Argentina, Going to the Dogs

People in Argentina love their canine friends: From Patagonia to Buenos Aires, the pet pooches are everywhere. The Western Folklife Center's Hal Cannon takes a trip to Argentina and shares what he discovered about the dogs and the people who love them.

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JAMES HATTORI, host:

They say you can tell a lot about people by their dogs. If that's the case, he's something you can tell about Argentines. They're a little crazy or at least a little crazy about their dogs.

Hal Cannon of the Western Folklife Center visited Argentina to find out about its dogs and the people who love them.

Mr. HAL CANNON (Director, Western Folklife Center): Just the way they say dog, it's so fancy.

Unidentified Man#1: Perro.

Unidentified Man#2: Perro.

Unidentified Woman#1: Perro.

Unidentified Man#3: Perro.

Mr. CANNON: Could almost purrs with affection. We've come with hordes of others to trek on the famous Puerto Moreno Glacier.

I'm on the main street of Calafate, Patagonia. This is a boom town and the boom is tourism. But what's amazing about this place are the dogs. There are dogs everywhere. They run in wild packs. They're like bad boys and girls they run off and take turns biting tires of cars.

Ms. CAROLINA SALAS (Resident, Argentina): Yes, sometimes they do that. I mean they behave like dogs.

Mr. CANNON: That's Carolina Salas(ph). She runs the bed and breakfast where we're staying.

Ms. SALAS: Argentinos really love dogs. We take care of then, even if they are homeless we feed. Some people even wash them.

Mr. CANNON: I don't know. Seems like dogs and Argentinos just ignore each other. Drivers don't even slow down as the dogs nip at their tires and the dogs are only interested in handouts from tourists.

Ms. SALAS: In Calafate everything works from October to April. And then when winter comes everything shuts down here.

Mr. CANNON: Where do the dogs go?

Ms. SALAS: I don't know. I guess they survive.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CANNON: Next stop, the cosmopolitan capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires. And I'm stunned by the contrast in dog behavior here. Every sidewalk has dogs all being walked in large clusters. It's like they're tango students looming in synchronization. When the light turns red they all sit wait for the light, a car honks they all turn their heads together.

(Soundbite of car honking)

Mr. CANNON: I'm curious about the humans on the other end of the leash. These canine magicians, the professional dog walker.

(Soundbite of barking dogs)

Mr. CANNON: Unfortunately, when I go to interview them, they stick their dogs on me. Finally, I meet Sebastian who agrees to talk to me as he exercises 18 of his charges at a park. First question, how do you get these dogs to be so perfect?

SEBASTIAN (Dog Walker): (Through translator) The dog is just like the owner. The form is to teach the dog rules and the dogs always are good pupils.

Mr. CANNON: That's easy for him to say. Maybe he's never been to Patagonia.

(Soundbite of honking car)

Mr. CANNON: I wonder about all these pampered dogs, so I asked my translator, Martin Armada(ph), about the dog owners.

Mr. MARTING ARMADA (Translator): In the city people put their (unintelligible) in their dogs, as supposed as too much. And my family's from the country and the relationship with dogs and with animals is very different. There is a lot of love but finally they are animals.

Mr. CANNON: He tells me about his mother's housekeeper who took on a new client with very specific instructions for a member of the family.

Mr. ARMADA: Be careful with Roberto. Roberto is very, very quiet but is very sensitive. Of course, she followed that. It was a child or a boy or maybe the grandfather of the owner's, but she wasn't in the kitchen and Roberto appeared. It was a dog. He (unintelligible)

Mr. CANNON: I understand there are more psychiatrist per capita in Buenos Aires than any other city on earth. People here are think of themselves as slightly unbalance. Martin agrees.

Mr. ARMADA: For me, it's like a social disease. A non-natural relationship with your animals is like I love my animal, I'd love my dog not a person that is inside of my dog.

Mr. CANNON: Maybe it's all about tough love. And those Patagonian dogs are really the lucky ones. Sitting in the sun, licking themselves, waiting for scarps, biting tires for sport, just being dogs.

From NPR News, I'm Hal Cannon.

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