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Puppy in Shelter

March 6, 2007

A puppy tries to touch a woman's hand inside the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Santiago.

Animal rights activists say abuse of dogs is common across Latin America and, despite its reputation as one of the region's richest and most developed countries, Chile is no exception.


Buried alive puppy highlights pet abuse in Chile

By CAROLINA ALIAGA - Reuters | Wednesday, 7 March 2007

SANTIAGO: One recent summer's day, Ruth Moreno and her family were out walking in northern Chile when they came across an animal's snout sticking out of the ground, desperately sniffing for air.

They dug away the surrounding earth and found a six-month old puppy, barely alive.

"It was shocking. We uncovered its little face but we couldn't free it from the ground and we went to look for help," Moreno said.

Eventually, the puppy was freed and taken to a veterinary surgery where it died the following day.

"It was in a very bad condition, malnourished and severely dehydrated, with hypothermia and blocked airways," said vet Rodrigo Vasquez.

The puppy had been buried alive. No one has yet established who did it or why.

"This is the most extreme case of abuse I've seen, but it's quite common," Vasquez said. "Just recently we had a dog brought in which had been knifed."

Animal rights activists say abuse of dogs is common across Latin America and, despite its reputation as one of the region's richest and most developed countries, Chile is no exception.

The Andean nation has done much to eradicate rabies, prevalent elsewhere in the continent, but still, every year, hundreds of dogs in Chile are maltreated by their owners.

"This type of abuse is frequent in Chile, but it's hidden," said Luis Navarro, president of the Society for the Protection of Animals (SPA). "Abandonment, physical maltreatment and sexual abuse happen more often than you'd think."

DOGS SEXUALLY ABUSED

Gertraud Ernst, a German who cares for around 120 abandoned and abused dogs in her home in Santiago, agrees.

"The situation in Chile is terrible and the police do nothing about it," she says.

A recent study from the University of Chile estimated there were a million pet dogs in the Santiago area, which has a population of 6 million people.

The government says there are a further 215,000 strays roaming the streets while animal rights campaigners put the figure at 250,000.

The SPA says it treats 5000 dogs a year, 10 per cent of which are in seriously poor health.

"One bitch was brought in that had been sexually abused by its owner and burned with cigarettes," Navarro said.

"The owner was arrested but the next day he was freed," he added.

The reasons for the abuse, and why it is prevalent in Chile, are not clear.

"Animals are simply receptacles of violence," said Mario Villagran, a sociologist based in Santiago. "The dog just happens to be the closest living thing to the man when he wants to vent his feelings."

At this time of year, summer in the Southern Hemisphere, the problem gets worse.

"People go on holiday and throw out their pets, leaving them in the streets," Navarro said.

The Chilean penal code allows for the imprisonment of those found guilty of animal abuse for up to 540 days, but activists say such penalties are almost unheard of and culprits are much more likely to be fined than jailed.

"There's been only one case of someone being jailed � a man who killed his dog by shooting it in front of children," Navarro said. "He was in prison four days and paid a fine of 70,000 pesos ($130)."

The government says it is doing what it can to combat abuse of animals.

"We've helped set up sterilization centers for pets and soon we will put forward a set of norms and rules on how to be a responsible pet owner," said Fernando Fuenzalida, a vet from the regional health ministry in the Santiago area.

He said the government also wanted to include lessons on animal welfare and responsible pet ownership in the national curriculum, taught in schools throughout the country. "That's a medium to long-term aim of the government," he said.

In the meantime, the SPA expects to deal with thousands more cases like that of the puppy buried alive in northern Chile.

"In some cases we've reported abusers to the police, with their first name, their last name and photographs of the animals showing they've been seriously physically abused," Navarro said. "And no one has done anything."


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