A Personal Perspective: Stray Dogs of Chile and Other Latin American Countries

One of our volunteer contributors was recently working in Chile and personally experienced the stray dog population.  We’re delighted to share his personal perspective.

I was sitting on a park bench one night in Santiago, Chile, with a friend when several dogs ran up to sniff us. My friend was delighted to see the shaggy dogs so close, but for me the experience was a little surprising and scary. In the US, stray dogs are rarely seen wandering the streets, but when a dog does run up to you from the street, it is usually a dog that belongs to someone in the neighborhood and the proper thing to do is to return it to its owner.

Photos courtesy Paul Kniaz.

In Santiago, these dogs are everywhere and no one really owns them. However, everyone does something little to care for them. Some people put out doghouses and dog bowls in the park for the dogs at night. My friend says that she often gives stray dogs any leftovers she may have after eating at a restaurant. She says she is not afraid of the dogs but, rather, wants to help them as much as she can.

Obviously, this mentality is alien to those of us who are not used to living with loose dogs in the street and view these animals as potentially dangerous—as indeed they are. We are also not used to seeing dogs roaming the street in rain or shine. The situation is certainly not ideal, but many of the dogs actually seem rather well-fed—others not so much.

According to a discussion on Tripadvisor in which many Chileans chimed in on the subject of stray dogs, residents of Santiago raise a public outcry whenever the government threatens to reduce the dog population by putting down massive numbers of stray dogs. There are also volunteer organizations seeking to neuter as many of the stray dogs on the street as possible. I know about these volunteer efforts from firsthand experience. I am often asked for money for animals by young volunteers on the subway working for these organizations.

Latin America has grown very used to the presence of stray animals on the street. I found an informative blog post American Animal Hospital Association on the subject. The blog post written by an American in Nicaragua who inquired into the matter with local vets made some interesting points. These points may apply to many stray dogs in other countries.

  • First, there are degrees of ownership. For instance, some dogs are truly strays while others may be partially owned by one or more families. 
  • Second, stray dogs develop a feral breed with distinctive attributes such as slender legs. Third, most of these stray dogs are the result of abandonment due to financial difficulty or lack of education.
  • Finally, stray dogs obviously are dangerous not least of all because many are unvaccinated and may carry diseases.

The solution to this problem is already underway thanks to the efforts of organizations such as World Vets Latin America which according to a 2015 post has sterilized 11,000 stray dogs in Nicaragua alone. In the meantime, Santiago animal lovers are looking for solutions on their own. It is heartening to see their efforts.

The root of situations such as these is always the same:  lack of education and resources. The stray dogs of Latin America are a reminder to those pet friendly organizations in the US of just how important their work really is.

Note  We thank Paul for his personal account of strays outside of the United States.  While many in the US may not personally experience this same massive stray situation, it does in fact exist.  Check out our page on Strays and Hoarding to learn a bit more.