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Why are there so many street dogs in Peru?

If you visit Cusco, the first thing you will notice are the hundreds of dogs roaming its streets. Even if you haven’t seen it with your own eyes, travel blogs often mention street dogs when they talk about the city. Nevertheless, keep reading to find out more about the attitudes people have towards dogs in Peru. And also how these attitudes affect the way dogs live.

When you imagine having a dog in the country you’re from, you probably think of an indoor house pet who lays on your sofa, chewing up their toys. They’re a member of the family. Peruvians have a slightly different attitude towards their pets, especially dogs. There are many people who adore their pets, so let’s talk about that first.

Dogs on the corner of a street in Cusco
Mother and her puppy

Dogs Roaming the streets

Despite the amount of dogs walking around the streets, the majority of them have owners. Most people don't keep their dogs home all day, instead owners treat their dogs more as outdoor cats who they let roam the streets. This doesn’t always mean that their owners mistreat them. You may see some dogs sitting in front of their owner’s shop or restaurant. They are free to wander wherever they want but they choose to wait near their owners. Perhaps because they know that's where they’ll get their food, or maybe just out of pure love for their owner. One can’t be sure, but I know that if my dogs were allowed to roam the streets they’d probably run very far away before thinking about coming back!

I’ve seen some dogs wait outside their owners shop until their owner is finished with work and they walk home together. The loyalty these dogs have for their owners is really incredible to see.

When you do see dogs running around the streets, they are not moving chaotically or helplessly. They run with purpose, often in small groups with their friends. I have even seen dogs waiting at a traffic light, literally sitting, before realising that people are crossing and then following them. Many dogs here know how to navigate around the busy streets of Cusco without getting hurt. They form an integral part of the society and atmosphere just like their human counterparts!

Intern petting a dog in the centre

Additionally, many dogs on the street are not malnourished, this is because their owners also feed them. You might even see dogs wearing clothes! This is very common in Peru. People like to keep their dogs looking chic whilst also keeping them warm.

Seeing this is quite amusing, but the truth is that some owners would prefer to buy their dogs clothes than provide them with other necessities. For example, paying for vet treatment can be very expensive. Families would rather make sure they have enough food on the table, which is completely understandable.

Riona with dog
Dog running down the street

Independent and capable dogs

Another cultural attitude surrounding the way owners treat their dogs is that people see their dog as just a guard or a worker. Because of this, people don’t always treat their dogs nicely. I often see owners who treat their dog fairly nicely but if another dog comes they hit them without batting an eyelid. 

Rather than seeing them as defenceless creatures who need attention, they see dogs as independent and capable. Much like their human owners. Therefore they are not babied like in other countries, they have the right to be free like anybody else. People do not alter the way that they treat them because they are supposedly a vulnerable animal.

Dog eating bread at home
Dogs sitting by their house

Too many dogs seen as a nuisance

There are also many people who do not like dogs as they see them as a nuisance. “Presidents” of some villages think that having dogs on the streets makes their village less attractive towards tourists. The tourism industry in Cusco brings in one of the largest sources of income. Therefore, Presidents will go to extreme measures to make their village seem more appealing. Sometimes doing terrible things such as culling the dogs in their village to make it seem “cleaner”. Whilst many tourists are not keen on seeing so many dogs on the streets, it’s often because they don’t realise that they are owned. They see dogs roaming without owners and think they're treated terribly, but that isn’t always the case.

Sometimes you may hear of owners putting down unwanted puppies after their dog has become pregnant again. This is tragic and it shouldn’t happen. The cause of this happening however, is because families do not have enough money to neuter their dogs. Or they need to prioritise spending their money on other more important things, as mentioned earlier. They allow their dogs to roam and this causes a higher risk of pregnancy. The owner isn't at fault, nor is the dog, it is just the situation.

Little puppy under a car

In this instance there are lots of way to avoid unwanted puppies in a community. Sterilisation programmes like ours provide a free service for families with dogs (and cats) in communities around Cusco. Additionally, education surrounding how to keep your dog safe whilst also letting them roam should be better enforced so that owners do not kill their dogs unnecessarily.

These are the main reasons you see dogs on the streets in Cusco. Some of the facts surrounding it are a little heart-breaking, but it is important to know the cultural attitudes before forming an opinion about the dogs and their owners. Projects such as PAWS continue to respect people’s relationships with their pets, whilst also ensuring that their dogs are as safe and healthy as possible.

Luckily you can help by volunteering in Cusco with dogs or donate to our dog welfare project.

Dog sitting on the curb
Dog in Cusco