Chile: Weird Ways to Spend the Weekend: Doggy Style in Melipilla (Revolver)

Nobody wanted to sit next to me on the bus. I smelled awful, I was covered in dog saliva and the fleas nestling in my clothes were ecstatically jumping for freedom onto the seats around me.

And I couldn’t have been happier. For once, rather than forlornly nursing a pisco hangover, I’d spent my Sunday helping others and it felt good. Saddened and enraged by the vast number of abandoned dogs on the streets of Santiago, I went to help out at the Protectora de Animales San Francísco de Asís, a dog shelter in the town of Melipilla, a 50-minute bus ride from the capital.

Photo Lya Gomez

Photo Lya Gomez

 The shelter in Melipilla is one of many in the Santiago area that survives on donations alone. Tucked away in the poorest part of town between the cemetery and an Evangelical church, you can hear its residents before you see them.

Once inside, warm doesn’t begin to describe the welcome as 65 exuberant dogs leap up to say hello. Staffed entirely by a roster of hard-working volunteers, the shelter is very basic but functional. Workers go in once a day to clean the kennels, play with the dogs and give them food and water.

The dogs’ personalities soon shined through; there are the quiet ones, the bullies, the show-offs and the clever ones who are outrageously naughty but cunning. “Don’t fall for the old sad eyes trick,” I was warned. “They’re masters of it.” I fell for it every time.

Shakira, a gorgeous long-haired blonde, shimmied her way around the yard like a high-class call girl, whipping the male dogs in the yard into a frenzy. Niebla, with fur the color of a mocha latte, looked on dolefully while the tiny puppy Cosmo peed on my leg as he was being given his vitamin shot. Belén took the opportunity to stick her head into the food bag when I wasn’t looking.

But dogs like Cosmo will face a harsh winter as unvaccinated puppies are especially vulnerable to distemper and parvovirus. Although two local vets provide their services at cost, there is simply not enough money to vaccinate all the dogs.

Ninety-five percent of the dogs at the Melipilla shelter are female because, as volunteer Andrea Rojas Retamal explained, “People don’t want the responsibility of caring for pups or paying for the dog to be neutered.” Likewise, many people who come to the shelter in search of a new canine friend want young male dogs, often of a particular breed, which makes finding new homes for some of the older female residents, like German Shepherd Pastora, all the more difficult. 

Many of the dogs that arrive at the shelter have been abandoned, mistreated or simply thrown over the shelter’s wall. Although animal mistreatment is a crime in Chile, there are very few prosecutions. “It’s difficult because the legal system here is so slow and bureaucratic and proof is always needed,” Rojas said.

Long-standing volunteer Lya Gomez would like to see the Chilean government adopt stricter laws like those in Britain, where the suspicion of cruelty is enough for authorities to intervene and where the guilty can receive hefty fines and long prison sentences. “We need more education, too,” says Gomez, “so that people understand that animals are not toys and can’t just be thrown out when you’re bored of them.”

Volunteering at a dog shelter is hard, dirty work, but it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done. I was utterly bewitched by my new four-legged friends, and the sight of 65 grateful, happily wagging tails sure beats a hangover.

Other forms of contribution include direly needed food, blankets, tools, construction materials and web design. Financial donations are accepted at any Banco Estado, account name Protectora de Animales San Francísco de Asís, number 38460075065.

For volunteering and dog adoption
Email: protectoradeanimalessanfranciscodeasis@gmail.com This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Phone (English): Lya Gomez, 9 141 1383

Other dog shelters seeking volunteers in Santiago:
www.oprachile.cl
www.somosperritos.cl

With thanks to Lya Gomez and Protectora de Animales San Francísco de Asís, Melipilla

http://www.revolver-magazine.com/travel/59-travel/346-melipilla-dog-shelter-living.html

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1 Comment

Filed under chile, Features, Travel articles

One response to “Chile: Weird Ways to Spend the Weekend: Doggy Style in Melipilla (Revolver)

  1. Pingback: Blog: Chasing cars with Guapo « Natasha Young

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