El Negro Matapacos & the Riot Dogs Who Protect Protesters
August 23, 2020 ~ By Shari Rose
- El Negro Matapacos, Chile’s Riot Dog of the Streets
- El Negro Matapacos at 2011 Santiago Protests
- El Vaquita, Riot Dog of 2019 – 2020 in Antofagasta
- Greek Riot Dog Loukanikos In Athens Protests
- Kanellos, Greece’s First Modern Riot Dog
When people take to the streets, some dogs follow. These “riot dogs” are strays who defend protesters in violent clashes with police.
In some countries, like Chile and Greece, stray dogs rule the streets. So when people take to those streets and protest their governments, how do the dogs react? Some of them join in and protect protesters against the brutal police forces who confront them. In Chile, El Negro Matapacos and El Vaquita are known for protecting student demonstrators, and Greek protesters had Loukanikos and Kanellos on their side for years. These are the lives of riot dogs, and the impact their lives have had on global protest movements in the 2000s.
El Negro Matapacos, Chile’s Beloved Riot Dog of the Streets
El Negro Matapacos was a stray dog living on the streets of downtown Santiago, the capital city of Chile and home to more than 5 million people. In 2009, a woman named Maria Campos began to notice this stray dog on her walks through town. She greeted him every so often, and eventually El Negro recognized her scent, greeting her back. Over time, this stray dog followed her home and slept outside. On a rainy day, Campos brought the dog in, and El Negro Matapacos started spending every night in her home.
Campos lived near the University of Santiago, Chile (USACH). During El Negro’s daily walks through the city, he began hanging around the university students living on campus. After a while, the students became accustomed to their new furry friend and “adopted” him, though El Negro still spent his nights in Campos’ home. To ensure he would be able to find his way back, Campos gave the dog a collar with her phone number, as well as a cape that he wore everyday.
One day, Campos received a call from students about El Negro Matapacos: He was fighting alongside them against the police in a nearby protest. When the riot dog returned home that night, his cape was soaking wet from water cannons fired by police. Campos switched to handkerchiefs for El Negro, and he was often seen wearing a red or blue bandana on the streets.
El Negro Matapacos at 2011 Santiago Protests
In summer 2011, massive student-led protests boiled over throughout Chile. Students called for more equality in education and the creation of a national public education system, among other demands. A public university has not been built in the country since 1990, and less than half of high school students attend public school.
Early August 2011 saw the largest protest in Santiago, during which police shot water cannons and tear gassed thousands of protesters. El Negro Matapacos, whose name translates to “Black Cop-Killer,” was at the forefront of protests, barking, growling and charging police as they confronted, threatened, and beat student protesters. Everyday, he ran with protesters, showing his teeth and barking at the lines of police officers who attacked them.
Student protesters said that El Negro always understood which side was the enemy, saying he “knew without question which uniform to bark at and which to defend.” Countless photos show this riot dog facing off with police, pacing back and forth among the front lines of protesters, and getting sprayed with water hoses.
In August 2017, El Negro Matapacos died of natural causes. However, his legacy was just beginning. El Negro became a national Chilean symbol of resistance amid ongoing national protests. Two years after he died, images of the beloved riot dog appeared everywhere, on murals, protest signs, stickers, and online throughout the country. Symbols and art of El Negro Matapacos are usually accompanied with protest slogans, including “Resist” and “By the force of reason.”
This Chilean riot dog even appeared during New York City’s fare-dodging protests after police officers pulled their guns on a teenager for fare-dodging in a crowded subway. Stickers of El Negro Matapacos jumping subway turnstiles appeared on terminal walls during the height of demonstrations in late 2019.
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El Vaquita, Riot Dog of 2019 – 2020 in Antofagasta
Spurred by dramatic increases in public transport fees for using the metro system and buses, students throughout Chile began to stage large-scale fare dodges in October 2019. These demonstrations eventually turned into marches and protests in the streets days later. During these marches, hundreds of stray dogs were seen joining protesters against the police.
In Antofagasta, a city of more than 400,000, one stray dog has been consistently spotted in the fray. His name is El Vaquita, meaning “Little Cow,” and he has quickly become a symbol of resistance in the city. This pudgy, black-and-white stray dog always seems to be wagging his tail as he weaves through lines of protesters and barks at police officers.
El Vaquita can typically be found in the south-central part of Antofagasta, though he’s sometimes recorded alongside protesters in different areas of the city. This stray dog’s habit of attending protests and confronting police quickly made him an icon in the region. In fact, El Vaquita won the city’s 2019 Character of the Year Award, beating many human competitors. Victor Collao, an Antofagasta native who was recently crowned Chile’s greatest karate champion, received half as many votes as El Vaquita and came in second.
In late October, El Vaquita accompanied his protesting companions during the largest demonstration to date. When police forces met the demonstration with violence, El Vaquita became disoriented in the fight. After the dust settled, the students realized he could not find his way back home. Protesters on Facebook then coordinated a rescue to bring the dog back to the areas of the city he knew, and a young man volunteered to walk him back home to south-central Antofagasta.
Students involved in these demonstrations are keenly aware of the dogs that walk with them during protests, and work to protect their health during confrontations with police. In early January 2020, local reports say that police shot El Vaquita with a rubber bullet. Protesters charged with his care took him to the vet for treatment, and he appears to have made a full recovery.
During the coronavirus pandemic, a stray animal shelter in Antofagasta known on Facebook as Antofagasta Dog Community (Comunidad Perruna Antofagasta) took in El Vaquita and cares for other stray dogs without homes in the city.
In July 2020, El Vaquita was recorded spending time with protesters well into the night, wagging his tail all the while.
Greek Riot Dog Loukanikos During Athens Protests
During the anti-austerity movement in Greece in the wake of the Great Recession, large-scale protests erupted in Athens. During the demonstrations and ensuing encounters with the police, protesters and journalists alike began to notice one stray dog in particular who was particularly vicious to riot police, and exceptionally protective of protesters.
Loukanikos (or Λουκάνικος, meaning “Sausage”), was a stray who became a beloved Greek riot dog for his heroics in the thick of protests from approximately 2009 to 2012. During violent clashes with police, Louk was seen running through lines of police, barking and snarling, as they beat and arrested protesters through clouds of tear gas. Recognizing the danger of tear gas canisters in the street, Loukanikos learned to move them out of the way of protesters, and did so often. There is an incredible 2011 photo of Louk, hair on end, bending over a spewing gas canister and opening his mouth wide to grab it as demonstrators look on.
Similarly with El Negro Matapacos and El Vaquita in Chile, Loukanikos was often seen and recorded at the front of protests. He barked, growled, and snarled at police dressed in riot gear, and refused to give them a moment’s peace. Also called Thodoris, Louk was known to hold his ground with police and even try to form a protective line by running back and forth between protesters and authorities. As a result, this riot dog was met with abuse from police. A photographer in the fray caught one such instance where a cop barely missed kicking Louk as the dog leapt out of reach.
Unfortunately, after years of protecting protesters, Loukanikos endured heavy exposure of tear gas from excessive police use, and his health began to deteriorate. Louk “retired” from protesting, and he lived in the home of a man who cared for him until his death on May 21, 2014. He was believed to be about 10 years old. According to local newspaper Avgi, Louk’s death was partly attributed to high exposure to tear gas and kicks by police. The beloved Greek riot dog was buried in a grassy area under a tree in the center of Athens.
Kanellos, Greece’s First Modern Riot Dog
Kanellos (or Κανέλο, meaning “Cinnamon”) is largely considered the earliest modern riot dog. As a stray, Kanellos began to hang around the National Technical University of Athens (NTUA) and the students who lived there. Over time, Kanellos found a home at the school, being well-cared for by each class of students who lived on campus year after year.
As the Greek financial crisis hit new lows in February 2007, Kanellos ran alongside students and other protesters as they faced off against police. The earliest footage of Kanellos comes from a 5-second clip of him running alongside protesters as fires burn behind them. He would typically protest with the students during the day, and return with them back to campus at night.
When NTUA hired a dogcatcher and removed Kanellos from university campus in June 2007, the students shared a petition with hundreds of names and demanded that the school provide “his immediate return to the place where he lived for more than a decade.” Kanellos was eventually put back in the care of university students.
Like the riot dogs who came after him, Kanellos was aggressive with police, barking and snarling at the front lines, and protective of protesters. He was consistently at the front of marches, forcing himself as a barrier between protesters and police. One photo captures Kanellos laying down in the street in front of rows of cops turned toward students.
In late 2007, Kanellos lost the ability to walk, partly due to severe arthritis. University students raised funds and bought him a wheelchair, in which wheels serve as his back legs. In February 2008, Kanellos walked alongside protesters in Athens for the final time. On July 2, 2008, Kanellos passed away in the care of university students. He is believed to have died somewhere in his teen-years, living a very long life.
Clichéd though it may be, we don’t deserve dogs. But they’re here for us, regardless. Riot dogs El Negro Matapacos, El Vaquita, Loukanikos, and Kanellos put their lives on the line and chose to defend and protect protesters, particularly students, against violent police forces in the streets.
These stray dogs were confronted with a choice every time, and always chose to protect the weaponless group carrying signs as well as their voices, instead of the police officers wielding batons, tear gas, and water cannons, and using them freely.
Another popular cliché contends that when a dog doesn’t like a person, that individual probably deserves a second look. So when riot dogs choose to protect protesters in direct opposition to the police day in and day out, perhaps there’s something to be said.
After all, a dog’s instincts can’t lie.