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.
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).
And 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.
I 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.
Incredibly, 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.
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.
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.