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Stray dogs. The very words make you want to pull in your extremities and take a peek over your shoulder. Street dogs can snarl. They can bite. They’re desperate. They don’t know social graces and will stop at nothing to assert their dominance, or grab a bite.

Enter the Santiago stray dog (perro callejero).

I’m not going to tell you that every stray dog in Santiago is a bed of pet-me-now roses. Certainly as a cyclist they present somewhat unique… challenges. If I name the following people, Mariela, Stephanie, Sonia, me, you will notice we have something in common. We were all riding our bikes when dogs came up and bit our legs/feet. Some of us went to the posta (public clinic) to get rabies shots, and some of us didn’t. But more than anything, we were all stymied. You see, the stray dogs in Santiago are unique.

For one thing, did you see the adorable cardboard construction some neighbor has made for these dogs? This is not a one-off, they’re all over the city. Even the little police hut in the nearby plaza has home-made found-materials doghouses. People love the dogs here.

They won’t eat bread. Seriously. You think that the dog is standing nearby hoping for a crust. They’re well-fed and they just want a little extra protein. Give them some of your ham or save yourself the trouble. They’ll smell the bread and walk away.

Another unique thing about the stray dogs in Santiago is that they know how to cross the street. Not joking. They wait at the corner for the light to change (and the pedestrians to begin to cross), and they go with the group. I suppose this is Darwin’s survival-of-the-fittest at its most basic. Smart dogs know how to cross the street. Less smart dogs don’t make it.

But one of the things I like best about the dogs in Santiago is their fashion sense. Sure, you get dogs in matching vests, and even ones with tiny hats from time to time, but people have such a warmth in their hearts for the stray dogs (or such a bizarre sense of humor) that they routinely dress them up, wrestling them into neckbands, scarves, and as you can see here, even a (made-for-humans) shirt.

Which is good, because you wouldn’t want to show up at your house without having dressed for dinner.