When I lived in Argentina, dogs were everywhere. Street dogs were easy to tell from pet dogs, because they were always a mix of breeds, creating a medium-sized animal with a short, wiry coat. Pet dogs could be identified as a particular breed, usually a small one.
Argentineans loved their dogs, and often dressed them in clothing, complete with booties on their feet and ribbons in their fur. The street dogs were no less loved, and people often gave them scraps of food.
The street dogs formed packs and patrolled specific neighbourhoods. I was escorted many times by a dog to the end of a block, where he would refuse to go any further.
While the dogs were friendly, they had the habit of being in places where I was not as happy to see them. Despite being repeatedly shooed by waiters, outdoor restaurants were plagued by them. So were the beaches. The dogs loved chasing the tide as it flowed in and out, or barking at the fishermen as they brought in their day’s catch. The dogs also liked inviting themselves to spend time with the people on the beach.
I was on the beach one beautiful, warm day with some friends. I was just about to doze off, when suddenly something threw sand all over me and my towel. I looked up and saw a dog running around our group and wagging his tail. He sat in front of my friend Nikki, who put both hands on the dog and tried to push him away. Instead of leaving, he moved to sit on her towel.
“No,” said Nikki, trying to push him off. “I want to lie down.”
In response, the dog lowered himself to lie where he was, wagging his tail and panting happily.
The dog ended up staying with us for about an hour. Nikki gave up and grudgingly surrendered half her towel to him.
Wealthy families in Buenos Aires hired professional dog walkers for their pets. I was quite impressed the first time I saw one confidently walking down the street with five dogs on a leash. Later, I was very impressed when I saw another with upwards of 10.
I came across a few enclosed areas throughout the city where the dog walkers kept the animals before their walk. Dogs of similar types were kept together – all the medium-sized ones were in a group, and all the fluffy white ones were in another group. While they walked the dogs, the dog walkers did not pick up after them. I learned to be careful where I walked.
About a block from where I lived was a villa, the Argentinean word for a shantytown. It wasn’t dangerous, though I wouldn’t want to walk through it at night. During the day, the kids that lived there played soccer in the street. Usually, dogs would either watch them or chase after the ball as if they were a player themselves. If a car drove through the street, the kids would move to the sides so it could pass, but the dogs would chase it and bark. If I was in the car, I always worried they would get hit, but they never did.
Sylvan Lake has a number of bylaws in place for dog owners. Among them are bylaws prohibiting dogs from being at large, from chasing after vehicles, and from being on the grass near the lake. Owners must also pick up after their pets.
The street dogs in Argentina were in every city I visited. They were as common as steakhouses and cafes playing tango music. While at times they were helpful (I trusted their judgment of when it was safe to cross the street), more often than not, they were a nuisance.
Here in Sylvan, there is a reason you can feel relatively secure walking on the grass in bare feet, or why a dog chasing your car is not normally a concern. The reason is because pet owners here usually keep them under control. While cleaning up after a dog is not anyone’s idea of fun, it’s part of owning a dog, and ensures public areas can be enjoyed by everyone the way they were meant to be.