Guapo, a German Shepherd cross who lives outside my local bar in downtown Santiago, likes car chases, especially when they involve taxis. In fact, the only thing he enjoys more than tearing after passing vehicles and trying to sink his teeth into their tyres, is barking at men. Male taxi drivers give Guapo a very wide berth.
Dressed for the winter in a red fleecy coat and with a blanket to sleep on, Guapo has been semi-adopted by Bar Sycosis. They tolerate him occasionally taking a dislike to the male clientele and give him food, water and affection. Regulars take bets on which motorist or passing male pedestrian he’s going to terrorize next.
One of thousands of street dogs in Chile, Guapo is luckier than most. Un-neutered, un-vaccinated and largely unloved, stray dogs are everywhere. Sold in pet shops and given away as prizes in competitions, there’s little education about the cost, time and patience needed to keep a pet so many end up on the street when owners get bored or can no longer afford it. Animal protection legislation isn’t high on the agenda for the government here and the few laws that do exist have more bark than bite.
Some will say that Guapo and friends are better off in the street than being stuck inside all day. However, like any other extreme sport, car chasing, the de rigour canine activity of choice in this town, isn’t without risks. Although many Chileans go out of their way to pat or feed the street dogs in their neighbourhood, few can afford the vet bills when something goes wrong. Many of the dogs who snooze in the shade, fight and torment taxis around Plaza Italia sooner or later end up with sports injuries, and these go un-treated.
So, if you’re driving around Bellas Artes and see a crazy German Shepherd advancing rapidly in your rear-view mirror, go steady. The neighbourhood wouldn’t be the same without him.
For more on dogs in Santiago, see: