The Amazing Street Dogs of Santiago, Chile

I noticed the first dog immediately after my husband and I walked out of the airport in Santiago, Chile.

He was a large tan dog, sleeping sprawled on the pavement near the taxi line. Crowds of people passed by, and didn’t seem to find the presence of a stray dog at a major international airport out of the ordinary. Only one person crouched to take a closer look. The scene made me a bit sad.

The next surprise came as my husband and I walked through a peaceful, leafy green park near the Museo de Bellas Artes art museum. My husband, ever observant, noticed that there were dog houses in the park. I then noticed two large dogs confidently strolling through the traffic lanes in front of the museum.

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That afternoon, we took a Tours 4 Tips walking tour that began in front of the museum. Two large, scruffy dogs were lounging confidently on the front steps of the art museum as if they owned it. Some chips were strewn on the ground, probably a handout from friendly tourists. They both appeared well fed. I couldn’t recall visiting an art museum in another city where dogs staked their claim so confidently.

When our tour began, the two dogs followed along.

Our tour guide soon explained that these dogs are known as “quiltro.” They are viewed as communal dogs in Chile. They belong to the public, and public seems to care for them quite a bit .– offering them food and even companionship in city parks.

Although I speak Spanish, I had never before heard the word quiltro. But the word is apparently common in Chile.

Throughout our tour, the dogs followed us — even waiting for us outside buildings when they could not enter. One dog followed us as we toured the Barrio Lastarria neighborhood (see below).

IMG_6557And unlike stray dogs back home in Dallas, Texas, I didn’t feel threatened at all by any of them. They did not act wild. They were calm, and strutted through the streets as if they owned them.

In fact, the quiltro were present at pretty much every major landmark in Santiago. I had never seen so many unleashed street dogs in a Latin American city before — and I’m comparing Santiago to cities such as Mexico City, Buenos Aires, and Rio de Janeiro. In fact, I can only compare the affinity that residents seem to have for the quiltro to the affection that the residents of Istanbul have for stray cats who also frequent major landmarks.

One dog casually approached my husband in the Plaza de Armas in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral, and welcomed a pat on the head.

IMG_6751I was impressed that in the public parks of Santiago, there seemed to be equal parts leashed pet dogs and equal parts quiltro. The quiltro even would sidle up to families, to accompany them (if just for the day). We had to look closely to differentiate between the leashed, owned dogs and the quiltro.

At another stop, one of the quiltro waited outside the gates of the Santa Lucia Hill park, before coming in and laying at the feet of the security guard who was checking in visitors.

IMG_6918Incredibly, the quiltro seemed to access places that certain people could not! We even saw one napping inside the Patio Bellavista upscale restaurant mall, an area that was  guarded by security guards at every entry point.

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And, somehow they managed to make it up the steep mountain top, where I took this shot of a dog sleeping under a cross near the top of San Cristobal Hill.

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While the quiltro seemed healthier than some stray dogs in the United States, they still endure tough times. That’s why there is now a Chilean Quiltro Foundation that seeks to help such dogs. And in recent years, there has been a push for sterilization of strays.

One thing is for certain — Chile definitely is a country for the dogs.

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5 thoughts on “The Amazing Street Dogs of Santiago, Chile

  1. Thanks for the extra information about the street dogs – quiltro. I didn’t quite know what to make of them when we were in Chile. As you say, they seemed well fed and protected by the community, but I also saw some that looked sick and wounded. We were there in June so it was pretty cold, but many of the dogs were wearing little jackets – probably provided by the Foundation you mention.

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    1. Yes, I felt sad for some of the strays as well. People there definitely seem to be very accustomed to having such a large stray dog population around. I was actually surprised how calm the dogs seemed – none seemed aggressive.

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      1. I didn’t encounter any aggressive ones either, although some did seem to like barking at cars which was amusing. We had a few follow us for a bit and it seemed like it was just for the company as they usually weren’t interested in any food we offered them.

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  2. Hi Katherine,
    I’m from Chile and I think I can give you some insight on the word Quiltro and why you haven’t heard it before. It’s true that we call all the stray dogs quiltro, but the truth is the word actually means half-blood, which as you can see they all are.
    The word comes from the mapudungun language, which is the one used by one of our endoogenous tribe the Mapuches. In Chile we use a lot of words that come from that language, and that’s one of the reasons people have a hard time understanding us, even though if they know spanish. They’ve become common slang now a days.

    Well I really liked wat you wrote and hope you enjoyed your stay
    Regards

    Liked by 1 person

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