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Hurricane Irene forces delay of Chihuahua airlift

Animal Care and Control representatives and their charges prepare for a flight from San Francisco to New York.

A humanitarian airlift of unwanted California Chihuahuas to new homes on the East Coast became the latest victim of Hurricane Irene when they were bumped from their Virgin America flights from San Francisco to New York on Tuesday.

“Due to the impact of Hurricane Irene and the associated re-accommodation of guests on all open flights, the airline postponed plans to fly an ‘Operation: Chihuahua’ airlift,” according to a written statement from the company and San Francisco Animal Care and Control.

Since 2010, Virgin America has teamed with animal control agencies to fly the tiny pups from the West Coast, where there is a glut, to the East Coast, where there is a demand for them. The dogs have been placed on stand-by for a rescheduled airlift.

Virgin America has also launched a “No Chihuahua Left Behind” special. For each ticket to Mexico booked by 11:59 p.m. Thursday it will contribute $25 to support “local dogs and future airlift flights.”

Sixteen dogs were scheduled to fly out of San Francisco International Airport on two flights, said Abby Lunardini, Virgin spokeswoman, before they were bumped by the inclement weather.

“The flights are so full this week, so we’re hoping to reschedule the airlift sometime in the next several weeks,” Lunardini said. “San Francisco ACC always has an issue with this, and it’s been escalating. They’ve got quite a backlog [of dogs]. We’re trying to do something as soon as we can.”

The city animal control department is at “maximum capacity,” according to the written statement, and has no more space for incoming dogs. The agency is urging dog lovers to visit its shelter and adopt. Anyone taking in a Chihuahua from the agency’s shelter between now and Sept. 12 can adopt the animal for half the usual fee.


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 -- Maria L. La Ganga in San Francisco

Photo: Animal Care and Control representatives and their charges prepare for an earlier flight from San Francisco to New York. Credit: Virgin America

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