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Chihuahua movie protest

September 19, 2008 |  5:39 pm

Salty_the_chihuahua While celebrities walked the red carpet Thursday night at the premiere of the comedy "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," about 20 protesters stood by with signs urging people not to go nuts after they see the movie and impulsively buy a Chihuahua.

"We know the movie is cute," says Kim Sill, who runs the campaign against puppy mills for Last Chance for Animals, the group that organized the protest. "We don't want to say we're against the movie. We're against people going to a pet store after they see the movie.  We want them to go to a shelter, because there are a lot of Chihuahuas there."

Salty, a 4-year-old female Chihuahua, pictured here, is one of those Chihuahuas. She is up for adoption at LA Animal Services' North Central shelter. (ID #A0974811.)

Animal welfare advocates have been concerned for weeks about the impact of the Disney movie -- which opens Oct. 3 -- on Chihuahuas.  In the past, popular movies featuring a dog often cause a run on that breed. "101 Dalmatians" led to an uptick in Dalmatian ownership.  And, according to Sill, the Taco Bell commercials featuring a Chihuahua helped create a Chihuahua craze. But when people realize the dog may not be right for them or their family -- Damaltians are difficult and Chihuahuas are not always great with children -- "they get dumped," says Sills.

And when a movie is about to open, puppy mills, she contends, gear up to produce more of that breed to supply pet stores. (Many animal welfare organizations, including the Humane Society of the U.S., contend that most pet stores get their dogs from puppy mills.) "It used to be you would walk into pet stores and see maltipoos and Yorkies. All of a sudden in the last two months, we've seen Chihuahuas infiltrate the pet shops," Sill says.

Kendra_the_chihuahua_2Los Angeles is already awash in Chihuahuas.  There are more Chihuahuas among registered dogs in Los Angeles County than any other breed, as we reported in July.  And Sill says the shelters already have a high number of Chihuahuas.  Some of the ones at the Carson shelter, run by the Los Angeles County shelter system , are featured in the video that Last Chance for Animals made to drive home its point about not buying Chihuahuas.

Sill says her group wanted Disney to air a public service announcement in theaters before shows telling patrons to think hard before choosing a pet. "We would have happily produced it for them and given it to them," says Sill.

It turns out that several of the Chihuahuas in the film were rescue dogs found in shelters in Los Angeles and Mexico, according to Disney's promotional materials.  The lead dog, known in the movie as Papi -- the face of the movie on all the posters around town -- was rescued from the Moreno Valley Animal Shelter and lives with his trainer.

The theme of responsible adoption echoes through the movie -- some of the dogs get adopted as part of the story -- and all the promotional material, says the spokesperson. The movie's website (at the bottom) and the movie itself (at the end before the credits roll) have written messages noting that getting a pet is a serious and lifelong commitment that should be researched first. "We felt this was an important message to visibly relay at the end of the movie," said the spokesperson.

The Disney spokesperson added that the cast of the movie and the trainer of Rusco, the dog who plays Papi, have been talking publicly about animal adoption.

Ed Boks, general manager of LA Animal Services, saw the movie Thursday night.  "I was a bit disappointed," he wrote in an e-mail. "The movie has a strong 'adopt' and 'rescue' message, but no 'spay/neuter' message. In fact, one female dog opined that she longed for a boyfriend who has NOT been 'fixed.'...Disney just does not seem to share our concern over the influence this movie could have on people who will now think of Chihuahuas as cash cows."   

Enforcement of L.A.'s mandatory spay/neuter law begins Oct. 1. And if you do want to adopt a Chihuahua, here's another one at LA's North Central shelter.  She is Kendra, a 2-year-old female, ID#A0955495.

--Carla Hall

Photos: LA Animal Services

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