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The stray dogs of South America


I’ll always miss those stray dogs of South America. I’m back now and I’m wondering where they all went. Before it seemed so strange to see them running around the streets, but now it seems strange not to see them running around freely but instead on leashes of owners.

When I first saw them I wondered where there owners were, it took me months to realise that no one was ever going to come chasing after them. I was startled when one came running round the corner and straight passed me with complete assurance of where it was going, like it was late for work. I always used to keep my distance, think of them as dangerous, wild animals, rabbis infested. But now, after seeing them across five countries from Argentina, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia I get as close as I like. They became my travelling buddies in a way; you could always rely on them to be there. 6000 metres altitude after a 5 hour coach drive to the middle of nowhere Argentina, there they are. A walk through 3 beaches, up and down a muddy Brazilian hill side, across massive boulders to a remote natural pool, there they are. Through a Peruvian rainforest after an 8 hour hike to a small camping site buried in between the hills, there they are.

I took a liking to them because I wasn’t used to them. I thought I should get at least a picture of one, different from your usual tourist pictures. But then I got another, then another, and before I knew it I was on a mission to capture as many pictures of those stray dogs of South America as I could. When my camera was pinched from me along the way, my first thought was ‘what about all those dog pictures? Can’t get them from the internet’. Because of this I’m sure I paid more attention to them than most. But sometimes in a town where no one pays much attention to you, you have nowhere to go, nothing to do, and nothing left, I felt I had more in common with the stray dogs than the locals or other tourists!

It always made me smile when I thought of how in England or notably the pub I used to work in, that customers were not allowed to bring their dogs into the building. But here in South America, they just wander into wherever they like restaurants and bars included. Many was the time I would throw my scraps on the floor while the owners weren’t looking to keep them fed. One homeless man taking leftovers from peoples plates had to forgo mine as I told him ‘these are for the dogs’, I gave him some cents to compensate. The clever ones were the ones outside restaurants, or in them, daring the angry owner’s wrath as he shooed them out. It was quite funny, and kind of unhygienic, to see one little dog take a poo right in the middle of the dining room floor.

Seeing these dogs in their natural environment really was something. Watching owners scream at their dogs because they went for a run or are licking something off the ground, like they did something wrong, is uncalled for. It’s natural for them; do you punish a bird for flying? Strangely enough those stray dogs were always more well behaved than the ones owned. Try getting a picture of one of them and you were met by angry barks, but those stray dogs just give you that nonchalant pose and carried on starring at the World. Well behaved they are, never running around crazy like owned dogs, never barking at people or causing fights with other dogs; they haven’t got the energy plus they’ve seen it all before anyway. They always liked to follow as well. Something they do naturally I guess. On Isla del sol (Bolivia) one dog ecstatically ran to us and followed us for a while before treading no further. I ran into it three hours later on the north side of the island and one Dutch girl told me how it had followed her and friends for the last two and a half hours. Or at 4 in the morning in the pitch dark as our group ventured to the gate entrance for Macchu Picchu a stray dog decided to join our group and come along. Or our friend from under the dinner table one night who rejoined us in the town square afterwards for a sit down.

It’s a silly fascination I’m aware, but I made sure to tell people I was with about my photo album, if they wondered why I was taking the pictures in the first place. I think it started from one year ago when I visited Bulgaria. I’d never seen so many stray dogs running around, I could not work out why they were allowed on the street, whey weren’t they put away? I was not here long enough for my way of thinking to change, whereas by the end of my South American tour I became so used to them I never had the thought of taking them off the streets again.

I think they had a good way of living out there. Free as you like, they could go where they wanted, when they liked, and do whatever they wished. Is this not how we travellers were moving? Care free, happy go lucky. I couldn’t help seeing similarities. The way you’d see them running along highways or crossing borders back and forth always made me smile. While I’m there with passport in hand, all papers in proper order, and for some reason believing they would not let me cross, these dogs would just trot across without a single worry!

Sitting on a beach one day and of course the dogs are there enjoying the sun too. The girl sitting with me says that she and her friends love the dogs too and always sing the theme song from the TV show The littlest hobo when they see them. Coincidently the lyrics from this song and the way one seems to travel around this big continent have all too much in common, ‘every stop I make, I make a new friend, can’t stay for long, just turn around and I’m gone again….so if you want to join me for a while, just grab your hat, come travel light, that’s hobo style’.

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