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“Hero” dog brings to light Chileans' attitude to pets

Sunday, December 14th 2008 - 20:00 UTC
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A recently released video of highway security film footage showing the heroic rescue of one dog by another on a busy Chilean highway is causing a big stir both in Chile and abroad.

The two dogs were reportedly escaping a dog pound together when one of them was hit by a car moving at a roughly estimated 50 to 60 mph. As the dog lay dying between lanes in the middle of a major highway, the other dog darted out from the divide, dodging heavy traffic until he reached the wounded dog. The "hero" dog then proceeded to drag his friend by the scruff of his neck to the roadside, stopping only to avoid traffic, which did not slow throughout the entire incident. Three minutes later, the mongrels were on the side of the highway in relative safety and an emergency vehicle pulled up to tardily diverts traffic. Stories of dogs saving their human owners from burning buildings are common, but Chilean veterinarian and canine psychologist Marta Rio said that this event was extraordinary. "Dogs helping dogs and expressing compassion is fairly common," she said. "But I have never heard of one going to such dangerous lengths to help another one of its own. It is a truly exceptional story." The Vespucio Norte highway security cameras, which are monitored 24 hours a day, captured the rescue but highway operators now say they don't know where the "hero" dog is. Vespucio Norte spokesman Marcelo Fuentelzar explained the aftermath of the situation. "The dog who got hit died on the side of the road and the other dog that we assume was a stray but are not sure, was dropped off in the nearby residential area of Conchalí," he said. "We figured, if he's a stray, it doesn't matter where we leave him, and if he's not, best leave him close to where we found him." Chilean attitudes toward dog ownership differ greatly to those in places like the United States. There are approximately 214,000 dogs roaming the streets or sleeping on sidewalks all over Santiago. Still, only about 60% of the dogs seen on the street are true strays, according to Rios. "The others are pets, whose owners let them out in the morning when they go to work and take them back in at night when they get back home," Rios said. The canine psychologist attributes this nonchalant attitude to a severe problem affecting Santiago. "It's terrible; it's a real problem. Dogs can get hit by cars, and some can get lost," Rios said. "Also, most of (the dogs) aren't vaccinated or spayed, even fewer are neutered, and so you have a lot of puppies being born in the streets, which keeps the population of stray dogs high. People here need to be re-educated about what it means to keep a dog as a pet." The Chilean state introduced a free sterilization program for dogs in 2006. Still, many dogs are not taken in and continue to roam the streets, sometimes attacking people which produce problems of disease. There have been a few incidences of lethal attacks and people often run the risk of contracting rabies through dog bites. The topic of canine vagabonds in Santiago is a hot one, and different solutions figure among some politicians' campaign promises. Last year, a dog euthanasia scandal in posh Las Condes prompted then-Santiago Mayor Raul Alcaíno to react furiously in front of television cameras. Surrounded by stray mutts, he howled at journalists, saying "No one's laying a finger on these puppies." It is a divisive issue, and public opinion seems to be turning more against Santiago's begrudged mascots. Perhaps this recent demonstration of canine affection will do something positive for the tarnished reputation of Santiago's stray dogs. By Colette Bernasconi - Published The Valparaiso Times

Categories: Politics, Latin America.

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