The topic was Quiltros—dogs—on last night’s Cachando Chile on the Air**. Anyone who’s ever spent any time in Chile knows why. The streets are full of them. Playing in the park, sleeping on the sidewalk, pilfering the trash, and doing just about anything they want to anywhere they want to.
Quiltro (pronounced KIL-troh) is the Chilean (not Spanish) word for “mutt”- a mestizo dog—one of mixed race. Our guest for the evening’s show was documentary filmmaker Vanessa Shulz (thanks to the wonders of technology and Skype). She saw the now famous “Chilean Hero Dog” clip that aired around the world in December 2008 (check it out below if you haven’t seen it). She was so struck by what she saw, that 2 months later she was here and filming.
Chilean Hero Dog:
Vanessa Shulz and the Lost Dog project:
Animal lover and documentary filmmaker Vanessa Shulz didn’t know a thing about Chile when she saw the Hero Dog clip on the news. But it stuck with her. She began to investigate.
She learned that there were 200,000 dogs on the streets of Santiago, and 2.5 million in the country, although it is uncertain how many are abandoned and how many have homes and are free to roam at will. Chile’s leash laws are not enforced, and many clearly well-fed, well-groomed dogs sporting collars wander the streets with their rag-tag buddies by day and night (see It’s a Dog’s World).
Vanessa saw a story to tell in Chile. One that could be told in many parts of the world—throughout Latin America, Asia, and Africa—but Chile was calling her name, and in February 2009 the South African born-and-bred filmmaker—now a resident of the US—packed up her gear and headed south. She and still photographer Chris Mortimer (neither of whom speak Spanish) arrived with the idea of tracking down the Hero Dog—a feat that proved impossible—but a walk through the Plaza de la Constitución in front of La Moneda (the Presidential Palace in downtown Santiago) was enough to shift their focus.
“There were all these dogs there playing and running around. We couldn’t believe it!” she says. In fact, few newcomers do. It’s something that strikes everyone that right there, in front of the seat of national government, the park is always—always—full of dogs running loose.
The fact that she was excitedly filming them caught the attention of Chilean dog lover David Gómez, who just had to approach her. The gates of fate were thrown wide and the people who had to meet to make this film happen were drawn together.
They met Gabriela Jarpa of the CDA (Coalición por los Derechos de Animales), who took them to a la Rinconada de Maipú, where she and others care for hundreds of abandoned dogs. They went to the other famous dumping ground in the Cajón de Maipo east of San Juan de Pirque. They went to the Veterinaria Trinidad, where volunteers work around the clock to tend to and sterilize animals. They interviewed Luis Navarro, former director of the Animal Protection Society who was denounced for maltreatment of animals… and then they went to Chaitén, where the residents who were evacuated after the volcano erupted were ordered to leave their animals behind.
Vanessa made the local news when she took 7 abandoned dogs back to Oregon with her. “Lan Chile said I could fly 6 dogs back, and I had 3 from Chaitén and 3 from Rinconada. Then at the last minute, someone from Lan asked me if I would take a 7th dog, one who lived at the airport.” See the “Perros de Chaitén Viajan a Estados Unidos,” which includes a video clip of the news story that aired in Santiago the day of her departure.
She found homes for 6 of the dogs, but Fumarola, who was born in Chaitén after the evacuation and who had therefore never known human contact, remains with her.
Why fight for dogs?
When there is so much human suffering in the world, why worry about dogs? It’s not an uncommon question, one she gets asked a lot.
“I fight for the dogs—for animals—because they have no voice; they are not yet part of our moral universe. Women were once excluded from this moral universe, as were children and blacks. But today no one questions that they are a part of it,” she says with conviction. “If we can’t be kind to our best friends (the dogs) then what does that say about us as human beings?”
“Just because you can’t do everything, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do anything,” she says, “and if we each do a little, we can make a difference.”
Education / Adoption / Sterilization, the three pillars of establishing dignity for animals.
Educate people about proper treatment, and get the government to enact laws that prevent maltreatment of animals.
Adopt homeless animals. Quiltros (mixed breeds) are often much better pets.
Sterilize your pets. Prevent the increase of abandoned
Vanessa Shulz is now in the post-production phase of her film Lost Dogs, which involves countless hours of editing as well as the endless tasks of the fund raising necessary to make the project a reality.
If you’d like to help and/or know more about Vanessa Shulz and her projects, see her website 21Paradigm.com.
Or more on the film, see: Lost Dogs Film.
And while you’re at it, take a look at the trailer for Lost Dogs:
To help in Chile, contact: