Thursday, 30 August 2012 22:35
Abandonment remains a key issue for pro-animal organizations.
Foreigners to Santiago are frequently astounded by the city’s large presence of street dogs. While this often comes as a shock to newcomers, the strays are part of everyday life for locals. The dogs play with tear gas, sleep among crowds and share park benches with strangers. Gang wars are usual and chasing cars is their hobby.
There are 215,000 dogs on the streets of Santiago, or approximately one dog for every 30 people in the city. Seventy-three percent have either been abandoned or have an owner who does not tend to them, according to Pro Animal Chile
“Most of the homeless street dogs had a home at one point in their lives,” Paula Levi, coordinator of the Animal Defense Student Group (AEDA) of Universidad de Santiago de Chile told The Santiago Times. “This is a big problem in Chile because people do not assume responsibility. They view their pet as a piece of furniture and once they get bored of them, they are left on the streets. People do not seem to understand that these are living beings.”
Life on the streets is dangerous is many ways. Dogs are vulnerable to many diseases, such as distemper virus and parvovirus, which is often fatal for puppies. Rabies, transmissible venereal tumor and scabies are also common and can be transmitted to humans. Homeless dogs are also vulnerable to malnutrition and digestive problems, as well as psychological trauma which sometimes results in violent reactions.
Volunteer organizations like AEDA set up underground shelters to take in injured and ill dogs with the help of veterinarians willing to lend a hand. These shelters also provide an adoption service, hoping to find homes for the dogs they care for. However, the number of dog owners in Chile seeking to abandon their pets far exceeds the capacity shelters are equipped to handle, and as a result they cannot reveal their location, as it would encourage people to abandon their pets there.
Still, abandonment is a relatively humane option compared with some other common methods.
“There are always cases of human abuse toward stray dogs, and mistreatment is the biggest problem in my opinion,” Levi said. “Dogs are attacked constantly, sometimes burnt alive, sometimes choked, beaten to death and fed poison. Reasons for attacks vary from pure psychoticness to annoyance and wanting to get rid of them.”
There have been recorded cases
of neighborhoods getting together to perform mass killings in order to control overpopulation of stray dogs, especially in poorer Santiago neighborhoods like San Joaquin and Puente Alto.
Animal Care and Control Specialist Teresa Chagrin, of international animal rights organization PETA, based in the United States, said she believes that in order to prevent such violent acts, sometimes extreme measures like the use of euthanasia must be taken.
“PETA believes that euthanasia is better than the slow, painful death of being beaten to death, set on fire or poisoned,” Chagrin told The Santiago Times.
Across the U.S. there are more than 8 million abandoned animals, and euthanasia is commonly performed at animal centers.
“You cannot force people to like animals,” Chagrin said. “Prevention is the key. It’s hard to fix a problem when it has become so severe, however a start would be to have laws requiring people to license their dogs and cats. We believe that animals should be taken care of.”
Levi said her organization, AEDA, believes mass sterilization of reproductive systems to be the best solution.
“At AEDA, we do perform sterilizations, but there has not been a greater reduction of street dogs. For this to work, government must take charge of massive sterilization campaigns,” she said. “But we must remember there is always a silver lining to these types of situations. When we see horrific abuse, we also see human empathy, such as the people who decide to feed a stray dog once in a while, or put on a winter coat to protect them from the cold winter.”
By Sumy Sadurni (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Copyright 2012 - The Santiago Times