would be put into a concrete metal cage with next to no room to move just because it has a roof? is this a better place for them or roaming free? I certainly know which I would prefer.

In fact here in Santiago the way people treat stray dogs is as if they are personal city pets and with that comes the responsibility to feed and care for them. As you walk around Santiago you will most definitely spot a homeless dog and your reaction as a NZer is to feel sorry for them but just look a little closer and you will notice in the parks there a dog houses, attached to just about every bus stop there are plastic containers tied and full of water (what I originally thought was just someones rubbish), outside shops there are dog bowls sometimes full of food.

You notice people carry plastic bags often full with dog food. They will find somewhere to sit and feed the dogs. I’ve seen some elderly people do this – Company for them and the dog gets fed and a good pat. We often go out at night time on the hunt for some hungry dogs with left over food and we even buy dog food from the supermarket in preparation for our walks. Sometimes the dogs arent even hungry they just want a cuddle or a pat. Often they roam with another dog and sometimes you can see a whole pack of around seven dogs. Ive never seen any homeless dogs trying to fight each other they all seem to just get a long. There’s never been any aggression when we are feeding a dog and another one comes a long.

In the winter people even custom make coats and jackets for them. While I was back in NZ Javier used to send me daily photos of dogs with there cool new winter coats.
Some dogs pick a human companion to spend a little time with. I’ve seen a dog sitting next to a police officer at a park keeping him company or perhaps pretending he were an undercover police dog- Ive seen one adopting a proper stance just like the cop. Some walk with lonely people until they have reached there destination and wander off satisfied ‘keep that human safe -job done’.

All the dogs are tame and relaxed -A lot are better trained than those who have ‘owners’. Javier can hold food in front of them and tell them to ‘sit’ (in Spanish of course) and they do! I was amazed and Javier wasn’t finished there… ‘wait, wait’ he said as he took the treat closer and the dog came closer ever so slowly then ‘eat’ and the dog went for it! I was amazed I will always remember that.
Perhaps he used to be a pet and his owner moved away or simply didn’t want him anymore but most strays are well trained and will at least sit when told.
I’ve only ever seen a dog get aggressive once and that was outside McDonalds, there was a homeless man bothering people and a dog started barking at him, the dog didn’t stop barking until the homeless man left and when he did the dog just went back to laying down quietly.

One big difference I noticed between Santiago and Buenos Aires is that there is no dog shit here. You don’t have to constantly look down as if navigating through a maze trying not to step in it.
I don’t know if there is someone who goes around collecting the dogs business as soon as they have done it (highly unlikely) or have they some what trained themselves into going on the grass or bushy area.

Another thing that amazes me about these dogs are that they wait to cross the road- they know when to cross or they wait for someone to walk so they know its OK. you don’t just see them dashing out into the road and they wait at pedestrian designated areas not just at any point in the road. They also know not to venture down in the subway – they wont even touch the first step. We were walking with a dog for 15 minutes and when we went down into the subway he just sat at the top and watched us walk away.. we saw him later playing with another dog looking as happy as can be so don’t worry – His heart wasn’t broken for long.

If you have a spare four minutes, check out this short You-Tube clip Estoy Aqui – I am here some chilean students put together with the intention of getting a few homeless dogs more recognized. Its light-hearted. Noticed people who already had dog food in their bags to feed the dogs. The messages on the balloon say things like ‘feed me’ ‘pat me’ etc.

Obviously in some cities they are not well cared for but here I believe the stray dogs are given the opportunity to thrive and genuinely are happy and healthy. Most of all don’t visit Santiago and feel sad for them – They certainly aren’t! After all Dogs were not created by humans with the sole purpose of becoming a house pet.


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