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Chihuahuas flooding shelters, rescue groups warn

December 9, 2009 |  3:31 pm


They're tiny, they're cute and they're besieging animal shelters from San Diego to Northern California.

The Chihuahua glut has become so severe that representatives from half a dozen San Francisco Bay Area shelters, surrounded by 50 yipping, shivering Chihuahuas, begged animal lovers today to help them find homes for the petite pooches.

In Los Angeles, only pit bulls outnumber Chihuahuas in the city's shelters. At the Peninsula Humane Society in San Mateo, 60% of the dogs awaiting adoption are pure or mixed-breed Chihuahuas. At the San Francisco Animal Care and Control shelter, Chihuahuas are 30% of the canine population and rising. At the East Bay SPCA, it's 50%.

"A few years ago, we joked that wouldn't it be great if all these pit bulls were Chihuahuas," said Allison Lindquist, executive director of the East Bay SPCA. "Now they are. This is what happened with pit bulls, Dobermans, German shepherds and other dogs that become popular through TV and movies."

The pint-sized pups with outsize personalities became increasingly popular after Reese Witherspoon's character in the 2001 movie "Legally Blonde" accessorized her Pepto Bismol-hued wardrobe with Bruiser  as she plied the halls of Harvard.

Paris Hilton's Chihuahua, Tinkerbell, was a regular in all five seasons of "The Simple Life" and went on to publish a 2004 "memoir" called "The Tinkerbell Hilton Diaries."

And then came the 2008 comedy "Beverly Hills Chihuahua," about little Chloe, who gets dognapped in Mexico and has to escape from an evil Doberman.

"People get enthralled with the movies and think dogs have a certain type of personality," said Kathy Davis, interim general manager of the Los Angeles Animal Services agency.

"They bring the dog home and they don't spend sufficient time to train and socialize the animal, and unfortunately the Chihuahua doesn't become the star it was in the movie," she said. "The dazzle wears off, and the shelters end up with the pets."

From Dec. 1, 2008, to Nov. 30, 2009, Los Angeles shelters took in 4,741 Chihuahuas, up from 3,779 the previous year. "Our adoption rates are also up on Chihuahuas, but unfortunately not sufficiently enough to handle the huge intake," Davis said.

--Maria L. La Ganga in San Francisco

Photo: An adopted Chihuahua, James Bond, rests his head at the Animal Control and Care center in San Francisco. Credit: Russel A. Daniels / Associated Press.