August 22 was our day to head out and visit some of our homeless clients and pets. Although the afternoon was rainy and cold here in Valdivia, we really didn’t want to cancel our outing, since they were expecting us and we didn’t want to disappoint. Our first stop was Nicole who had, until recently, lived in a small hut with her partner and her cats. One night about a month ago, their hut burned to the ground with two of her cats in it- both cats died in the fire. It strikes me as so incomprehensible, that someone who really has almost nothing to begin with, could have such terrible luck as to lose the little that they have, including their pets. We arrived at the field where apparently, they had put together a new place to live in, and stumbled through the long, wet grass, stepping over piles of garbage and broken toys and plastic, until we arrived at the front door. Nicole and her partner invited us all in and started to tell us all about their new cats: two kittens and an older tom cat. It was obvious that they love their cats and welcomed our offer of vaccines and treatment against parasites, but when it came to neutering the big tom cat, he was reluctant since he believed his cat would lose his masculinity and thus, the ability to get himself a girlfriend. After a long and humorous discussion about the pros and cons, some of which can’t be repeated here, they finally agreed that it was probably a good idea to get the old boy neutered!
Once their three cats were all finished up, we headed just down the street to our next stop where Luis was waiting. We haven’t been out this way for a while, so I wasn’t sure he would remember me. But not to worry- his face lit up as he shouted: My Canadian!!! And we picked up where we left off last time… chatting about the old days when he used to work and live in a beautiful place in southern Chile. It makes me wonder how some people start out with a family, a home, they go to school and get jobs, and then somehow end up living in the street. He was eager to tell us about his two dogs. One of the dogs was a tiny little spaniel type of cross, and she had a walnut-sized tumor right on the bridge of her nose. Supposedly, they had taken her to a clinic and had the bulk of it surgically removed. In fact, she still had the stitches sticking out. So, we took those out. It wasn’t clear where they took her or how they managed to pay for that surgery, but somehow, they knew it had to be done, and they did it. His other dog has a permanently disfigured hind paw. Apparently, when he was a tiny, tiny pup, rats chewed off part of his little paw leaving him unable to walk properly. We examined, vaccinated, dewormed and applied flea products to both of them, in the hopes that these characters would be just a bit cleaner and healthier than they were before.
For us, this is very routine- vaccinating, physical exams and deworming, but for others, this is an exciting break in the monotony of daily life. By the time we had finished the two dogs, there was a group of about ten men, standing around watching and chatting and laughing. It was raining and kind of a grey and miserable day, but the atmosphere was like a carnival. They all had stories to tell about their current or past animals, and everyone was laughing and teasing one another- I think they had a great time…and so did we!
A couple of things strike me as we drive away and I see them in my rear-view mirror, all standing at the side of the street with their dogs. Often their dogs are funny looking, short legs, long bodies, short tails, one ear up and one ear down, and many of them are damaged. Some have twisted legs from unhealed fractures, long scars from old injuries, missing eyes, torn ears… in fact, they are very much like their owners- damaged somehow, emotionally, physically and mentally. Maybe that is what brings them together- a kind of solidarity and support that even though they may have been rejected by society, they are there for each other. And despite the fact that there is no doubt that life is really rough on the streets, these hardened men are so tender with their animals. They talk about them just like I talk about my own animals! With pride, with love and with an obvious connection that is common to us all.