One of my travel fears is having to bear witness to the poor treatment of animals, and contrary to what we experience in Central America–where, some of you might recall our adopted dog-for-the-week, Princess Sammy, and how she narrowly avoids disfigurement at the hands of an angry local poised to hurl a massive stone at her head–their South American cohorts live like kings.
From Brazil to Argentina to Chile to Peru, all we see is doggy love in its many forms and iterations, strays free to roam and play, curiously always in tribes of three, locals ready with a stroke, a caress, a kind word or a treat.
It’s quite encouraging, actually, this attitude of laissez-faire and communal care, and on more than one occasion, we notice that it must be like in the Sunday comics, dogs lined up at butcher’s, for once happy hour strikes, they all trot back to the main square with bone in mouth, well-fed and happy.
We see bus attendants give full on bear-hugs to transit center strays and invite them up for a pet, pockets lined with treats. We see old ladies throw a dinner roll to the ground. We see family after family gently tell a dog to back off, aggression nowhere to be found.
Time and time again, we see the continental mascot, the poodle, diminutive in stature but big on fro. Poodle comes as lap dog, stray dog, family dog, store dog, cute dog, barking dog, dog-in-a-box, but most importantly, he comes as Baxter look-alike, a happy reminder of my Einstein-esque poodle noodle.
And, of course, we adopt a few of our own, if only for the minute or the afternoon, bestowing it with the bottled-up affection we have on reserve for our loves, circles of eager attendants joining us for most of our meals, particularly those involving chorizo and pollo.
The culminating scene, I think, is one we encounter in San Pedro de Atacama, all of our awe-struck doggie moments rolled into a consummate panorama: From a distance, we see their profile, three friends lined up in a row, heads barely decapitated by the entryway, bodies on the sidewalk. Here, they wait at the threshold for their food, because, you see, if there is one curious trick all these South American dogs know, it’s that dogs are not allowed inside … but, they can most definitely loiter riiiighhhhhht on that line of demarcation, waiting for an unsuspecting softy to throw them a bone.
From afar, we chuckle and observe as their bright and expectant faces peer into the restaurant, tails wagging, and indeed, this is one of those priceless moments, one that makes my heart warm and happy to see people caring for their critter companions.
So, South America, props to you.