We’ve loved almost everything about our time in Argentina and Chile. The people have been remarkably friendly and eager to swap their muy poquito English with out our meager Spanish. The sights have exceeded our greatest expectations. The food has been spectacular. Our hotels have given us an unexpected combination of luxury and low cost.
So what’s the problem?
The shocking number of homeless dogs that roam almost every city and town in both countries.
The streets are filled with them. Mostly big dogs. They wander aimlessly, weave in and out between pedestrians, poop wherever they want (with, of course, no owners trailing behind with plastic bags to pick it up), sleep in doorways of busy shops, and even wander into the shops themselves.
They ignore the humans they live alongside and the humans return the favor by ignoring them.
Many of them seem as if they could be sweet, loving dogs. Why doesn’t someone take them home, give them a bath, a warm place to sleep, a bowl of food, and a safe place to heal, or take them to a vet who can cure what ails them. Because, make no mistake, many of them are limping and bear the festering signs of fights with other dogs and unfortunate interactions with automobiles. Others suffer from the ravages of old age. They are bedraggled. Their coats are matted. They are filthy. Some of them have dog buddies they hang out with, but most roam alone.
And there are just so many of them.
We first noticed this sad phenomenon in Ushuaia, Argentina. We asked one local shopkeeper about the situation and he simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “Yes, it’s a problem.” But he showed no interest in doing anything about it.
Buenos Aires was the worst.
Its residents pamper the pooches they own and walk them on expensive leather leashes and dress them in fluffy warm designer vests to protect them from the cold. If they cannot walk their dogs, they pay professional dog walkers to escort apartment-dwelling packs of a dozen or more dogs down the glittering avenidas. Veterinarian offices are everywhere. Stores offering expensive dog food and other pet paraphernalia seem to be found on every other block. It seems clear that Argentinians love dogs.
But if that’s true, how can they completely ignore the depressing number of distressed dogs that live alone on the streets, scrounging for food, seeking warmth where they can find it, and living completely without owners, without affection, without any kind words, without any names, without the human interaction that dogs crave more than anything.
Jamie and I have been unable to reconcile the Argentines’ obvious love of dogs with their shocking neglect of dogs. We just can’t make sense of it.
Our little dog Tinker was rescued off the streets. She’s a sweet, gentle, friendly beast and we cannot imagine what her life must have been like when she was wandering lost and cold and alone. More than once Jamie has stared into the eyes of one of these Argentinian strays and said, “I want to rescue this one and take it home.”
But we know we can’t.
It breaks our hearts.