We met Chapulín through our Homeless People & Pets Project. Chapulín is a typical, Chilean street dog, with no outstanding features; he’s not especially handsome, he is a medium to large sized mutt, kind of like a German Shepherd, with floppy ears. Our friends from Los Caminos de la Vida have known about him for quite some time now, and they knew that Chapulín needed veterinary care because a tumor started to grow on one of his paws about a year ago. Recently, the tumor had grown rapidly and the neighbours in the area were becoming very concerned. Although they care deeply for Chapulín and they did seek veterinary attention, they lack the means to pay for the surgery required to remove the tumor.

Vet assistant Marina discusses the case with Chapulín’s caretaker.

A couple of weeks ago, after a call from Los Caminos de la Vida, we decided to take the case and that same day we went to take a look and see if we could treat him. So Dr. Elena and Vet Assistant Marina packed up everything they thought they might need for any kind of situation: kennel, muzzle, leash, collar, blanket, rabies pole- everything possible for an aggressive dog. Shortly after 2pm, we arrived at the campamento (shantytown) where he lives.

In Chile, “campamentos” are settlements that begin when a group of people occupy a piece of urban land, usually private property, where they build their homes – small huts made from very inexpensive and often recycled materials like scraps of tin. According to TECHO, a Chilean organization that builds emergency homes for people in campamentos, there are over 40,000 families in Chile currently living in illegal dwellings. In Los Rios, the Region where Valdivia is located, it is estimated that there are 13 different campamentos. People in these communities are very vulnerable and face a number of issues like poverty, violence and drug problems, not to mention the serious health risks of living in overcrowded spaces, without a proper sewer system or clean water. With time, some campamentos grow and are eventually able to gain access to some services. These type of communities are very common in Chile and they are present in every city.

Chapulín and his caretaker

Chapulín was in the street when we arrived, and it was not necessary for anyone to tell us which one he was. He was standing in the middle of the road with his paw held up in the air with an enormous pendulous tumor hanging off the bottom side of his paw! Poor guy! When he put his paw down, he would stand right on his tumor. It was quite obvious that we needed to get him into the clinic to do an exam and explore our options. We are always ready for anything when dealing with street dogs, so we approached Chapulín slowly and cautiously, however our extra care was completely unnecessary. Chapulín clearly compensated for his ordinary appearance with an extraordinary personality! He looked at us with this goofy grin, and his long pink tongue hanging out of his mouth, and then greeted us both as if we were long lost best friends! We hoisted him up into the kennel and off we went to the clinic.

At the clinic, I did surgery to remove the tumor. No matter what we did to assist in his recovery, he always took it with a grin and a big sloppy kiss. It was very easy to fall in love with Chapulín! In the mornings, instead of racing outside for his morning walk, or demanding his breakfast, he just wanted hugs and attention- and it was easy to give him what he wanted.

Dr. Elena leaves the shed where Chapulín was staying

His initial recovery from surgery was smooth at the GAAP, and a few days later we took him back to his neighbourhood- Patricia (Chapulín’s caretaker) had agreed to care for him for the rest of his recovery. After a costly surgery with much time and care taken to ensure that the pad of his foot was left intact so that he could walk again, he really needed to have a period of rest, and for that to occur, he needed a safe and enclosed space to stay. Patricia did what she could. In preparation for Chapulín’s recovery, Patricia traded some of the clothes she sells in the street or flea-market for a foam mattress for him to sleep on in a little roofed area at the entrance of someone else’s house. Unfortunately Chapulín, being the street dog that he is, was hard to keep contained and jumped through a hole, way up high in the wall of the shed and in doing so, tore open his sutures. The next day, Patricia contacted us saying he had escaped, and kept running away and she feared he wasn’t going to heal properly. We decided we needed to bring Chapulín back to the clinic so we could take care of him and supervise his entire recovery. And this is the dilemma WE face when dealing with these cases of dogs that have no real owner. There is no-one to really take full responsibility for the ongoing care of these less fortunate animals; although the willingness of people is often there, the resources just aren’t.

So now, after all the adventures Chapulín went through post-surgery, the carefully reconstructed foot pad doesn’t really do what it was supposed to do, and he will probably forever be somewhat sensitive on that foot. After another week of rest in the GAAP clinic, the wound is now completely healed, and today we took him home to “his” street. He jumped out of the kennel, gave me a big kiss, and bounded off to see his best buddy Gringo. Although it is not 100% the surgical outcome we had hoped for, Chapulín is a great sport, and I think he is quite happy to run/hop along and just enjoy life.

Many thanks to all the people who regularly donate to help improve the health and wellbeing of animals like Chapulín and people like Patricia.