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Alajuela, Costa Rica

Territorio de Zaguates (Land of Strays)

Where dogs like the rare "Fire-Tailed Border Cocker" run free on the mountainside. 

Over one million stray dogs roam Costa Rica. This is both unsafe for humans and the dogs, and the numbers tick higher and higher every day. The country has criminalized euthanasia, opting to simply spay and neuter dogs instead. Many street dogs are taken into shelters and adopted out, but purebred dogs are considerably more likely to be adopted than mutts.

One rescue is different—up in the mountains, Territorio de Zaguates celebrates the unique mix of each dog it takes in. Veterinarians at the free-range shelter did their best to analyze the mutts’ physical traits to take a guess at the breeds they might contain. They then gave each dog their own unique pedigree, with names like the “Furry Pinscher Spaniel” and the “Freckled Terrierhuahua.” An inspired artist painted beautiful portraits of the pedigreed mutts.

When Territorio de Zaguates’ head vet appeared on Costa Rican television to talk about the canine and the special breed titles bestowed upon them, he emphasized their uniqueness. “These dogs exist only in our country,” he enthused. Dog lovers who saw the program went wild. They contacted the show to say they wanted to reserve the “Bunny-Tailed Scottish Shepterrier” or the “Long Legged Irish Schnaufox” for themselves. This prompted an out of home ad campaign featuring the delicate watercolors of the breeds on bus stations and billboards, advertising that “When you adopt a mutt, you adopt a unique breed.” This in turn led to more adoptions.

The made up breeds accomplished two things. First, drew attention to the arbitrary nature of pedigrees, which are themselves a human invention. Second, it made each dog appear special and unique. The shelter has grown in popularity, and now sponsors hiking events where visitors can frolic in the mountains with hundreds of pups.