Chihuahuas in Peril
by Gina Wolf
I visit two shelters in Monterey County several times a week, and I have been doing this regularly for the past five years. One of my roles as a volunteer for Animal Friends Rescue Project, Peace of Mind Dog Rescue, Salinas Animal Services, and Monterey County Animal Services is to meet the dogs at the shelters and advocate for them to go to rescue groups as needed.
Arriving at the shelter, I walk the kennels, meet the dogs and take note of who might need help. Over the past several years the number of little Chihuahua and Chihuahua-mix faces vying for my attention has increased to an alarming degree. Many of these sweet dogs arrive at the shelter as strays, having been running at large. Some are injured, infested with parasites, malnourished, or otherwise in poor condition. Sometimes major medical intervention is needed, but often with routine medical attention, proper care, and nutrition these dogs can be restored to vibrant health. Many of them are young—only one or two years old— and sadly, at this point, due to an overabundance of Chihuahuas, even with shelter staff and numerous volunteers and rescue organizations advocating for them, there are no guarantees of finding a new home once they are in the shelter.
My husband, Chad, and I began rescuing Chihuahuas in 1994 when we signed the adoption contract for our first dog, Lucky. This little tan dog with the oversized ears, shining brown eyes and proud demeanor was our beloved companion for a little over sixteen years. He was one of the only small dogs that the rescue group had at that time— and the only Chihuahua. We had no idea that within the next decadeandahalf, the number of “chis” (Chihuahuas and Chihuahuamixes) in need of adoption would skyrocket. By the time Lucky died last year, chis made up a full third of the dogs in California shelters. What had happened in the intervening years to create this stark reality?
A popular advertising campaign that featured a taco-loving, talking Chihuahua comes immediately to mind. We grew used to that successful tag line being quoted to us regularly when we took Lucky anywhere. Chihuahuas were moving into the mainstream media, becoming easily recognized and chic. The breed’s small size can make them portable, and designer doggy shoulder bags became stylish. Hollywood personalities began to be routinely photographed with their tricked-out chis, and the dogs began to get starring roles in major motion pictures. The breed graduated to certified fashion trend status.
Backyard breeders and puppy mills are more than willing to profit by providing the desired product to the impetuous public. Unfortunately, chis do not make good impulse items; they need time, love, consistency, and training, among other things, just like any other dog. They are not stuffed animals. When this reality hits home and chi guardians are unable or unwilling to rise to the occasion, many chis are neglected, relegated to the backyard, or outright abandoned.
Lucky had made a big impression on us, and we developed a real affinity for the Chihuahua and began fostering Chihuahuas. Over our many years of fostering, dozens of great chis have shared our home before being matched with excellent permanent homes. There was Junior, the four-month-old chi with mange who looked like a white mouse when he came to us; Jasper, the injured chi who was dragging a mangled leg that had to be amputated; Princess, the three-pound chi with a broken leg whose cast was bigger than she was; Gracie, the tiny chi who almost died trying to give birth to a puppy that could not fit through her tiny birth canal; Chico, the sweet little chi with a crushed pelvis who sadly did not survive after months of care; and our current foster dog, Emmy, a senior Chihuahua who showed up at the shelter with a mouth full of rotting, infected teeth causing so much pain she would not eat.
California shelters and rescue groups have started working together to find groups in other states that are willing to help find homes for all these chis. Airlifts and over-the-road Chihuahua transports have been organized to Oregon, Colorado, New York and other states that are not experiencing the same phenomenon of Chihuahua overpopulation in their shelters. These trips are absolute lifesavers for the lucky dogs that get to go; however, the overall problem remains unchanged—Chihuahuas still outnumber any other breed of dog in California shelters by a huge margin.
Our family includes four wonderful chimixes, all of whom were rescued from the streets of our city. Chis who end up in a shelter are there by no fault of their own; they have fallen victim to circumstances and human failings. To help, you can adopt a chi, foster a chi, and definitely do not breed or buy a chi! We can all be a part of the solution to the Chihuahua overpopulation in our shelters. It can’t come soon enough.