Stray dogs overrun the cities and towns of South America. Their presence is so normal that when I asked a local about them, he answered my question with a question, “Are there not stray dogs in the US?”
“Yes, but we have shelters for them. You almost never see them in the streets.” He was surprised by this.
Of course, one could argue that we haven’t reached a better solution in the US just yet. We’re likely just better at hiding our problems. It’s no mystery that for all our adoption efforts, there are far too many strays per household to take on. So a stray who does not win the adoption lottery has two possible fates. If he is unlucky, he will be put to sleep. If he is “lucky,” he will grow old in a cage.
Even so, I cannot help but theorize that our compassion and responsibility for the animals mirrors what we feel for people when the evidence is so plainly visible in the everyday, that as long as there is neglect for the wellbeing of any living thing in our shared spaces, there will also be litter in the streets; poverty and homelessness; and cheats, lies, and bribes beneath the shaky value of a country’s currency.
We people, we are no different from the dogs. We are wholly domesticated to rely on jobs to justify our usefulness to society. So our confidence buckles under the climbing unemployment rate and the invention of bullshit job titles. In the US, we’ve learned to inflate the employment rate by creating more service and part-time jobs and by neglecting to include students in that unemployment percentage. Would you like fries with your PhD?
George Orwell wrote, “Freedom is slavery.”
What is a feral dog in our modern day? Has he reconnected with his long foregone wild roots, is he liberated from society’s expectations, or is he failure after investing thousands of years in permitting us to tame him because he was useful to us once, and we to him?
Would we criticize a dog for not keeping up with us as our technology outdated him? Are we failures now, for not being able to provide the security a caveman once promised him?
This is Morena, a puppy I met on the island of Chiloé, and my favorite dog from the whole trip. She’s a beautiful girl and good friends with one of the resident dogs, Chicolisto. I didn’t know why they called him Chicolisto (ready boy) until I saw how “ready” he always was. Ah, Morenita, it’s all sweetness and games right now, but be careful when you get a little older. I don’t want you to become another teenage pregnancy statistic.
In Valparaíso, I saw an artist drawing La Armada de Chile. A German Shepherd slept nearby and each was unaware of the other, though large tour groups passing by noticed and chatted about both. Like the creeper that I am, I sat nearby to draw them together. Like the voyeurs that they were, over the next hour, several of the tourists took pictures of me making a picture of them.
The artist eventually left. A tourist in a bird-patterned shirt went to pet the dog, who woke up and wandered over to keep company at my feet.
Ah, my friend, I had no food, and as a traveler, no shelter to offer you. You have no training, specialty, or purpose. We are of no use to each other. But we are friends nonetheless.