Who let the dogs out!

Scratch a dog and you’ll find a permanent job. — Franklin P. Jones 

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Communal dog houses in the park.

Down Calle Puente north from the Plaza de Armas to Mercado Central in Santiago a small group of tourists stop suddenly. They’ve been walking for less than ten minutes and in that time they’ve been joined by a pack of eight dogs: a ratio of two to one.

Welcome to Chile’s capital.

In South America strays are a permanent fixture on the streets, especially in Chile where chances are at some point in your journey you’ll be joined by a dog or three.

The difference is how strays there are treated. Dotted along Parque Forestal, created on reclaimed land from the Mapocho River in the historical downtown area west of Plaza Baquedano and east of Estación Mapocho, kennels dot the landscape. It’s a place where you’ll find locals feeding dogs like Venetians feed birds in St Mark’s Square. It’s a daily ritual.

There’s no need to be frightened. The canines are friendly and the threat of Rabies is small. When a pack of humans are out in force all the dogs want to do is join in the fun and, of course, hope that at the end of the walk they’ll receive a reward.

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Man’s best friend is a stray on the streets of Santiago.

The number of strays in South America has reached epidemic proportions. In 2012 Santiago’s human population was just over six million, the dog population across the country is estimated at double that. Sadly about 17.5 million Chileans are loving these animals to death. They want them when they’re cute, abandon them when they are big and too expensive to feed or sterilise, leaving them to breed on the street. As a consequence given most municipalities won’t step in, Chileans are forced to share the animals’ care as best they can.

Populate and perish

But if disease doesn’t get them, starvation will. For every well-fed dog, there’s plenty that aren’t. Those on the lower rung of the pack can only watch as their canine mates demand first dibs at treats. It certainly isn’t a dog’s life in South America.

Yet for one stray in the nearby port town of Valparaíso things recently took a turn for the better. In February a family from the United States on a cruise came across their very own “Chili Dog”. From the minute he greeted the family by photobombing them and following them around for the day, the O’Connor family from Seattle knew they had to take him home.

Three months and $US2000 later, including a month’s search to locate their future pet, Chile Dog was neutered, vaccinated and an airline persuaded to transport him to his new home.

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This underfed Chili Dog is content to sit and wait with a tour group.

It’s a great outcome but for the rest left behind there’s a common fate they often fall victim to. Along the streets and highways that connect Chile’s suburbs and cities unfortunately you’ll witness dog roadkill.

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance journalist and blogger who recently visited the Chilean cities of Santiago, Valparaíso and Pucón.

When resistance isn’t futile


There is absolutely no greater high than challenging the power structure as a nobody, giving it your all, and winning! ― Abbie Hoffman

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May 25, 1810 Argentina declares independence from Spain.

Remove the terrorist factor and German militant Ulrike Meinhof could have been talking about an Argentinian train driver upon saying: “Protest is when I say I don’t like this. Resistance is when I put an end to what I don’t like. Protest is when I say I refuse to go along with this anymore. Resistance is when I make sure everybody else stops going along too.”

Argentinians love to protest so much so that some individuals have become masters of resistance. After all, they’ve enjoyed 30 years being allowed to practice the art under a democratic society.

Celebrating 30 years of uninterrupted freedom from military rule on December 10 was expected to attract a wave of protests because locals say things are good but could and should be better. Even the Kirchner government is loath to bring a halt to activists right to object.

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Tour guide Maggie explaining the history of protests outside the President’s “pink” house.

Certainly the demonstrations in the week leading up to the 30-year celebrations didn’t surprise native Buenos Aires’ Free Walking Tour guide Maggie. Recounting a story describing why locals [portenos] like to participate in a good outcry, she says waiving her hands: “We are very passionate people and passionate people love to bring attention to injustices but sometimes the injustice facing one person needn’t impact the rest of us!”

Maggie was talking about ONE subway worker who held up trains one morning. He decided he shouldn’t have to work that day, so refused to operate the train, bringing the system on that line to a standstill.

Protests in Argentina’s capital have a long history. Under military rule between 1976 and 1983, women who were not allowed to congregate in groups of three would stand apart in front of the President’s “pink” house. They were trying to connect children of the slain with relatives and would wear white handkerchiefs over their heads. Known as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo, they’re believed to be among the first to stand up against human rights violations …. the handkerchief a symbol of their silent weekly protests.

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Symbol of the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo who stood up against human rights violations in Argentina during the “dirty war”.

The symbol is still a reminder today for Argentinians not to forget the families that disappeared during the “dirty war” where anyone who expressed their opposition to the military government vanished without a trace. It’s believed more than 18,000 “political dissidents” went missing.

In the plaza the symbol pops up ahead of protests being held and graffiti splattered over government monuments alerts city residents there’s yet another revolt around the corner.

Police in riot gear form lines and for the locals if it happens at the right time of the day or week it won’t impact on them getting on with their lives. It’s just another day in BA’s free political paradise.

Judy Wilkinson is a freelance journalist and blogger who arrived in Buenos Aires just days before the capital and country celebrated 30 years of the return to democracy.

Face up to concrete cold facts

Woke up this morning with an ache in my head
I splashed on my clothes as I spilled out of bed
I opened the window to listen to the news
But all I heard was … Rodriguez

No matter who you are, what you do, there comes a day of reckoning. After a year escaping the every day mundane, it’s time to face up to my own concrete cold fact: the vacation is over.

So what next? Work out the next steps.

Flying back from LA to Sydney watching the documentary “Searching for Sugar Man” the list for working out the next step(s) loomed large and at times overwhelmed.

That promise to strive to create something new flew by too quickly. It came and went and the reality check left in its wake poses ever more questions: return to the tried and true or continue to try more things new?

Looking back on the previous path taken only strengthens my resolve it hasn’t been for nought. What made “Tom the curious” now turned “James the weak” produced some of the best work, freed my mind from limitations I’d allowed myself to be hemmed in by and given hope that what comes next will build on skills gained over the past year.

Not everyone gets a shot at doing something different. Having the financial freedom to explore your strengths was a gift. And I was grateful for the opportunity to jump out of an old comfort zone.

When you do something for yourself, it makes you appreciate your own worth in the workforce. The PumpkinFACE™ venture didn’t pull financial strings but as a social media experiment and educational venture it hit its mark, every day. AND next year there are plans to build on what has already begun and better still publish what’s already been written!

Yet those doubts are there about those next steps. Mashing lyrics from songs on the Rodriguez Cold Fact album best sums up some concerns:

Now you sit there thinking feeling insecure / ‘Cos you got no one to listen, you got no one to call / Drifting, drowning in a purple sea of doubt / I wonder how many dreams have gone bad / I wonder how much going have you got / I wonder and worry my friend / I wonder don’t you?

After every day being a holiday it makes you reflect on what’s transpired and wonder how best to tackle what to do next. Making good decisions now could be “the recipe for my happiness” and financial success.

Getting away from the everyday mundane was about finding happiness absent from my previous job … but can that sense of freedom and accomplishment be replicated back home, or will doubts resurface and limit future decisions?

I guess only time will tell, and like “Sugar Man” perhaps success from what’s previously transpired will surface some time down the track. Better later than not at all!

Judy Wilkinson is a blogger and journalist who spent nine months in the United States visiting New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and California as well as travelling to Panama, Costa Rica, Peru, Chile and Argentina. Next post catches up on life in South America.