Territorio de Zaguates is a tract of land in Costa Rica that has been
called "heaven on Earth" and it is, well, for dogs and dog lovers
anyway. In English the name means Land of the Strays. It is a privately
funded, volunteer run, no-kill shelter for dogs where they can run free
and still be fed, hugged, and cared for. In other words, it is a pooch
Located about an hour from the busy capital city of San Jose, this unusual sanctuary is home to literally hundreds of stray dogs. There they are given shelter, medical care, plenty of places to take a snooze, abundant food, and people coming to look for fur-ever friends to take home with them. Best of all they get to play, roam, and explore rolling green hills and visit a plethora of trees for potty breaks.
Volunteers do everything from feeding and poop scooping to leading the dogs on group hikes through the gorgeous scenery which undoubtedly abounds with good places to sniff. When new dogs arrive at the sanctuary they are spayed or neutered if need be, vaccinated, and made sure that they are parasite free. They are treated for whatever they need medically and may be quarantined for a while if necessary. This ensures that they are completely adoption-ready as soon as possible.
The new dog is then released into the general doggie population once this process is completed and is up for adoption to a good and loving home, or to spend the rest of its days happily roaming the Costa Rican countryside. There is no word on how well the dogs adjust to their new compatriots, but they certainly look happy together. To make adoption more attractive and fun each dog is given its own "breed name" based on its mutt mix.
Someone may end up adopting an "Alaskan collie fluffy terrier," the "Fire-Tailed Border Cocker," or the "chubby-tailed German doberschnauzer." I can't help but wonder how these names sound in Spanish! The sanctuary even advertises that with a mutt you get a totally unique breed to help counter the popular belief that pure breeds are better. Why have a dog like anyone else? Personally, I am partial to mutts myself even though I am strictly a cat mom for residential reasons.
Food is served up in long troughs and there is a profusion of doggie beds and old mattresses around for those impromptu naps. Concrete drainpipes provide dandy impromptu dog houses. Fresh drinking water is provided in plastic tubs. These tubs occasionally end up as makeshift pools when a hot dog is in need of a cool dip in the water. The dogs also all have access to a modern, well-appointed indoor facility with additional food and bedding. This is probably barking room only during the monsoon season.
I do hope that there are also chew toys and time to play with tennis balls, sticks, and Frisbees. This would be a great way to get to know a dog's personality if you are planning to adopt.
This all sounds so idyllic and blissful I wondered if this place was all it is cracked up to be. So I decided to contact someone who lives in Costa Rica to find out what the word is on the place from the local perspective. I didn't have to look far for someone. My sister, Betty, lives in San Jose.
She told me that she had originally heard of Territorio de Zaguates because of their campaign to get people to adopt mutts and the fun, unusual names they gave to the "breeds" of the dogs. The campaign was very popular and drew a lot of attention to the sanctuary.
She told me that back in 2014 the sanctuary made the news for alleged violations for health and sanitary regulations. The sanctuary countered that these allegations were made against them because they had refused to bribe an inspector. Nothing seems to have come of these allegations on either side.
While English language websites translate the name of the sanctuary as Land of the Strays, Betty, who is a professional Spanish oral interpreter, explained that Zaguates does not mean stray dogs, but mutts in particular. She said that Costa Ricans are very proud of their mutts and think of them as something of a badge of honor. Despite this, and the high price tag, purebred dogs have been becoming popular. Let's hope that the desire for mutts makes a really strong comeback!
Photos via Mother Nature Network