Abandoned Chihuahuas flood Bay Area shelters

In Bay Area shelters up to half the dogs are abandoned Chihuahuas.

December 8, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Tiny dogs have become a big presence at Bay Area animal shelters. Chihuahuas are becoming the number one breed at pounds and adoption centers. It is a dubious distinction animal care workers are hoping to change.

At the San Francisco SPCA, volunteers have noticed a lot more chihuahuas and chihuahuas mixes these days. The fact that they aren't the easiest breed may have something to do with it -- they can be high-strung, fearful and aggressive toward other dogs.

"So you definitely have to get low, give them treats, a lot of happy talk, just a lot of positive encouragement," said SPCA volunteer Emma Beuerman.

San Francisco Animal Care and Control has also seen an uptick in the number of Chihuahuas over the past year. They now make up about a third of their dog population. In fact, the problem is just about everywhere.

There are so many Chihuahuas that at many shelters there are now more of them than pit bulls, which for years had been the number one breed.

Experts say Hollywood is partly to blame. Chihuahuas have been featured in several movies and have become the pet of choice for many of the rich and famous.

"Obviously a lot of the celebrities have had these pocket pets. Most of them have been Chihuahuas and that has increased their popularity and of course the one way we can combat that is by spaying and neutering," says Jan McHugh, president of the San Francisco SPCA.

But animal shelters know with the economy the way it is, the overpopulation of Chihuahuas will likely persist for some time. Financial hardship has forced many dog owners to surrender their pets. Those looking to adopt just don't understand it.

"When you get a pet, it's until you die or your pet dies, 'til death do you part," says Alis Cummings, a San Francisco resident.

Shelters are hoping prospective dog owners will see the positive qualities of Chihuahuas. They are small which works well for apartment living, and they are also known to be extremely devoted to their guardian.

"I don't really know how to explain their temperament. They're just really sweet dogs," says Cara LoBue, a SPCA volunteer.

That is a quality the SPCA hopes will help them lead to new homes.