Gabriela (Rinconada) and Daniella (Circe de Pirque)

March 5, Thursday
Today I met Gabriela Jarpa, and everything has changed. Gabriela is an activist in the true sense of the word. When she is not working at her regular job or caring for her two daughters, Gabriela spends her time feeding and treating dogs within Santiago and specifically, in an area called Rinconada.

On the outskirts of Santiago, Rinconada is a dreadfully poor area, lined with trash, the dumpsite not only for Santiago’s sewage but for it’s unwanted dogs. Gabriela has a set route and when the dogs recognize her car, they come running. Some are too scared to approach freely, some too sick…

A group of children called Gabriela to their house to look at the family’s sick dog. And there we found what must be the world’s saddest German Shepherd. Wearing a woolen jacket, she lay cooking in the midday sun. From her thick leather collar hung two heavy, rusty springs to which she was chained.

Gabriela didn’t waste a second, removing the jacket and collar and helping the poor emaciated dog into the shade. Although not a qualified veterinarian, she got to work with emergency treatment. The dog’s ears were barely there, disintegrating (a condition I have yet to identify) and eaten by flies. Her eyes were oozing. Gabriela groaned with disgust and despair as she pulled apart the hair on the dog’s neck to find on her skin a thick black crust of flea eggs. Choking back tears, Gabriela implored the women watching how they could possibly keep a dog in such a condition. She was starved and they said she ate that day. The collar and chain they excused by saying she fights with the cats. The jacket was pure laziness so they don’t have to take it off during the hot days and put it back on for the cold nights.

After giving her food and water, we left with heavy hearts.

INSERT: Sleep was hard to come by that night and the next day, Gabriela returned to the house to fetch the German Shepherd. She took her to the municipality where they took a sample to determine the condition of her skin and ears… It was not flea eggs making her skin black. To kill parasites, the owners had doused the dog with petrol. She clawed so much on her ears in an attempt to clean herself that she opened the skin and the flies did the rest.

She has been adopted and is now in a home nearby where Gabriela lives.

After the gruesome German Shepherd discovery we continued further down the road to film Gabriela feeding more dogs, one of which was limping with a flattened paw from being driven over by a car. Then came a pack of about twenty dogs, all sizes, ages, breeds and temperaments. They rushed out to greet Gabriela and once the food was on the ground, it didn’t take long for a fight to break out. Multiple dogs laid into the omega dog, the lowest pack member, ousting her without food.

That was all in one morning, and the afternoon was about to get even more interesting…

We met up with Daniella Monje, an AEDA activist and the founder of Trinidad Clinic, the only vet clinic in Santiago open 24/7. Daniella also feeds abandoned dogs in the country, in an area south-east of Santiago called Cirque de Pirque.

While picking up the food supply from someone’s home, we encountered a husky-German Shepherd mix, strutting the streets. I was scared of him and turned the other way when he approached me. Suddenly there was screaming as he took hold of the neck of a smaller street dog right beside me. I grabbed my camera as Daniella grabbed hold of the husky, trying every technique to break up the one-sided fight – fingers in the nose, in the eyes, prying the jaws apart, dousing them with water, punching, kicking… Finally, after about five minutes, the husky let go and the terrier ran for his life, taking refuge in a nearby shop where onlookers watched with detachment and even amusement. Daniella picked up what remained of the shivering, bleeding dog and we took him to a vet who stitched him up.

The husky mix was owned, living out his life underfed, mostly on the end of a chain. When confronted, the owner just laughed, pushing my camera down to stop me from filming.

And off we go down the road to Cirque de Pirque to feed more hungry dogs. Daniella broke open an abscess on a Labrador puppy… I’ve never seen so much puss in my life. She is also not a trained veterinarian but the situation is so desperate that a qualification is a luxury one can bypass with a phone call for advice on the job. She injected antibiotic into the wound and the puppy looked happy enough by the time we left.

At the end of the road, or rather, as far as Daniella can go down that road to feed dogs, we found 3 puppies old enough to be separated from their mother but not old enough to survive on their own. One had already died, and the remaining three were taken away and adopted out through AEDA.

And finally the day ended. Exhausted and emotionally tender, I collapsed onto Gabriela’s couch, aware of how fortunate I was to have a roof over my head.

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