SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) — In Chile, he's known to many people as the "Dalmatian Man."
After watching the 1996 Disney movie "101 Dalmatians," Nelson Vergara began fantasizing about rescuing and taking care of as many dogs as possible. Today, 42 Dalmatians live in the backyard of his modest home on the outskirts of the Chilean capital.
"It all started because of that film," said Vergara, 55. "That was computer-generated. But I wanted to do the real thing." That has him in trouble with the authorities. Neighbors constantly complain about the foul smell coming from his yard, and municipal officials have threatened to evict him by the end of the month.
Vergara says he only wants to set an example and raise consciousness so other Chileans can help in saving the growing number of stray dogs. Free-roaming dogs number in the millions in Chile, a situation the country's Humane Society has called alarming. Dog owners rarely spay or neuter their pets and commonly leave them outside when they go to work. Many dogs roam the streets all day.
Some of the animals he has rescued from the street suffer from malnutrition, and the unemployed Vergara mostly feeds them through donations. "I wanted to help — not just the Dalmatians but all dogs, because in Chile we need a solution to the canine problem," Vergara said. "Every day you see news of abandoned dogs roaming, but no one does anything about it. If we had a shelter, we wouldn't have these kinds of problems."
Vergara's love for Dalmatians goes beyond his home. He drives a white van painted in black spots.