A stray dog attempts to cross a busy street in Santiago, Chile’s metropolitan capital, and is struck by a car. Dozens of other vehicles whiz past, not a single one stopping in response to the animal’s plight. But a second dog braves the traffic, putting its own life at risk, to slowly pull its injured friend with its paws (not with its teeth) to the side of the highway. Who says man is the only animal with the ability to reason? A roadside surveillance camera caught the drama, which was posted last year on YouTube. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofpYRITtLSg
The short video caught the attention of Vanessa Schulz, a documentary filmmaker living in Bend, Oregon. Vanessa learned that “Hero Dog,” as the champion became known, had quickly disappeared back into the fabric of the metropolis of 15 million people … and an estimated 220,000 homeless dogs. After having produced a number of films on wildlife and environmental issues, the South Africa-born film journalist was ready to tackle a new project, and as a dog lover, this story intrigued her.
The more she researched, the more appalled she became about a problem that is epidemic not only in Chile, but in many other nations of the developing world. Over lunch today, she shared “a chilling reality of genocide, interspersed with, and sometimes overshadowed by, the joyful stories of profound love and rescue between humans and dogs.” And sometimes, she said, it’s not just about man rescuing dog; it’s about dog rescuing man.
Vanessa told me that her research had revealed a fascinating incident in the early 1990s: An orphaned Chilean toddler ran away from his foster home and found safe haven with a pack of street dogs. Nursed as one of their own, the child spent two full years with the dogs before he was found and returned to foster human care. Again he ran away and returned to his pack, only to discover that his canine “mother” has eaten poisoned food and was dying a slow and painful death. Soon the rest of his pack met the same fate, and he was orphaned for a second time.
The “boy,” Miguel, is now 19. He lives in the coastal town of Talcahuano, about 300 miles south of Santiago. Vanessa said she has learned that he is still homeless; he is addicted to gasoline fumes, reluctantly provided to him by petrol-station attendants; and he is (not surprisingly) in poor health. Vanessa has committed to meeting Miguel, whose bond with dogs is infinitely stronger than any bond he may have with the human race, and interviewing him on camera.
Ultimately, the filmmaker’s goal is to call attention to the stray dog problem not just in Chile, but throughout Latin America and elsewhere around the world. She reasons — and I agree — that a commitment to spay-and-neuter clinics, and to humane euthanasia, would be a quantum leap forward from the insensitivity now shown to the creature we know as “man’s best friend.” Vanessa is calling her documentary “Lost Dogs.” Check out her film-production company’s website, http://www.21paradigm.com, to learn more about this project. And if you’re in a position to help her raise any of the funds she needs to make this latest film a reality, please consider doing so.