Chile’s Lost Dogs: New film highlights homeless dogs

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It took a one minute YouTube video to convince Vanessa Schulz to hop on a plane and head south to Chile. But the 2008 video, which captured a heroic street dog pulling off a Chilean highway a dog that had been struck by a car, could not prepare Schulz for what she’d witness on the ground -- around 250,000 homeless dogs roaming the streets of Chile.
 
“I was so overwhelmed,” said Schulz, a filmmaker and animal rights activist. “In places like the U.S., you have to go to a shelter to see homeless dogs, but in Chile, it’s in your face. You can’t avoid it.”
 
This was the start of her journey documenting the world of Chilean street dogs. Now, a couple years later, her film Lost Dogs is near complete. In it she discovers numerous concerned citizens who take to the streets to rescue the dogs despite prevailing public apathy.
 
Early on, for example, she meets Gabriela Jarpa in Rinconda, located 61 km north of Santiago. Unwanted dogs are constantly dumped among the trash and sewage in this 6,629- person city, says Jarpa. But she’s started working with the local municipality on adoption and sterilization measures and working to change the public mentality that dogs are not commodities.
 
“What we need to do is raise awareness of the value of dogs….and put public pressure on the government,” Schulz said. That pressure includes halting ineffective, inhumane methods like strychnine poisoning used by many municipalities to kill stray dogs, and instead move toward large-scale sterilization and adoption efforts.
 

 
The climax of the film is the rescue of animals from the 2008 Chaiten volcano eruption after the government had given up. Schulz, with a team of five others from different animal rights groups, managed to rescue then take care of 40 dogs and cats inside an abandoned library for several weeks, while waiting to evacuate them on a ferry to Puerto Montt.
 
Schulz’s month long stay in Patagonia also showed her another facet of the stray dog problem. Scientists and veterinarians here are finding that stray dogs often attack wildlife while spreading diseases like rabies. In one scene, Schulz filmed a black-throated huet-huet bird coming into a vet clinic after it had been attacked by a dog.
 
“There are so many homeless dogs, and what they have to do is go back to hunting,” Schulz said. “That's part of the reason why it's not only important to help them in an urban center, but get them out of wilderness.”
 
Schulz said she hopes this film brings more support to animal rights groups in Chile. “They know what needs to be done, but lack the funding,” she says.
 
Aside from shining light on the systematic problems of stray dogs in Chile, Lost Dogs illustrates dogs’ unconditional love and desire for human companionship even after their “best friends” abandon them. Schulz said putting out fresh water and food in your neighborhood is a start. “But even if they’re starving, they’ll still choose love over food,” she said. “And that's part of the education facet to this, contact with humans is as important as food and shelter.”
 
Schulz hopes to have Lost Dogs running in the festival circuit by the end of the year. But first she is raising funds through the Indiegogo crowd funding website to help finish production. You can find out more about her fundraising campaign here: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/lost-dogs
 
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