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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

In Rio, rescue dogs watch out for their rescuers

By Mario Lobao Associated Press

RIO DE JANEIRO – In Rio de Janeiro, two rescue dogs have turned local mascots and budding online influencers after joining their rescuers’ ranks, wooing their growing audience, one bark at a time.

Corporal Oliveira, a dog with short brown hair thought to be around four years old, turned up one morning in 2019 at a police station on Rio’s Governador Island, injured and weak.

“I gave him food, water. It took a while for him to get used to me,” said Cpl. Cristiano Oliveira, the officer who took the dog under his wing and later gave him his name. But within a few days, Corporal Oliveira – the furry animal – started following his new master around the precinct. Oliveira has since joined another precinct, but the dog never left.

Corporal Oliveira has his own Instagram profile with more than 45,000 fervent followers, always hungry for more photos and videos of their mascot in his trademark police uniform, standing on top of police armoured vehicles, motorcycles or sticking his little head out of a regular patrol car’s window. He even has a miniature toy firearm attached to his uniform.

A dozen miles from there, in the leafy and leftist neighborhood of Laranjeiras, another rescue dog has turned mascot.

Caramello – a name inspired by the colour of his fur – has been residing at the fire brigade that found him injured across the iconic Sugarloaf mountain ever since he was rescued nearly a year ago. During that time, the 11-year-old dog has amassed some 27,000 followers.

Older, and slightly less adventurous then Corporal Oliveira, Caramello’s online efforts have focused on drawing attention to a wide range of good causes and campaigns.

He has used his newly found clout to promote awareness around cancer, or to encourage donations for victims of natural disasters such as the recent deadly landslides in Petropolis. He’s also helped other rescue dogs or cats find new homes.

“Caremello is a real digital influencer,” said Maj. Fabio Contreiras, from the Catete Fire Brigade, one of Rio de Janeiro’s oldest.

But with fame, comes burden. And the dogs’ fans are demanding.

“Sometimes I have too much work. I go a week without posting and people complain: ‘Where is (Corporal) Oliveira? Has he gone missing?’ ” jokes Oliveira, the police officer in charge of the dog’s social media. He can get more than 200 messages in one day. Sometimes, he just has to tell them: “He’s on holiday!”