Volunteer pack walk at Territorio de Zaguates

There is a plethora of possible excursions to jump in to once you’ve arrived in the lush and tropical Central American country of Costa Rica.  Things that tourists venture to do include zip lining, crocodile feeding, volcano trekking, and beach lounging–to name just a few.  Well, for all you dog-lovers out there, Territorio de Zaguates (Territory of the Street Dogs) is a place you don’t want to miss.  Think about a healthy mountain hike with breath-taking views…then, add 500+ loose dogs romping and running around you.  Yeah, it’s pretty much a doggy paradise.

I was lucky enough to catch a ride with Laura, the founder of Adopciones Grecia, a non-profit animal rescue in my current town.  If you don’t have a car, but wish to come on a volunteer mountain walk with the dogs, simply contact Territorio de Zaguates on their Facebook page, and they will be happy to pick you up from the center of Alajuela.  The city of Alajuela is very close to the capital San Jose, and very easy to get to by bus from anywhere in the country.

We arrived on a bright and early Saturday morning, and were greeted by a small pack of welcomers.  I brought my twelve month old daughter with me, and had mentally prepared to emit a protective energy around her.  I was determined to meet every dog with a calm, assertive energy, as I’ve learned from my favorite Dog Whisperer, Cesar Millan.  This rescue center utilizes his practices with their ginormous pack of up to six hundred dogs at times.  The dogs are let out to run the many open acres twice a day, and are kept in a large gated area when not out.  This prevents frustration among the dogs, which in turn prevents fights amongst them, as exercise is an important outlet for stress (just like for humans).

A little after 9am, the rescue workers collect the volunteers and unleash the hounds!  The herd of five hundred dogs pouring out of their enclosure is a spectacular site.  The pack flows like a rapid river as they turn down the trail entrance and out to the open hills.  We volunteers then follow them for a couple hours of exercise, fresh air, and doggy-human socialization.

Territorio de Zaguates

Volunteers may bring their own dogs if they wish.  This is a great opportunity to allow your pet some unleashed play time on a beautiful mountain farm.  The dogs generally get along well, but new dogs often draw a lot of curious attention.  Just like in any pack, these new dogs need to know their place in order to join the group.  On this particular morning, one visiting female boxer caused a massive dog fight.  She had been displaying her dominance to individual pups, but she must have started something with a canine of higher-ranking, and in the midst of a hundred dogs… the pack didn’t allow it.  So, that was quite a sight.  I don’t believe any dog was hurt in the end, but it would have been a peaceful pack walk, had there not been an unbalanced dog in the mix.

It is a serious hike, mostly uphill for a solid hour, so only come along if you are fit.  You are welcome to stay back at the main entrance, however, where several dogs do hang back.  These dogs are not allowed to join in the pack walk, because they are more interested in running away, than running with the group.  I think a good solution for this would be to leash the escape artist to a more dominant and dependable member of the pack.  Young puppies and newly rescued, recuperating dogs also stay back, so it still is an interesting place to see, even if you can’t join in the hike.  If you are able, it is a rewarding workout, as you not only get to walk along the berry-speckaled ridges of a mountain, but you have the pleasure of seeing hundreds of dogs run after their pack leader–in this case, a young, shirtless man.  (He is not available for adoption at this time).

The "César Milan" of Costa Rica

Here are some equally adorable mammals that ARE available for adoption:

Lab mix for adoption at Territorio de Zaguates


Small dogs for adoption at Territorio de Zaguatesblack lab mix for adoption at Territorio de Zaguates

Chihuahua mix puppy for adoption at Territorio de Zaguates

There is no charge for the hike with the Zaguates, and it is well worth the energy and time spent.  Visitors are generously welcomed to join the dogs, if to only share their affection with the animals.  While there is no pressure to adopt or donate, you might just find your next best friend in the myriad of happy-go-lucky faces.  These are dogs that have been abandoned, starved, and often abused.  They come from the streets of Costa Rica, where they are widely referred to as rats.  Territorio de Zaguates provides a refuge that is highly uncommon and rare in Central America–well, in the whole world.  Not all dogs go to heaven, but these five hundred surely seem to have found it.

Dogs on bench at Territorio de Zaguates

“Hey Bob, did you have a good walk?”
“Yup, Pura Vida, Joe, Pura Vida.”

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