“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere.”
~ Vincent Van Gogh
Wherever I go, whether it’s wandering though the urban jungle, treading through a deserted car park at night or even just in my own backyard, I’m always on the lookout for nature, and often, it seems to find me. Recently in Santiago, I wasn’t expecting to see much in the way of my nature fix until I left the city, but I was wrong.
If you’ve followed this blog at all, you’ll know I love dogs. There’s a childish part of me that has to resist the urge to touch every dog I meet – this can be dangerous – but I’ll admit I failed on several occasions. Why? Santiago, and also Chile as a whole, is a place full of stray and abandoned dogs. It was a saddening fact to learn that there are approximately two and a half million of them. But, I dug a little deeper, and watched a little closer. As there’s more to this story than meets the eye.
Sadly, Chile has very little in the way of animal control, shelters or enforcement for abandoning animals. So, unfortunately a lot dogs, for whatever reason, escape or are abandoned and left to fend for themselves on the streets.
It doesn’t take long to notice a marked difference between the stray dogs and the pet dogs being walked on or off-leash by their owners. The owned dogs are generally smaller breeds, such as Dachsunds (plenty of these) and various fuzzy mongrel-mixes. I didn’t see many toy breeds, even though these dogs would be considered much more ‘apartment-friendly’.
The strays are different. Chilean strays or Quiltros as they are known locally, tend to be bigger, heavier breeds, your heavyweight mutt.
I would imagine that these are not the only types of dogs to be strays, but either 1) larger dogs are abandoned more often due to higher maintenance or space issues or 2) larger dogs are able to survive the often cripplingly cold winters in the city, with their greater body mass, fat and thicker fur. I noticed this even more so as we travelled South to Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales, where the dogs not only seemed to grow in size but also in number.
It’s never an easy life being a stray in the middle of a city crammed with 7 million people, but Chilean dogs are nothing if not resilient.
I’ve never seen dogs navigate city streets quite so well. Whether it’s knowing to follow that couple with a backpack because they might be carrying food, or playing with the pet dogs to gain the trust of their owners, these dogs are placid, patient, friendly and incredibly street smart. They’ll wait for the lights at the crossing, look both ways, sit patiently in the doorway of a butcher’s shop. They’ll even crash out on the comfortable and warm sofas of Costa Coffee, if no-one’s looking (unfortunately, I didn’t get this moment on camera).
They are well tolerated by locals and tourists alike. The dogs wander amongs the commuters, just like any other early-morning pedestrian on their way to work. They relax in the grass outside the Moneda Palace, and have a close bond with the carabinieros (national guardsmen) who are on duty day and night. Sometimes, you’ll see a dog wander up to them for a pat on the head and probably just some company. Sometimes, the carabiniero will seek out the company of the dog. It’s a touching and harmonious relationship, where man and dog really do need each other.
And, maybe surprisingly, they are well cared for. Locals have and do make jackets for the dogs to keep them warm in the winter. Often times, if a dog lets itself into a public building just to warm up for an hour, no one says anything or shoos it away. There’s a peaceful co-existence that I find hard to imagine in a lot of other countries.
Now, there’s even a Quiltro Foundation set up to help control the problem through education, sterilization, veterinary assistance and awareness.
I must have met well over 30 dogs during my time in Santiago, and some of them became familiar faces, each with their own special territory and habits. I only hope that their future may be bright.
If you like what you see, you can follow me on Facebook or Instagram (@chloewaterfieldart) to keep up with the latest in my studio. Hit the little ‘follow’ button on the bottom to subscribe to my blog. Thanks for reading! 🙂