I like dogs well enough. Don’t have one; might someday, but for now, I’m happy to let more enthusiastic others feed, bathe, and sterilize them. Oops. I forgot. Touchy subject. My gringa is showing… Chilean dogs seem to have some kind of constitutional right to fulfill their biological destiny, and most pet owners feel that it is cruel to “fix” an animal before it has had the chance to procreate at least once. The result: far more cats and dogs than people who want to care for them. And that means a lot of strays… or at least it seems like there are a lot of strays.
Leash laws—if they exist, I’ve never been able to tell— are not enforced. Dogs are allowed to “go out and play,” snooze when they’re tired, and come home when they get hungry. The streets are full of dogs just hanging out, having a good time, and generally not bothering anyone. It makes sense. Dogs that are cooped up all day go crazy when they manage to break loose for a while. The unfamiliar lack of restraint—no owner, no leash, no fences, no rules, no holds barred—makes them do strange things. They jump, they bark, they bite. They abandon the civility imposed upon them in the human world they inhabit. Their natural instincts return and they act, well, like animals.
Chileans seem to have another kind of relationship with animals. It’s a live-and-let-live laissez faire attitude that endows domestic animals with the same apparent right to share public space as birds, squirrels (which, by the way, don’t exist in Chile), and, of course, humans. Chilean dogs are often free to come and go as they please, and as a result, really don’t seem to care much about what anyone else is doing, and vice versa. Dogs are an extremely common sight on busy city streets and parks. Even the Plaza de la Constitución, in front of La Moneda, the presidential palace, is full of dogs—some with collars (i.e. owners), some without—that spend the entire day playing in the park and rarely seem to notice the hordes of tourists or uniformed officers or speech-making dignitaries or marching protesters or snuggling couples who want to share their space.
When I first came here I was struck by the number of “dead dogs” on busy sidewalks. Later I discovered they weren’t dead at all, just sleeping. They doze wherever they want, and if that means in the middle of a busy sidewalk, no problem, everyone just steps around them, mindful to let sleeping dogs lie.
As an even more extreme example of humans respecting canine rights, recently, while out for an evening walk in a quiet coastal town, a dog in heat with a large number of “suitors” managed to stop traffic while the drivers waited for the dogs to finish their business and move out of the road. (It’s a dog’s world, I tell ya!)
By the way… the stereotypical dog’s name in Chile? Not Rover, or Spot, or Fido (have you ever really known one of those?)… The quintessential Chilean dog’s name is Bobby! (pronounced BO-bee)
If reincarnation turns out to be the way things work out and I get to choose, I’m coming back as a Chilean dog!