Not all travel tales end well. As was the case during our last night on Easter Island, despite eight previous days reveling in idealistic vacation mode. In all its island glamour, Easter Island has its share of faults. All of which are cleverly hidden behind a shit ton of beauty. There’s the battle between its natives and mainland Chilenos, of which has led to prejudice. Loss of culture. Even blood shed. There’s the air of machoism and violence rampant among Rapa Nui men, as shared by a group of women during a drunken night at karaoke. But as tourists on strangers’ property, most of these issues do not surface unless provoked. Except for one: the stray dogs.
I am no stranger to stray dogs in South America. In Colombia, my friend and I were once chased by a pack of dogs defending their very public territory. She got bit and was subsequently treated to a lovely round of Rabies shots from a clinic in the slums. Yet, while the dogs in Colombia reigned with terror— though not selfishly— the dogs in Chile have been wholly different. While there are approximately 2.5 million stray dogs roaming the streets of Chile, many of them are regarded with love and kindness. Fed. Collared. Adopted as pets of sorts.
“I am quite aware that there’s nothing I could do but bitch and moan in my position as visitor…”
In terms of dog inundation, Easter Island is no exception. In fact, one of the stand-out traits mentioned in travel accounts of the island was its population of innocent stray dogs. This became obvious. They followed us around town. Sat with us at restaurants. Called to us at night… all goddamn night. Gentle as they were, they were omnipresent and I was quick to question new friends about their unbridled existence. Question, yes. But I am quite aware that there’s nothing I could do but bitch and moan in my position as visitor. I didn’t have the authority to touch this. Until our last night on Easter Island…
As what had become tradition pre-sunset, we carried a bottle of Pisco Sour and two wine glasses to a bench near the sea. And once again, a collared Golden Retriever stray accompanied us. Maybe hoping for another tummy rub. We noticed that a pack of similar-looking stray dogs, most likely our friend’s family, were off playing in the distance. So we called them over, all of which came yipping. Rolling around in play. As cheesy as a quittiscecial 90’s Full House episode could be. We all laughed in joy at the ridiculous cliche of it all.
One dog amongst the pack was considerably smaller than the rest: a collared terrier dwarfed by his golden giants. I joked to the pack, “Now don’t pick on him because he looks different than ya’ll.” And as if reading my thoughts, the unthinkable happen: the Tanners attacked their pint size friend. Not just attacked. These dogs tossed the terrier around between jaws, desperately trying to rip the poor thing apart. It was one of the most discomforting turn of events that has ever happened to me. Immediately sober, I screamed in horror as Robbie pushed us both back. The frenzy ended and started up yet again, a horrid scene played out behind a bush.
Now I’m not a dog lover, but my mama bear instinct was ignited. I cursed. My voice bellowed three octaves below its register. I found rocks. The stray dogs were scared away, at least temporarily. And we found him, the terrier. Not dead. Hiding within the bush. Bleeding but walking. He cowered behind me as one and then two of the dogs came back for what I could only assume was vengeance. I did the only thing that felt right— I picked that bloody heap up and carried it away from the crime scene.
“I don’t believe in divine powers of many sorts but I will be forever befuddled by the strange way life unfolds…”
For whatever reason, I made a beeline for the restaurant we had visited the evening before. It was a random establishment attached to a local’s house, several blocks from our hotel and where the dog was attacked. The owner had been pleasant enough, so maybe she knew who the owner was. Upon arrival, a man, most likely the owner’s husband, greeted us. “Do you know whose dog this is?” we asked. “Si, es mio.” It was his. The terrier laid down at its owner’s feet and gave in to his ennui, as the wife tried phoning the island vet. We didn’t stick around for long. Just long enough for me to cry with relief and for the wife to say “Maururu,” thank you in Rapa Nui.
I don’t believe in divine powers of many sorts but I will be forever befuddled by the strange way life unfolds. We sat outside our hotel room (the picnic table location forever banned) to finish the Pisco Sour, plagued by questions. Did we trigger the excitement, and thus, the attack? Were the dogs seriously that hungry? What if we hadn’t been there? Why wasn’t I bit out of fear? Why did I pick the restaurant? Who the hell knows. Regardless, the phrase “dog eat dog world” certainly has new meaning. And I will never look at a Golden Retriever in the same way.
Again, I have no authority to demand a solution. But what we witnessed necessitates a dialogue. So I have two questions (please feel free to chime in here or help me understand).
Question 1: Are the islanders unable to provide for these stray strays or control their population?
I realize that any money funneling into the island— from tourism, from the Chilean government— is most likely used for more important purposes. Thus, perhaps there really isn’t a surplus to take care of the dogs or establish a program to spay/ neuter them. But this isn’t just an Easter Island problem. How can programs, like this proposed one, really succeed in Chile?
Question 2: And at what point could this pose a serious threat to something other than a terrier? Perhaps a small child? A tourist’s child?
If resources are a mute point, maybe it’s apathy. So as long as the dogs don’t cause any damage to property or to a person, what’s the harm of letting them fend for themselves in the wild? We met a man from Winnipeg, Canada on a long bus ride across the border to Argentina yesterday. The stray dog population in the Aboriginal areas around his home is so bad that they need to do a cull each year. And this isn’t in vain. Around the world, small children get hurt or die otherwise, leading to culls. I despite this idea but yeah. Whose lives matters more?