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  • Writer's pictureBecky Faulks

The World’s Largest Dog Sanctuary Hopes to Welcome Visitors this Year

Territorio de Zaguates, which has rescued 12,000 dogs since 2008, hopes to re-open its doors in 2024


Photo copyright Territorio de Zaguates

In the mountains of Costa Rica lies a 370-acre paradise with mountains, fields, and dogs as far as the eye can see. Anyone unfamiliar with Territorio de Zaguates, or ‘Land of Strays’ would struggle to believe their eyes if they stumbled across it; visitors have been welcomed by the shelter’s six full-time staff and hundreds of dogs of all shapes and sizes, many of whom are only too happy to accompany them on a walk.

Video copyright Territorio de Zaguates

The dogs spend most of their day running up and down the hillsides. Walks by the shelter’s staff typically last for three hours, and some of the more established dogs have built up enough trust to venture out on their own. Like any other shelter, the Land of Strays spays, neuters and vaccinates their dogs as well as feeding them every day.

Territorio de Zaguates was opened 18 years ago by Lya Battle and Alvaro Saumet in an effort to help the street dogs of Costa Rica, a country that has an estimated one million dogs living on its streets. The no-kill shelter is home to more than 1,800 dogs and is completely funded by donations. Battle and Saumet firmly believe in second chances and operate a no-kill policy. Their strategy is to provide a temporary home for dogs who are able to be adopted, and a permanent one for those who can’t be rehomed due to special needs or appearance. Incredibly, the shelter has rescued an estimated 12,000 dogs since it opened in 2008, and offers national and international adoptions.

Photo copyright Territorio de Zaguates

‘At least some of my proudest moments are when I can see dogs walking and running around here that were either dogs who were supposed to be put down for whatever reason or really weren’t supposed to survive,’ says Battle. ‘Every dog, no matter its condition, no matter its size or age, they all deserve a home.’

A few years ago, the centre came under fire on social media for having to physically separate dogs during fights. Alvaro Saumet acknowledged the incident in question but urged the public to take the situation in context. ‘There are times when they fight and they have to be separated; it is inevitable,’ he said, adding that they cannot let the dogs kill each other. ‘I ask, “what should I do?” If dogs in the house fight between each other and one of them bites a child… what would you do? How do you separate them? It’s the same thing I have to do when one dog is attacking another. If people want to take it out of context, I cannot say anything. I do this publicly and in front of people.'

Photo copyright Territorio de Zaguates

No legal action was taken and the shelter continues its admirable work, although plans to welcome more visitors have had to be put on hold. Three years ago, the government prohibited the centre from accepting visitors, giving them a list of infrastructure improvements to complete before they could do so. Battle has admitted that the improvements seemed ‘impossible’ at the time but confirms that the work is now nearly complete. The centre is hoping to open its doors again in a couple of months.



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