Street Dogs take center stage in this gripping, real-life story of a dog who did something so exceptional, they made a movie about it.
Arcadia, California, September 11th, 2023 – In the brilliant and moving film Hero Dog, documentary filmmaker Vanessa Schulz is so taken by the courageous actions of one street dog in Chile that she flies to that nation to track the dog down. What follows is an extraordinary and brilliant detective story that will leave you stunned and, hopefully, determined to take action.
The film, which you can watch by clicking the link above, is dedicated to the “hero dog” whose compassionate act was caught on surveillance camera. It was after seeing this footage that Schulz booked a two-month flight to Chile. To tell you what, exactly, this dog did, that was so amazing, would give away the story. You need to watch the film to find out. While in Chile, Schulz connects with Gabriela Jarpa, a local animal activist who works tirelessly to save the street dogs being neglected and abused in broad daylight. With Jarpa’s help, Schulz discovers so much more about these street dogs of Chile.
Apathy Toward the Dog Population Crisis
According to Jarpa, dogs are dumped and abandoned in a place called Rinconada, an impoverished industrial waste site. The dogs are left on their own to fend for themselves. She brings Schulz there to see firsthand the brutality of the situation. A Chilean resident, John Bauerie, passes through this area on his way to work and brings the dogs food. “It’s a very sad situation because out here, they don’t have a chance. I sincerely believe that there must be a punishment for people that do something as nasty as that, you know?”
One such case involved a very neglected dog named Bob that Schulz and Jarpa came across. Apparently, Bob had a human companion, but the condition of the dog was shocking. Jarpa pleaded with the “owner” to get the dog better care. Bob was eventually taken to the local vet who said his condition was grave and, if not treated, he could have died within a few days.
In another case, Schulz came across a dog that she knew was experiencing great suffering. “I don’t know how anyone could see this dog and not lend a hand. Aging, illness, and death. Here you have this dog that embodied all three so, of course, no one could look because it was too painful and scary to face your own mortality,” said Schulz. How did this dog get to his current condition? “The brutality of neglect has been completely normalized. If this is how we treat our so-called best friend, what does this say about our capacity to care about other species?” Schulz said. But, before we appear to demonize any one society or nation, readers should know animal neglect and abuse is happening in every single country around the world. Some just hide it better than others.
Animal Advocates in Chile Try to Do the Right Thing
Jarpa, a single parent who supports her household working as a secretary, often uses her own funds to help the street dogs. Advocates like Jarpa need more support to assist her cause. She has sterilized over 250 dogs in six years and found homes for almost 150 strays using Facebook. She’s also been fighting for the dogs of Rinconada by going to the municipality requesting that dog houses and water not be taken away when trash is picked up from the area.
Mariano Meza, a newspaper salesman, criticized the government of Chile for being apathetic to the dog population crisis. Meza feeds many street dogs on his block near his newspaper stand. But just like Gabriela Jarpa, his care for these dogs is limited. He says Chile’s government needs to step in and provide the much-needed resources. “What could instigate ‘adopt, sterilize and educate’ is if the elite, hoarding all the world’s wealth, could share some of their riches with the people working in the trenches of modern society,” Schulz said.
What is the Government Doing?
The documentary alleges that eighty street dogs vanished without a trace because the government wanted to uphold an image for visiting dignitaries. The film says dogs were poisoned for easy removal off the streets using strychnine, a highly toxic substance that results in a rapid onset of symptoms including seizures and respiratory arrest, ultimately causing death by asphyxiation. The film asks this: Instead of covering up the dog population crisis, why not admit and address the issue, finding humane solutions such as government-funded spay and neuter programs? There is more dignity in facing the crisis, but many governments choose to do the wrong thing. The citizens of a country, along with the advocates, need to push back on their wrongdoings.
“The resolution is empathy because empathy cuts through the sociopathic disconnect to reconnect with life,” said Schulz.
One of the most respected political and civil rights leaders of the 20th Century, Mahatma Gandhi said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” By that standard, few nations are great. It’s not just Chile. It’s all of them, in one way or another.
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Jackie O’Neill is a graduate of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and has volunteered in various nonprofits working for the welfare of animals.