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JoAnna Lou
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Dogs Join Protests in Chile
Demonstrators take on furry mascots at the front lines

For the past year and a half, students in Chile have been demanding education improvements, redistribution of wealth, and environmental protections. Their protests have meant almost daily confrontations with police, but there has also been another presence on the front lines.

Stray dogs learned to follow the sounds of sirens after realizing there were water cannons at the other end. The strong sprays meant to disrupt protesters provide a drink of water and a bit of fun for the pups.

The photos almost look like my pets jumping and mouthing at the water hose in the back yard, but it's a rare bit of happiness in the middle of a serious clash between police and protesters.

It's common to see dogs on the front lines, barking at guards in riot gear, staring down police canines, and chewing on tear gas canisters. Many of the dogs have been adopted by demonstrators as unofficial mascots and are often found napping next to students between protests. They've also become mini celebrities with Facebook fan pages and plenty of media coverage.

One mutt named Blacky wears a checkered kaffiyeh scarf which symbolizes the Palestinian resistance movement. Admirers upload pictures of Blacky on Facebook and there's even a song about the pup on You Tube, written and performed by a man in Colorado.

There are millions of stray dogs in Chile because it's rare to spay or neuter animals and it's common to leave pets outside to roam the streets. According to Pro Animal Chile, 73 percent of strays had a home at one point.

I'm hoping that the dogs' presence at the demonstrations will bring attention to the overpopulation problem in Chile. Animals have a way of bringing people together, so perhaps they can even create sympathy for the protesters' plight, creating a win-win situation for the dogs and students.

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

Photo by Diario Libre.

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