The Four-Legged Citizens of Valparaíso, Chile

Rachel Kishman is a student at Grand Valley State University. She is an ISA Featured Photo Blogger and is studying abroad with ISA Service Learning in Valparaíso, Chile. 

The stray dogs of Chile are unlike any others in the world. They are mutts, or “quiltros” (a native term to describe a mixed breed) with street smarts and, for the most part, full bellies and gentle demeanors. As an animal lover and a previous vet tech, I wanted to learn more, so I contacted a local organization that helps to spay and neuter these “perros callejeros.”

Most of the stray dogs are friendly and always looking for a snack.
A cat takes a stretch break during a lazy day.

There are approximately 2.5 million stray dogs in the entire country of Chile, about 25,000 of which reside in Valparaíso. Their population is growing faster than that of the people. With no exact origin of the problem, plus many years of dogs on the street, they have become a part of Chilean life. As with anything that’s been integrated into a national culture, the acceptance of them makes it that much harder to solve the problem.

On the hunt for handouts.
This dog made a piece of cardboard its bed.

Some of the dogs actually have owners, but are still either let loose during the day or left on the street permanently. This happens more frequently in more vulnerable regions, such as those without the education or resources to take care of their pets. Unfortunately, it’s sometimes impossible to know which dogs have a home to return to and which have been abandoned.

A stray enjoys the leftovers from a local meat shop.
This puppy wants a taste of freedom that he will hopefully never receive.
Although not nearly as common as dogs, cats can also be seen wandering the streets, or more likely, the gates and roofs.

These canine-wanderers are cared for by locals who feed them their leftovers or sprinkle kibble on the ground. Homemade shelters and communal food dishes can be found on the sidewalks. Since it’s currently winter in Chile, some of the dogs wear fleece vests, provided by caring locals.

“Alimente a un canino, no cuesta mucho.” Translation: Feed a canine, it doesn’t cost much.
You can see the paws of a stray enjoying refuge.

Just because they may be some of the most well-kept stray dogs doesn’t necessarily mean they have an easy life. Some of the dogs have learned their street smarts the hard way- they may be seen limping while crossing the street. Though there are many strays, most of the dogs live alone and at the mercy of humans. Their eyes soften to accept the pat of a passerby, and they wait outside of storefronts for potential scraps. While generally they don’t cause any huge problems, they can cause car accidents, they can be heard barking at all hours of the day and night, without proper medical attention they can carry diseases and parasites, and lacking a proper place to “go,” they defecate on the sidewalks.

Searching for the next meal.
Street dogs typically wait patiently for handouts, as they know they’ll get one eventually.

So why are they present in the first place? Like any grand problem, it’s a culmination of things. Animal laws in Chile are not strongly enforced. The law enforcement need to be educated in order to properly handle complaints of abandonment and mistreatment, rather than ignoring the issues. Education also must extend to the local people so they understand the reality of owning a pet.

The dogs know where to wait for food; outside of storefronts and in the busy parts of town.

For now, there are only sterilization programs in place to limit their reproduction, along with a number of local shelters. If you’re interested in helping, here are a few organizations to get involved with: Pro Animal Chile, World Vets Latin America, Foundation for International Aid to Animals, Humane Society International.

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