This winter I was fortunate to tour South America. The trip included following the HMS Beagle’s journey around this incredibly beautiful continent. As we entered through the treacherous straits of Magellan, Dr. Tom Macan, the resident historian on our ship, read the dairy of Darwin’s accounting of this passage. After 18 days at sea I arrived in Valparaiso Chile, a very busy and large sea port.
In the 1990s, explosive detection Labradors using my Super Sniffer® method were introduced to this country. It was heartwarming to see Labradors still working the port and still using my methodology of training. When I say Labrador Retriever in the context of Chile, you need to think back to the first water dogs. They are small to medium dogs about 21-23 kilos in weight and 50-51 cm tall. Their coats are rough and very weather resistant with web feet and thick tails. The expression is kind but the heads are not as chisled or refined as our modern Labradors in the States. Nonetheless, they are Labradors. Most are black. I have only seen 3 yellows and no chocolates.
From the port town, we headed inland to the heart of Chile, Santiago, where I leased an apartment in the heart of downtown for a month to finish my latest book. The location was great as it is only half a block from a large park, 3 blocks from a main shopping and government area, and right in the core of Belle Artes — a place where students, artists, and an unusual mix of cultures and people hang out. Chile has its share of stray dogs too, many of them abandoned purebreds. German Shepherd and Labrador Retrievers are the most prevalent seen.
Street dogs have their favorite hangouts too and it turns out my. Apartment building had their own dog. He was a quiet black Labrador with a docked tail. His look was quite distinctive and he had an air about him I find hard to describe but it was certainly there.
I love to walk so right off I wanted to walk the hood and check out my new surroundings.. As I wandered into the “artists alley” not far away I started seeing artwork that featured the dog outside my apartment building. It was quite good and had him wearing a red bandanna, which I learned was what the protesters wore. I was now more curious what the story was as I looked over all the things with his image on it; notebooks, decals, posters, hats, shirts, really anything you can think of. It took me a while to locate someone that spoke English then I learned our black friend was a national hero.
If you haven’t heard there is a lot of civil unrest here in Chile amongst the working people against practices of their government. Protesting has been going on for some time and its quite sad that they don’t seem to be making any progress. Some of these protests are quite large and just before we arrived one such protest was held in our area of town. The police here are much more aggressive than in the USA and during the protest they went after a man who only shouting with their clubs. This black dog rushed to the defense of the person and stayed off the attack of the police while the people got away. He instantly cauterized the movement so that now they shouted even the dogs have had enough!
The dogs still follow the crowds when there are protests which I witnessed first hand on International Women’s Day when tens of thousands women marched and protested treatment of women by the government. The dogs who normally snooze all day and ignore everything around them, were up and prancing beside the protesters.
As I take my daily walks I also noticed that with all the pet owners walking their dogs there was no dog on dog aggression issues, with either other pet dogs or the street dogs. A variety of breeds are in my neighborhood and include Beagles, Burmese Mountain Dogs, Dalmatians, Pugs, Poodles, Yorkies, Chihuahuas, Border Collies, Boxers, Bulldogs, to name a few. All the dogs walked politely near their owners, no one pulled on a leash if they were on one. About half the time or more they were not on leash. At a park at the edge of Belle Artes I discovered all the owners gather to chat, share beers and let the dogs play. There is no fencing, it is right off the busiest of streets, and yet everyone is fine. It begs the question what is the difference I see here verses what I see in the States? Could it be that even though Santiago is a large city, the laid back attitude of the people is influencing the dogs? If I had to choose one word to describe both it would be relaxed. Everyone was enjoying themselves.
I will be heading to Buenos Aires Argentina next and will be writing my next blog from there. In the meantime do as they do down here, get out with your dog, relax and enjoy.