Levels of poverty in Venezuela have become so acute that large numbers of people are abandoning their pet dogs in cities of the country because they are unable to feed and vaccinate them, newspaper reports say.
Most of the dogs are starving and taking over garbage-lined street corners, blocking Venezuelans who scavenge for their own food there, El Nacional (in Spanish) reported.
Stray dogs are not a new a problem in major cities of the country, with reports from two years ago suggesting that the nation's poorest have always hunted and eaten them.
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Stray dogs are being increasingly eaten by famished Venezuelans
Four years of recession and the world's highest inflation have plunged millions of Venezuelans into poverty. The authoritarian socialist regime of President Maduro (pictured) saw off mounting unrest last summer
Supermarket shelves in the capital Caracas have no food as Venezuela's economy sinks into the abyss
But in January, a non-governmental organization found that more and more Venezuelans, unable to afford anything else, were buying dog food to feed their families.
El Nacional cites a local NGO, the Canine Support Network (RAC), as finding a sharp increase in the number of pet abandonments documented over the last two years.
'Unfortunately, we see ourselves immersed in this difficult economic crossroads and there are people who, perhaps against their will, see themselves in the difficult situation of abandoning their pet,' Moises Gonzalez, who helps direct the group's spay and neuter efforts, told the newspaper.
'I would say we found a 100 percent increase in the number of people who write to us because they can no longer have their pets because they are leaving the country or they don't have the resources [to feed it].'
The situation is reported to be especially dire for prisoners in the country who have resorted to eating rats and pigeons to avoid starving to death.
Looting has been increasing in the provinces since Christmas, with food shortages and hyperinflation leaving millions of people hungry, though the capital, Caracas, has mostly lbeen unaffected. Pictured: Men appearing to loot a petrol tanker elsewhere in Venezuela
Dozens of men were filmed earlier this year shouting 'we are hungry' and 'people are suffering' as they surround a cow in a field (pictured) and stoned it in their desperate quest for food
There has been a huge exodus of people from Venezuela in recent months, on a par with mass migration from Syria
Inmate Alejandro Manuel Mago Coraspe, 41, was reported recently by local media to need urgent hospital treatment for food poisoning after eating dead rats he found in the garbage.
'We cooked them, but they were still raw,' he said, according to El Nuevo Herald. 'We ate them anyway. I think they were poisonous and that's why I fell ill. I normally kill them myself.' According to a medical report, the bones and cartilage of the rats 'obstructured his intestine',