One Month Since the Earthquake in Chile

Photographs courtesy of Francisco Henriquez.

We have received news on the situation in Chile from our volunteer, David Gomez, member of CDA (Coalición por los Derechos Animales).

David and other volunteers executed an animal rescue campaign focused on Dichato, near Concepción in the district of Tomé. This has been one of the worst hit areas where tsunamis killed as yet an unknown number of people. After the earthquake struck on February 27, authorities advised no tsunami danger, a mistake that proved fatal. Some people were drowned in their cars, so awfully close to escape. Many animals were abandoned by their families and died chained or trapped in houses. Other dogs and cats survived their families and now form part of the estimated 2.5 million stray population in Chile.

David Gomez and his team have managed to alleviate much of the suffering of these animals, but they sorely lack manpower and resources.

Roberto Orrego is in the final stages of acquiring his veterinary degree. His family’s home was destroyed in the tsunami and they have not been able to find as much as one wooden plank the color of their former house. Roberto has been working tirelessly day after day, night after night, treating animals whose bones were broken by falling and floating debris, treating pre-existing conditions such as mange and tumors, controlling a possible distemper outbreak, and coordinating additional volunteer veterinarians from the University of Concepción. In these few days since the Dichato campaign began, he has gained more experience than most vets would obtain in years.

It is almost a month since the disaster struck, and already Chile has fallen from international public view. Without adequate support, rescue efforts are too slow to avoid the situation worsening. The slower the rescue effort, the more difficult it becomes – starving, desperate animals quickly become fearful of humans, form packs and turn feral. This is already happening. Fear turns to aggression and they become almost impossible to capture. Feral dogs (and cats) will inevitably supplement scavenging with hunting wildlife, they will inevitably breed, and malnourishment increases their susceptibility to diseases such as distemper. The window of opportunity to avoid this process is very small.

Most food retail outlets were destroyed in the tsunamis, leaving little to no food supply in Dichato and a heavy dependence on donations. Many families, themselves starving, share what they have with their pets. Strays have been seen scavenging rotting meat from the rubble of butcheries.

It seems the key problem is food distribution. Politics and bureaucracy, lack of management and ego, the inevitable human foibles, have left promises unfulfilled and caused severe delays in transportation of food.

Donations are currently in storage in the Army’s campsite, the safest place in light of theft that has occurred. When a military patrol asked why one dog, after doing his rounds in search of food, would always return to the same pile of rubble, neighbors explained that rubble used to be his home. Faithfully, he was waiting for his family to return but their whereabouts are as yet unknown. A volunteer firefighter rescued the dog, who now lives with her in Tomé.

Thank you to Paulo Herrera, employee of the local municipality in Dichato, for assisting with resources. Thank you to the residents of Dichato, Army and Navy soldiers, policemen and volunteers from NGO’s such as Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, who all offered assistance to the animal rescue effort.

As systems are set in place and the situation stabilizes, one of the greatest challenges will be making the campaign sustainable. It will be months if not years before this situation is resolved, and then only through an international collaborative effort. It is people such as David Gomez and Roberto Orrego who inspire others with their extraordinary levels of selflessness, stamina and commitment, but they cannot do it alone.

The most urgent need currently is veterinary supplies and experienced volunteers. What you see in the photos, I am told, cannot adequately describe the situation, the smell of death, the atmosphere of despair and desperation.

Please, if anyone can assist with funds to bring 21st Paradigm to the disaster zone to document the situation for Lost Dogs, to deliver veterinary supplies (donated by Bend Veterinary Clinic), and provide hands-on help, please contact Vanessa Schulz at Or DONATE directly via Paypal at


1 Response to “One Month Since the Earthquake in Chile”

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