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Culture Clash—or a Class in Culture?

Understanding local context and realities may help animal welfare advocates overseas

When the miners in Chile were being rescued last year, many people noticed Mario Sepulveda, the second man to emerge from the depths. As he was carried away on a stretcher for a medical evaluation he asked his wife, “How’s the dog?”

In Chile, many refer to dogs as “Major amigo de hombre”—man’s best friend.

And yet many Americans visiting Chile see all the dogs loose on city streets, and conclude that the animals aren’t cared for.

Are we missing something?

Our warehouse-sized pet stores in America announce to the world we’re a country of animal lovers. But the number of animals in our shelters and the seemingly endless Facebook posts about cases of abuse and neglect show another side.

Likewise, I’ve discovered hidden layers to the animal situation overseas. For the past 11 years I’ve been accompanied on my travels through Africa and Latin America by Kenyan-born canines, Dog and Bruiser. Before that, I lived in the Middle East for seven years. Traveling as a “foreigner” with two community-raised dogs in tow brought animal lovers out of the woodwork. People who might never speak to their friends about their love for critters felt free to speak to me.

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