Rooftop Dogs of Arequipa


I spent my first day in Peru mostly asleep - it’s a permission I grant myself whenever I arrive in any new country. However, despite my relative isolation, I noticed something that seems very unique to Peru, or at least Arequipa: dogs live on rooftops.

Three dogs live on the roofs of the houses next to mine; when I saw them, I asked my supervisor if someone knew they were out there, in the hot sun, seemingly without food or water. He responded that, as a matter of fact, their presence there was not only known, but intentional. As it happens, dogs on roofs is as common here as dogs in homes, and it seems reflective of Arequipa’s shifting values in regards to the purpose pets serve.

Life on the roof seems to vary by household. The dogs next door remain without shelter under Arequipa’s three hundred days of sun, run around in piles of feces, and are occasionally fed with takeout. I don’t know if they have water or not. Furthermore, these dogs go without much company - something that breaks my heart is when I’m washing dishes and one of the dogs whines for my attention. Conversely, I’ve seen dogs here with some pretty lavish setups, including lean-tos and piles of toys.

The reason for this location of habitation? I’ve surveyed my Peruvian coworkers and have gotten a few responses. One was that the dogs are too cute to lose and thus keeping them on the roof helps them stay safe. This is an interesting one, as it’s true pets get lost all the time here - as in Ireland, dogs and cats often have free reign of the streets, but Arequipa is also bigger and with a more complex layout than Cork. It’s easier to accidentally disappear. And it’s true that there are a wide variety of breeds held in the rooftop position, as opposed to there being a dominant breed (such as the pitbull mixes outside homes in rural Hungary). But I also know families who simply keep their pets in the house with them. It’s an interesting mix.

The other answer I’ve heard is that the roof is a useful place to keep guard dogs here. For those who haven’t spent time in cities in other countries, frequently buildings are packed tightly on narrow streets with narrow sidewalks. Every available space has to be utilized effectively, and so things such as rooftop gardens and kitchens are common sights. More homes and businesses have balconies than in the United States. Upward development is a necessity while yards are a rare luxury. In this way, families that might keep their guard dogs outside - such as in rural Nepal and Hungary - don’t have the option of tying them to a fence in the yard, and so the roof becomes the de facto place of residence. In terms of effectiveness? I’m not sure, because if there ever was a real intruder, not much could be done from the sky, and the dogs bark at almost everything anyway.

This is something I’ve seen to the point where I can comfortably say keeping dogs on roofs is an Arequipenean thing, but not all families do so. Many of my friends have pets who stay within the home - one friend has a beagle she picked off the street for whom they have to cook homemade meals. It’s a pretty familiar situation.

Has anyone travelling abroad noticed something similar? What about in other Latin American countries?

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