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Video: State scrambles for abandoned Chihuahuas

  1. Closed captioning of: State scrambles for abandoned Chihuahuas

    >> big birds, planes.

    >>> now to tiny dogs, we're switching gears here. we've become a big problem, animal shelters in california are reporting a glut of abandoned chihuahuas. a breed made popular because they've been featured in some movies and owned by a few celebrities. here's nbc's george lewis .

    >> reporter: call it the chihuahua crisis. out in california , shelters are putting out the call for help .

    >> we've seen an incredible increase in the number of chihuahuas.

    >> but i'm an heiress! i have a trust fund .

    >> reporter: blame it on those lovable little characters from last year's hit movie " beverly hills chihuahua ." or the chihuahua in "legally blonde."

    >> hi, i'm elle woods . and this is bruiser woods.

    >> reporter: not to mention those taco bell adds. and the fact that celebrities like paris and britney have been photographed with their chihuahuas. a lot of people thought -- hey, this would make a great pet. then had second thoughts. chihuahuas can be high-strung and difficult to housebreak. which is why many become unwanted. this is petunia, a 3-year-old chihuahua mix, quivering a little bit. some shelters in california say that fully 60% of the dogs they have up for adoption are either chihuahuas or mixes like petunia. and many are shipping the dogs out of state, even as far as toronto, canada.

    >> our shelter is not alone in this breed crisis, if you will. and with animal shelters being saturated with one specific breed or one breed of dog , it does make it little bit challenging to place all of them.

    >> reporter: the shelters are hoping their call for help will attract more people like svetlana henderson and her son, martin.

    >> we are gentle. they're just so cute and they can ride in the car and easy to manage. just, yeah, we have room in our home for another family member.

    >> reporter: shelters advise that chihuahuas can live to up to 20 years, so they want people to regard adopting them as a long-term commitment. for "today," george lewis , nbc news, pasadena, california .

    >>> and just ahead, oscar winner

updated 12/10/2009 7:58:03 PM ET 2009-12-11T00:58:03

California has more Chihuahuas than it can handle, and it has Hollywood to blame.

There are so many Chihuahuas at shelters in Oakland, they have started shipping the dogs out of state, said Megan Webb, director of Oakland Animal Services. They have sent about 100 to Washington, Oregon and Arizona, she said, “and as soon as they get them, they are ready for new ones.”

Chihuahuas make up 30 percent or more of the dog populations at many California shelters. And experts say pop culture is to blame, with fans imitating Chihuahua-toting celebrities like Paris Hilton and Miley Cyrus, then abandoning the dogs.

The problem appears to be specific to California — shelters elsewhere would love to share the wealth, said Gail Buchwald, senior vice president overseeing the ASPCA adoption center in New York City.

“We never have enough supply for the huge consumer demand for small dogs,” she said.

One of Webb’s biggest problems is a lack of money to fly the dogs to other states. Buchwald said she would be happy to help.

Image:
Russel A. Daniels  /  AP
An adopted Chihuahua, James Bond, rests his head at the Animal Care and Control in San Francisco.

“Nothing is outside the realm of possibility here. We have a supply-demand issue,” she said.

Chihuahuas are the most popular breed of dog in Los Angeles, so it makes sense it is the most abandoned breed, said Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles. In Oakland, some days, they get 10 of the 5-pound dogs a day, Webb said.

The problem is so bad that shelters all over California that were built for big dogs had to remodel to accommodate the little guys.

Among the reasons for the glut is the breed’s popularity in movies like “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” and as celebrity pets, said Dave Frangipane, senior coordinator for Chihuahua Rescue of Beverly Hills. A cute puppy can grow up to have adult health problems or become protective and aggressive.

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There are less glamorous reasons, too, like the high vet bills Chihuahuas can bring. And the biggest spikes in California Chihuahua populations are probably due to puppy mills and backyard breeders, Buchwald and Frangipane said.

Chihuahuas are cute, but vulnerable, Frangipane said. “People think nothing of kicking a small, yappy dog. And they can be abused by people of all sizes. A toddler can snap a Chihuahua’s leg in a second,” he said.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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