Chihuahua fever: Local groups launch Project Flying Chihuahua to transport little dogs to adoptive homes
Chihuahuas have been flying out of California since other states learned about the glut of little dogs in the Golden State.
A group of 25 dogs has already arrived at the Humane Society for Greater Nashua in New Hampshire, thanks to "Grey's Anatomy" actress Katherine Heigl, Kinder4Rescue in Studio City and American Airlines.
A group of 43 will leave for New Hampshire today or Tuesday, said Kathy Davis, interim general manager of Los Angeles Animal Services, who took part in a news conference Friday to announce Project Flying Chihuahua. They were supposed to leave Saturday morning, but bad weather on the East Coast caused a delay, she said.
The Nashua shelter found homes for the first 25 dogs and had a waiting list of 100 people, Davis said.
Heigl's foundation has paid the discounted airfare for all 68 dogs so far, she added, and new donors for more flights were being sought.
Virgin America will be flying a group of Chihuahuas to New York City from San Francisco on Tuesday, said Gail Buchwald, senior vice president overseeing the ASPCA adoption center in New York City.
They will be processed and should be available for adoption on Dec. 29, she said.
Buchwald said she didn't know how many to expect, but each dog will be escorted by a volunteer and Virgin America will provide travel for both dogs and humans.
The airline is also expected to offer a week of half-price trips to passengers willing to escort an animal to New York, but details have yet to be finalized, Buchwald said.
A call to a Virgin America representative was not immediately returned Friday.
Dozens of dogs have been sent by Oakland Animal Services to nearby states, including Washington, Oregon and Arizona, but most of them were delivered by car, Director Megan Webb said, because there wasn't enough money to fly the dogs to more distant states.
The Chihuahua crisis in California developed as Hollywood featured the dogs in movies such as "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" and "Legally Blonde"; they became constant companions to the rich and famous; and backyard breeders saw a chance to make hundreds of dollars on each dog. The recession, however, forced some dog owners to abandon their pets.
California shelters soon found that Chihuahuas made up 30% or more of their dog populations.
Meanwhile, Buchwald said, there has long been a severe shortage of small dogs in the east.
Officials on both sides of the country are optimistic they can work out the imbalance.
Davis said finding homes for 68 barely made a dent in Los Angeles shelters, but it was a start.
"We have plenty more where those came from and we're more than happy to send them home for the holidays. If there's a Santa Claus out there, we're ready and waiting for you."
In the last 12 months, animal shelters in the city of Los Angeles have taken in 4,700 Chihuahuas, a thousand more than the 12 months before that.
Los Angeles has more than 300 Chihuahuas in its shelters now, Davis said, and they are taking in about 340 a month.
"The majority of them are healthy. They do need some socialization. Some we're finding haven't been well-treated in the homes they've been in. They need some TLC," Davis said.
It would seem plenty of people in the east are ready and willing to deliver just that.
-- Associated Press
Photos: (top) A rescued Chihuahua named Giganton ("the Big Giant" in Spanish) looks out from his crate at the Northeast Valley Animal Care Center in Mission Hills. Giganton is one of the dogs scheduled to fly to the East Coast for adoption as part of Project Flying Chihuahuas. Credit: Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press
(bottom) Giganton visits with Kinder4Rescue volunteer Amber Dilena. Credit: Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press