Nashville photographer David Morel found himself, camera in hand, in Santiago, Chile, confronted by man’s best friend—thousands of them
Photography and story by David Morel
When visiting Santiago, Chile, last February at the end of their southern hemisphere summer, I was struck by many differences from other large cities I have known. The city was filled with friendly and caring people; no less than six different individuals stopped me on the street to instruct me on the proper way to carry my camera gear to avoid theft. The streets were busy with cars doing their best to flout safe driving practices. City parks were filled with families and ice cream vendors—surely not a coincidence. But the thing that made the biggest impact on me were the stray dogs, some say hundreds of thousands of them, roaming everywhere in the city.
No street corner, no outdoor restaurants, no subway entrances were without a dog, or two, or three. They were everywhere. They would tempt fate crossing busy streets. They would sleep in the shade of a dumpster. They would seek out food, water, or a scratch of their knotted fur from passers-by. They were everyone’s, and yet no one’s.
Against the advice of my local friends, in my first days in the city I was drawn to rescue these dogs. Some looked like they were in their last days and in great need of care and love. I was saddened that they were on the streets, drinking from puddles and scavenging for every meal. How could they make it another day without my help? I felt pity for them, and I photographed them that way.
Of course, they have survived before my arrival and will long after my departure.
A few days into my trip, I began to realize they were not the needy wretches I initially saw. They knew to cross streets at the corner when the crowds did. They knew which entrance/exit to the subway was best at different times of the day for a chance at a commuter’s leftovers. They struck up partnerships with other dogs, large and small, quiet and loud, to better navigate the perils of the large city. The dogs knew how to find shade to get a quick nap out of the midday sun. They knew which shopkeepers or security guards were generous with treats and water.
It was then that I began to capture these wonderful creatures as what they really were, active participants in the life of the city, not just survivors.