Estimations vary, but the population of Santiago’s free roaming dogs number in the millions—A situation the nation’s Humane Society has called alarming.
Here the “urban dingoes”—the mangy canines that tromp around in packs, lap up garbage and nap in city parks, are as common a sight as the pigeons roosting on sidewalks.
But these dogs are not your typical strays. In fact, according to Pro Animal Chile nearly 73% of them were once pets. They are purebreds like Border Collies and poodles, German Shepherds or Huskies, who were booted from their homes by irresponsible owners and have since adjusted to this vagabond lifestyle.
For these former house animals, city street corners and plaza centers are their living rooms, the cardboard pallets their sofas. They dodge the atrocious city traffic and get by on handouts of food scraps from market places and kindly street vendors.
Longing for human companionship, street dogs nap on café patios or sit sideline at pickup-soccer games, observing and perhaps longing for human camaraderie.
When an owner takes his dog for a stroll, several strays instinctually tag alongside.
At public demonstrations, packs of feral dogs march on with the masses.
Hungry for a scratch on the head or belly, these dogs will eagerly approach anyone—Though few dare touch their mangy coats.
But their existence does not always go so unnoticed.
Usually the poorer neighborhoods, like San Joaquin and Puente Alto, are the most overwhelmed by stray dog populations. When the locals there tier of the infectious and deranged animal roaming their streets, they provide their own solutions—there are recorded cases of neighborhoods getting together to perform mass killings.
In a city that seems so antipathetic to the lives of small mammals, there is a glorious juxtaposition—the great lover of animals St Francis de Assisi.
At the church of St Francis de Assisi, Santiago’s oldest church located in the city’s center, the altar of this 800 year old friar is crammed with photos of desist and beloved family pets.
St Francis was said to have a soft spot for nature’s creatures, and once gave up his dwelling place for a donkey. There are countless stories of how St. Francis Protector of Animals tamed the wild beasts, grew kinship with birds or paid homage to flowers and referred to his Brother Sun (or life itself).
Every October 4th, as is the tradition, hundreds of pet lovers deliver their animas to the shrine of St. Francis so that they may receive his blessing of protection and good health.