“I think she was really sad… I didn’t really value her, I just left her lying around in the backyard.” – says Sofía about her dog Amanda. Sofía is only 11 years old and she is one of over 3,500 kids who attended the workshops for building stronger and healthier relationships between pets and their owners. These workshops were supported by the Chilean government who is trying to curb cruelty to animals across the country.
Just a year ago, there was no option to stop your neighbor from beating his dog, let alone abusing a street animal. Legally, pets in Chile were no different from inanimate property and had no more rights than a table. This finally changed with the “Cholito law” that was proposed under grim circumstances: two persons were paid to remove a street dog because it bothered a store owner and they beat him to death with sticks.
But the murder was captured on video that quickly spread on social platforms and the cruelty shook the country. A petition to imprison the perpetrators gained over 120,000 signatures, while thousands of people gathered for public protests against cruelty to animals. This moved the politicians to quickly implement the law that recognized pets as living beings and made the owners responsible for their living conditions.
Of course, only a law is not enough: the culture of animal treatment must change too. The best way to do it is by building empathy between animals and people, that’s why the GAAP applied for the government grant dedicated to educating kids about responsible ownership and animal welfare.
In the beginning it was harsh: matching the government’s strict requirements and connecting with dozens of schools completely overwhelmed our small organization. We also developed from scratch seven workshops around topics like pet health, behavior, and emergency preparation (Chile is a very seismically active country). Looking back, we can claim the success: there were many kids like Sofía who realized their pets’ needs and understood how to be a responsible owner.
“The truth is I’m very proud of this workshop because it made me think about my little dog, Amanda. She was given to me, and I haven’t been taking very good care of her. When I started coming (to the workshops), you helped me change that and I started caring for her… the next day I bathed my dog, cut her hair and she started staying inside the house.”
And the insights from the workshops have reached beyond the kids too: Sofía said that her parents listened to her and helped to provide the additional care for Amanda.
This project was a lot of work but it confirmed one more time it that even small steps can bring more understanding between animals and people, adding more love and care to these relationships. And, of course, the younger generations are the one who will lead this change.