July 7, 2011
Making Strides for Street Dogs in Chile
With support from HSI, local animal advocates join efforts to address pet overpopulation
by Julie Hauserman
In Chile, it is routine for dog owners to let their pets outside when they go to work in the morning, then let the dogs back inside in the evening. Most of the dogs aren’t spayed or neutered, and they roam the streets all day.
The result is predictable: a proliferation of street dogs throughout Chile’s neighborhoods, a problem that Humane Society International and local Chilean animal advocates are trying to tackle day by day, and year by year.
Alexandra Rothlisberger, HSI’s program manager for Latin America & Caribbean, recently made a series of site visits in Chile to see field veterinary clinics in action. Local groups are in charge of the logistics associated with setting up a spay or neuter clinic, while the veterinarians usually travel from the capital city of Santiago to perform the surgeries and provide other services such as rabies shots, de-worming, and treatment as needed.
“I saw Chileans show tremendous compassion for the animals,” Rothlisberger said. “There are a lot of street dogs. People leave water and food out and build makeshift houses for them. Now, the main goal is to reduce the population of roaming dogs.”
A labor of love
Rothlisberger met with two of the nonprofit groups HSI has worked with in the past, RIMA and ACUAA. Both organizations are comprised of skilled veterinarians who, along with dedicated volunteers, travel the region and set up field veterinary clinics with the help of community groups, or else contract with municipalities, to provide affordable spay/neuter services in areas where the need is greater. Volunteers who hold full-time jobs during the week join the field clinics on the weekends.
“These veterinarians in Chile show a lot of dedication and have high-level surgical skills,” Rothlisberger commented.
Many of the communities that RIMA and ACUAA visit are plagued by poverty and street violence, and animal welfare tends to slip down the priority list when people are face-to-face with dire human needs.
RIMA’s Dr. Sergio Muñoz Rodriguez, an HSI consultant veterinarian, is also an enthusiastic animal advocate who helps organize volunteers, recruits veterinary students to help with the field clinics, and provides spay/neuter services. Almost every weekend, he hits the road to visit communities and spay or neuter street dogs.
"Every time I sterilize an animal, I think of all the unwanted dogs or cats that the operation will prevent," Dr. Rodríguez told HSI in 2008. "This work is hard, but it's the most satisfying work I could do."
Working for lasting change
HSI has been privileged to meet and work with so many compassionate animal advocates in Chile: On this trip, Rothlisberger met 22-year-old student Anyelo Soto, who dedicates his free time to fighting for animals.
Soto uses the Internet to connect to animal advocates throughout Chile and beyond, and to further the cause of compassionate animal treatment. His animal welfare group, Tu Pata en Mi Mano, has 13,000 Facebook followers, and Soto circulates petitions, raises money, and holds online adoption drives. He’s also started a one-hour radio show to discuss animal welfare issues.
HSI is committed to continuing animal welfare work in Chile, especially empowering animal advocates there, Rothlisberger said.
“Our next step,” she explained, “is to assist in strengthening local groups for them to keep growing and providing spay/neuter services on a regular basis.”
Some parts of the country are still recovering from the volcanic eruption in 2008, and the earthquake followed by a tsunami that devastated coastal towns in 2010. HSI deployed a disaster team to Chile in 2008 and supported a RIMA-led disaster response in 2010, and we are committed to help provide on-the-ground staff, equipment, transportation, and funding for animal rescue efforts, wherever they are needed next in the country.
Currently, through our representative Dr. Sergio Muñoz Rodriguez, HSI is on the ground monitoring the volcanic activity in the south. We believe in the local capacity that exists in Chile to respond to such an event, but we are on stand-by to provide any necessary assistance.