Even Chances

Leah: I’m finding it very difficult to love Argentina. There, I said it. From the moment we crossed the border and learned that bus costs were double and often triple what we were expecting and that our expenses would now include thousands of dollars in bus fees, I've had a bad taste in my mouth that I can’t seem to rinse away. While we've been blessed with meeting some incredible local people along the way (hitchhiking, Couchsurfing and Workawaying), I’m more annoyed here than I have been anywhere so far on the trip. I take full ownership--these are my own experiences and observations and it’s not my intention to stereotype an entire nation or her people, but I’m over it. 

I’m irate at almost being run over in crosswalks multiple times because pedestrians never have the right of way, even with a walk signal. I’m flabbergasted that I’m paying European rates for buses in South America because the government stopped subsiding bus travel in 2011. I’m tired of eating dinner at 11:30 p.m. when I should be unconscious and drooling into my pillow. I'm incredulous that coins are in short supply here and as a result I'm stiffed on change when I go to the grocery store because the cashiers won't hand over their precious metal. I'm flabbergasted that cities of millions turn into ghost towns on Sundays and for a huge block of time in the middle of each day when everything closes. I’m annoyed that there’s a pervading sense of pretension and elitism here, especially in the cities, where locals consider themselves more European than South American. And to sum it up, I can’t wrap my head around the fact that for a country who often purports to be higher and mightier than its neighbors and on par with the most cultured of European countries, Argentina has a prolific street dog & pet abandonment problem and chooses not to deal with it.


Granted, as Steve pointed out, you could also look at it as Argentina prioritizes free higher education over animal services, while the US has multitudes of animal control/shelter/adoption services but often can’t offer adequate education to youth in grades K-12, let alone a free college education. Point taken. However, my problem lies with the fact that a country who considers itself cultured, aware, educated and in the same league as places such Italy and France can’t get it together to control its street dog population, prevent dog owners from abandoning their pets and even, God forbid, spaying and neutering them. As Gandhi once said, “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” While it’s heartening to see people actually being friendly to the dogs and leaving them food and water on the street (which is definitely more than we've seen in other countries), it’s that much more irritating that nothing sustainable is being done to eradicate the problem in a nation that elevates itself above all others in South America. I’m not so sure how Argentina’s moral progress rates right now.  I also realize that as an ardent dog lover my views are tainted; this trip would be markedly different (and much easier on my heart) if I weren't so invested in animal rights (along with my other soapbox topics) and hadn't already lost a beloved pet in 2011.
As we were sitting on a bench in Rosario’s Parque de Independencia today, an auburn colored female pit bull mix came running over, tongue lolling and tail wagging. She was skinny but lovable and enjoyed having her square little head rubbed for the few moments we shared (never mind that things almost turned tragic when a speeding driver came within inches of hitting her as she followed us across the street-I was inconsolable). That interaction got us to talking about the pit bulls we've seen on the trip, from the groomed and leashed versions in Antigua, Guatemala, to this sweet girl from the streets of Argentina. Truth be told, just a few years ago I counted myself among those who were terrified of the breed and considered them brutes of the dog world, tensing when I passed them on the street. While Steve was familiar with them, having volunteered at the San Diego Animal Shelter, I had never known anyone who owned one and didn't have any personal experience to draw from. However, it took my colleague and friend, Gabby, the Volunteer Director for Even Chance, a San Diego-based nonprofit dedicated to pit bull advocacy, resources and rescue, to change my mind and start seeing these dogs as the wonders that they are.

Thanks to Gabby, Steve and I found ourselves gradually entering the Even Chance fold, from attending fund raising events to helping train dogs at obedience classes. But it 
wasn't until we temporarily fostered Raeganan energetic cuddle-bug who shared many of Minger’s mannerisms (and also managed to scale an 8-ft fence), that we knew this was an organization we could 100% support. Raegan came to stay several times during our last year in San Diego (and we probably would have adopted her if we weren't leaving), as well as Colby Jack, a speckled youngster who quickly found his forever home. Through it all we attended Even Chance community events and helped where we could, always finding ourselves talking to anyone who would listen about the joy of pit bulls and the work Even Chance was doing for these maligned critters.
When it came time to pack for the trip, some of the first things Steve and I grabbed were our Even Chance t-shirts, knowing that this was a topic we’d gladly champion as ambassadors during our travels. Sure enough, we found dorm roommates, bus companions and tour cohorts from around the world commenting on our black and white logo shirts and asking what they were about. We were only eager to share, which often evolved into much longer conversations as we swapped stories and debunked myths. For example, upon hearing that Even Chance works with pit bulls, one of our new friends commented that she thought they were very sweet, but that it was such a shame that they have locking jaws and are all the more dangerous for it. Steve and I traded a “let’s-do-this” look in the back of the jeep before Steve launched into a kindly but informative correction that locking jaws in pit bulls is a detrimental myth and that in addition, pit bull bite force is around 235 PSI, which trails behind both Rottweilers (328 PSI) and German Shepherds (238). Yup, we’re on it.

Other conversations arose with travel companions when they shared that pit bulls are illegal or highly restricted in their entire country (UK and New Zealand for starters) and they wondered why they were still allowed in the US, especially after the infamous Michael Vick scenario. Steve and I would spout facts and share about Even Chance and similar organization who are committed to dispelling public fear and rescuing and offering up for adoption pit bulls who have passed canine citizen tests and obedience training and stand as shining breed ambassadors. But inevitably, scientific proof and 
myth-busting gave way to our firsthand stories of Ragean and Colby Jack—how they wanted nothing more than to lavish us with kisses, couldn't wait for a walk, were patient with children, gently took treats from our hands and loved to curl up with us on the couch—just like any other dog who wants to be part of a family.
Although it simultaneously boils my blood and saddens my heart to see the never-ending streams of street dogs in such a self-professed progressive nation, I’m realizing that just as pit bulls need people to think twice before dismissing them as savage beasts, Argentina needs me to keep an open mind if she’s to show me all the qualities that make her unique. As frustrated, angry and gloomy as I've been here, I don’t want to look back on this trip and remember being miserable- I want to revel in the people we met who shared their lives with us, the experiences that drew Steve and I together and the astounding natural landscapes we’re going to see in the next month. So here’s to looking deeper than outside appearances…pit bulls and Argentina both need an even chance.  
As an aside, if anyone you know is a dog lover and would appreciate a donation made in his/her name as a holiday gift, consider donating to Even Chance. Alternately, sweet Raegan needs costly dual knee surgery in order to be healthy enough for adoption; visit her adoption page and make a donation toward surgery costs.  

Thinking about taking the plunge and inviting  a four-legged friend to join your family? Why not a pit bull? Check out the adoptable Even Chance crew; dogs are in both Saint Louis, MO and San Diego, CA. 
If nothing else, we hope you’ll educate yourself and stay informed about the myths vs. facts when it comes to pit bulls. Here's a good place to start.

Post a Comment

Alisa Abrenica December 31, 2012 at 3:37 PM

When I went to school in Argentina there were these two stray dogs that curled up in the armchairs in the school's lobby every morning. Dogs were always wandering through the school cafe' also. It was kind of ridiculous.

I know how you feel about Argentina--I didn't like much about it until I got to know people. The people were so amazingly lovely and open-hearted, once you got past the figurative front door. Love you honey <3

Nienke Hartog March 4, 2013 at 7:13 AM

Hi, I found your card among my travel stuff while I was doing a bit of a backpack-clean out, though can't remember when or where I would have met either of you! I like your blog about Argentina: I wrote one a while ago which pretty much touches on the same issues as you do! http://ninks.tumblr.com/post/32479511867/chau-argentina-farewell-india

Great blog, I'm gonna go back to reading it now :)
Ninka

Leah March 5, 2013 at 6:40 PM

Hi Ninka,

We're trying to remember too, since we've obviously met a lot of travelers along the way! Your post cracked us up and hit on a lot of our thoughts as well- thanks for sharing and happy travels.

Post a Comment