Chile: It’s a Dog’s World

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.

This pack of 7 or 8 neighborhood dogs run past my window several times a day

This pack of 7 or 8 neighborhood dogs run past my window several times a day

Leash lawsif 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 restraintno owner, no leash, no fences, no rules, no holds barredmakes 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.

Cats and dogs often wander in and out of casual restaurants

Cats and dogs often wander in and out of casual restaurants

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 dogssome with collars (i.e. owners), some withoutthat 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.

Let sleeping dogs lie--wherever they want!

Let sleeping dogs lie--wherever they want!

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!

For more Cachando Chile posts on dogs, see:

19 responses to “Chile: It’s a Dog’s World

  1. Good post! I think about all this stuff all the time!!! I was just telling my friend the other day when I noticed packs of feral dogs (that seemed to out number humans) as we were walking through el campo that it seemed like it was their home/space/city/lugar and not ours.

    (My good friend totally got punked for an empanada by a stray dog one time too. )

  2. Uf- I’ve got to admit that the country dogs scare me a bit- they just seem more territorial, while city dogs are used to sharing public spaces! And thanks for the warning about the empanadas!

  3. And another thing! Have you noticed that Chilean dogs eat BREAD? I saw a friend’s dog steal bread off the grill and I couldn’t believe it!

  4. Truth be told, stray dogs don’t just hang out and have a good time without bothering any people. Most of them have been abandoned by their owners whether because they grew too big for their places or just because they became harmful for their children. Worse, because children were given them as pets and eventually grew tired of them.

    I see stray dogs every day in Valparaíso where I work and, believe me, it’s not a nice thing to see. I have been bitten once.

    I have a former stray dog and just thinking about his injured leg, his pics when he used to live on the streets (yes, I have pics of him leaving on the streets), his being a step away from eutanasia shrinks my heart.

    Check my blog if you like, there’s a post about him.



  5. La Gringa/Margaret

    Hi Pedro-
    Yes, I know that the real strays don’t have such a great life, and Valpo is particularly full of them. That’s why I believe that most pets should be neutered to prevent unwanted offspring that eventually become dumped somewhere to fend for themselves.
    But I was really thinking more about the dogs that DO have homes that are out running free on the streets all day. My in-laws even have a dog that visits them every day and goes home at 10pm when the owner gets home from work. Coming from a place where every dog must be on a leash when in public, the level of tolerance of dogs on the loose amazes me, as does the behavior of the dogs who run free. Dogs in most parts of the US become hyperactive if let loose, not like Chilean dogs that seem to mostly be laid back and go about their business.
    Send your blog link!

  6. oops, I’m new on this thing… I thought the link was going to appear by itself .. lol.


    I read your post about the dogs yesterday and thought about replying but somehow the reply turned into a post of my own and I posted it in my blog.


  7. There’s a way to set up your wordpress ID so that someone can click on your name and get to your site. Also, when you respond to certain blogs from blogger and wordpress you’ll see something that says “Open ID” and if you click on the wordpress symbol, you can type in your blogname and set up your ID that way.
    I read your post about Trampito and it’s just what I was talking about– he goes out to play all day and comes home for food and affection each night! He’s very lucky to have found you!

  8. Unfortunatelly Stray dogs in Chile live a life that is a lot less romantic than it might appear. Like many “stray” kids who live in the streets, they are forced to beg, harras, steal, or try anything to get something to eat. In general and unfortunatelly they do pass unnoticed. When noticed they are generally scared away. Chilean dogs are so used to being stoned away that if you crouch as to pick something from the ground in front of them, they will run away scared. “Stray” kids generally run away when they see the police or someone scares them by pretending to go call them.

  9. Sebastian- What I’m talking about here are not the true stray dogs, but those that do have homes and that are out on the street all day. In many other countries, such as the US, any dog that runs loose is considered stray because owners are required to keep their dogs confined to their own property or on a leash when in public… and they pay hefty fines if the dog gets loose. It therefore makes a big impression on foreigners to see so many dogs just hanging out on the street. And yes, truly stray dogs are definitely a problem, and that goes back to my point about irresponsible pet owners who do not have their pets neutered to prevent unwanted animals who end up on the streets.
    On the other hand, I don’t think it’s fair to equate homeless kids with stray dogs… that’s a whole different category and a much more serious problem.

  10. I live in NY, Its a city that loves its dogs and treats them almost like children. I am also Chilean and I have heard comments from many foreigners before who are surprised to see so many dogs in the streets. The polls will show you that the biggest percentage are stray dogs that survive in very poor conditions. I wish it was a more romantic scenario

  11. I’d like to see that here too– that every pet be a wanted pet, one that is cared for, well-fed, and loved…
    There are really 2 things at hand here- one is responsibility for the animals you help/allow come into the world… if you don’t want to take care of them, it’s better not to let them happen…
    The other side is what happens with the pets who ARE loved and cared for, and many of them are free to run all day.
    Because the laws in the States are so strict about pets, people who do make the commitment to have them–especially someplace like NYC, where space is limited–take care of them. And then there are the dog-catchers who make sure that strays don’t stay on the streets for long (and that’s not a very romantic picture either!)

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  19. En Valparaíso y Viña (o sólo Valpo, no soy buen diferenciando los límites de la conurbación) hay una cantidad de perros y gatos impresionantes. Llegué a ver hasta sillones en un callejón destinados a ellos, e incluso vi a un par de perros tomando el sol en un techo (no tengo idea cómo subieron, seguramente usaron las calles superiores de los cerros)

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