Beware of some, but not all dogs. Photo by chefjancris

IT IS A KNOWN FACT that most lone, stray dogs will peel off in the opposite direction when you crouch down to pick up a fist-sized rock. It is also true that crouching down to pick up a fist-sized rock on the sidewalk in Santiago is not convincing (as there are none) and furthermore, rollerblading makes crouching down and picking up something (even something imaginary) more difficult than you would think.

I have learned the rock trick through years of bicycling, living, and traveling in Latin America, though I used to substitute my U-lock when I lived in Washington, DC, and my pathologically inconsiderate neighbor would run his pack of feral dogs in the empty lot next to the house I lived in. Dogs snarl, approach, start to bark, and you bend down and pick up (or pretend to pick up) a rock (or a lock), which you raise, as if to throw it or hit them with it. You look over their head, and they look from your eye to your upraised arm and they freeze, or even run away.

But on this day rollerblading up the Alameda, my path was rock-free, and my blading skills just middling, so I had no weapon, and the dog knew it, and snarled and growled and launched itself at me, felling me, tearing my purple, cordouroy pants in three places, and sinking a fang into my right calf muscle, and then drawing a long line down with my own blood until the tooth wrenched free from my skin, or I wrenched my leg free of its mouth.

You may think throwing a rock at a dog is unthinkable. I applaud your inexperience. I once thought that kicking another human was impossible, but I now know that if I am ever walking down the street at night, and suddenly hear running footsteps upon me, and find an unknown hand on my pink-pantsed ass, I will kick, yell, flail, and worse to get away.

This is how I feel about street dogs now. I may love my fellow human, and maybe even my fellow dog, but many street dogs in Santiago are a menace. In Chile they say perro que ladra no muerde (a dog who barks does not bite). But in the seven years that I’ve been living in Chile, I have been bitten by both barking and silent dogs, so at least for gringos this adage does not apply.

I know it is not the dogs’ fault. It is years of human intervention, cohabitating, breeding the wild out of them, which helps them to figure out how to beg food and even cross the street with pedestrians. Some dogs are mild-mannered, looking for pats, for food, for a home. I leave these dogs alone.

But other dogs are looking for my calf, or any part of me they can reach. Even today, when I was en route to get the second in a series of five rabies shots I now need, (for how do I know that the dog has been vaccinated, if no one owns him, or whoever does leaves him out on the street to bite people who glide by?), another dog leapt out at me to bark menacingly as I rode past, this one with the pointy snout of a German shepherd-mixed mutt. With discernible authority, I shouted, “tú, no!!!!” (you, no!!!!), and the dog retreated.

I was glad to have my voice, and the ability to intimidate the growling cur with his pointy fangs, but I’d have been even gladder to have a fist-sized rock.

View 35 comments