What is it about people who get pets, mostly dogs or cats,  and then dispose of them like so much garbage? And then these poor animals have to fend for themselves, scavenging for food in garbage cans, procreating, getting sick, maybe even spreading disease.  Not to mention having to stake out and defend their territory.

Somehow, these bad human habits seem to be more prevalent in southern and eastern European countries and I have just witnessed them in rural Argentina and everywhere I visited in Chile, including the capital of Santiago.  Invariably, I was followed by one or more stray dogs.  Almost instinctively these poor beasts knew that they would find an empathetic soul in me.  When I asked local residents, they shrugged and acknowledged, yes, it is a problem, but what can be done about it and looked the other way.  Municipalities seem to do nothing or undertake a yearly poisoning-and-cremation-spree. Local pet shelters or programs are hopelessly overworked, underfunded and understaffed – if they exist at all.

It was especially bad on Easter Island.  There are approx. 4500 year-round residents on the island and easily several hundred stray dogs. As a concerned animal lover, it breaks my heart to see these dogs, free to roam but unwanted and unloved, kept away from properties by persons throwing stones after them. The nightly barking contest was especially obnoxious.  An American resident living outside the town of Hanga Rua, who shelters as many dogs as her family can handle, had just had three dogs (from a total of five) poisoned in one day by an ill-willing neighbor.  Her small children were devastated.  She told me of an American vet who had come five years in a row, volunteering his services, especially to neuter the animals, bringing his own equipment and medicine.  The authorities, instead of welcoming these services, set up so many bureaucratic hurdles, that he ended up quitting his altruistic actions.

What is to be done?  There have been attempts at trying to get university veterinary clinics to donate at least basic vet services, especially neutering. How successful these efforts are, I cannot say; but from the present sheer number of stray dogs in Chilean cities and on Easter Island, I don’t think very.  At any rate, these animals deserve a better life.