They appear everywhere in the city of Santiago. At corners, parks, restaurant entrances, sidewalks, subway stations, bus stops, and public squares. Street dogs walk the city, usually alone, sometimes in small groups. Drifting the urban space they have become part of the everyday life of Santiago. According to recent surveys there are more 500.000 dogs wandering the streets and neighborhoods of the capital of Chile. Although citizens and government are aware of the increasing population of dogs there is not regulation for them. In fact, an alternate kind of dog street life has emerged in the city. From informal jobs to public transportation, from food supply to informal sanitary system, the dog population has created their own alternative life ecosystem.
In my recent visit to the city, after almost 20 years, I was surprised by such dynamic street dog life. Staying at the downtown gave me access to what is known as the street dog hub. That area is where all the operations are managed by a central street dog unit. While walking downtown I was surprised not only by how comfortable the dogs were sharing the sidewalks with pedestrians but also by their ability to mine the public space with their poop. What some Santiagueños have started to call perro-sheet is in fact a sort of improvised and informal sanitary system that the street dogs have set up. The system involves humans cleaning dog poop both consciously and by accident. The latter was in fact what made me become very aware of how lively the street dog life was as I stepped in one of the perro-sheets while exploring Santiago’s downtown.
From the hub, street dogs travel to all other parts of the city, either by subway, on their own feet, or in buses. Especially early in the morning you can see them aggregating themselves at the downtown subway stations. While walking the Brasil, Lastarria, Italia, and Providencia neighborhoods I encountering them, doing different kind of jobs, especially taking care of restaurant entrances and parks. They seemed to be able to work during the day as watchdogs of different spaces and get food as rewards from humans. Some dogs were also messengers and seemed to be walking very fast across the streets, bringing news to different offices. Other ones, were also just looking for company and a couple of them followed me in my drifting as I tried to photograph the impressive street art/graffiti scene that has emerged in Santiago in recent years.
Part of the cosmopolitan and intense life of Santiago, the street dog life ecosystem keeps growing in the shadows, in the informality, leveraging all the resources that the metropolis gives them. Its richness is still waiting to be discovered, before humans take actions to control it.