Milagros del Valle: Chile’s Modern Miracle
PIRQUE, Chile – Miracles happen here, little more than an hour due south of Santiago.
The setting couldn’t be more Edenic, either. Engulfed by the majestic Andes Mountain range and nearby Chilean vineyards, the lush green countryside provides magnificent views spanning 360 degrees.
High in these foothills sits a parcela, what can best be described as a gated community of middle-class properties. At two different checkpoints on the road that winds through this neighborhood, visitors – even those bearing donations of goods – must first present themselves to security personnel, who note your name, the person you’re visiting, and the reason for your visit. They might even phone the person ahead to confirm before they allow you to proceed.
Precautionary measures notwithstanding, finding this place proves well worth the effort. Here, I meet a young Chilean couple, Francisco and Macarena. In their early 30s and parents to an infant son, she earns her living as a flight attendant; he’s a work-from-home graphic designer. But performing miracles by saving Chile’s unwanted animals is their life’s work.
Since 2011, they’ve transformed their modest parcel of land into a colorful sanctuary for various animals that have been abandoned, abused, or otherwise in need of a loving home.
“Neighbors here don’t mind our unorthodox lifestyle,” Macarena tells me, “so long as we don’t make too much noise.”
No small feat, considering they currently give comfort to some 50 animals. She and Francisco named their charity Milagros del Valle, Spanish for “Miracles of the Valley” and an apt description of what they’ve been able to accomplish over the past dozen years.
“It is a miracle that this horse is alive today,” Macarena says, pointing out one particular black equine in the second of their two paddocks.
“You can see the unnatural curvature of her spine. When we found her, she was even skinnier than she is now, and she could barely stand up. We believe she was forced to pull a chariot, which is what caused her condition. We cover her face most of the time because she also suffers from severe dry eyes, which attract the flies.”
According to Macarena, people nearby sometimes abandon their aging or injured horses on the hillside that’s visible from Milagros del Valle, knowing that either she or Francisco, who is especially adept with horses, will spot them and rush to their rescue. Because the couple has done it time and again.
Francisco and Macarena performed another miracle when they rescued a beautiful black dog that had been hit by a vehicle and paralyzed from the midsection down. At the time, the poor dog was also carrying a litter of puppies.
“She just looked like she had no desire at all to live,” recalls Macarena, who explains that, while all 10 puppies wound up being born, none survived. Veterinarians warned the couple that the mother had little chance of living either.
“But once she gave birth,” adds Macarena, “she managed to regain enough strength to recover from her injuries. She’s still paralyzed, but we’ve fitted her with a wheelchair for her hind legs and built her a private enclosure so the other dogs don’t get too rowdy around her. As you can see, she also suffers from a wound on her hind paw that requires regular treatment, but she’s a very happy dog now and living a good life with us here.”
Each of the animals rescued by Milagros del Valle has a compelling story, and Macarena does her best to tell each one during the hour-plus we spend together. But it’s a challenge, as the list currently includes:
- 30 dogs
- 12 cats
- 5 horses
- 2 sheep (one male, one female)
All cared for by two remarkable human beings. A third might be in the making, though.
“My son LOVES the animals. Maybe too much. Sometimes he hugs and kisses them so much, especially the cats, that they get tired of it and run away from him,” Macarena laughs.
Sadly, other people far too often turn and run when asked to volunteer at Milagros del Valle, intimidated, according to Macarena, by the overwhelming workload and patience required to earn the animals’ (and the founders’) trust.
By and large, modern Chileans do love animals, as evidenced by the recent change they made to their constitution, making it a prosecutable crime to commit animal abuse. While numerous street dogs exist throughout Santiago and suburban communities, my local tour guide, Walter, says they’re provided for in many cases by generous residents who even let them take shelter on public transportation.
Yet, there remains little government support for animal welfare advocates like Francisco and Macarena, who’ve gone above and beyond to ensure that the animals come first at Milagros del Valle. Her mother and sister also live on the premises, in their own separate dwelling, and pitch in on occasion when the couple need a night off to go out to a restaurant or do something for themselves. Such opportunities are few and far between, however.
“We haven’t been on a vacation in …” Macarena pauses, silently consulting with the cloudless sky above, which offers little guidance. “Years,” she finally reveals, unable to provide a more precise answer.
Milagros del Valle relies on big-hearted benefactors who help underwrite the soaring costs associated with feeding, watering, medicating, and maintaining the basic infrastructure for such a sizeable menagerie.
Which is in part why Nutmeg Animal Welfare, courtesy of its generous donors, provided Milagros del Valle with 10 large bags of dog food, which Francisco and Macarena estimate will last them about two weeks.
Throughout our brief visit, every animal at Milagros del Valle comes to greet the stranger in their midst, many of them with indefatigable enthusiasm. Whatever injustices they’ve suffered in the past have been righted by Francisco and Macarena, who actively seek to place as many animals as possible with properly vetted adopted families. Those that can’t be adopted are guaranteed a forever home at Milagros del Valle. And the couple wouldn’t want it any other way.
“This,” Macarena asserts, “is what I’ve always wanted to do. And I’m doing it.”
Some might even call it an everyday miracle. ETS
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