Ranked as the 24th most popular breed by the American Kennel Club. Described as “a graceful, alert, swift-moving, compact little dog with saucy expression and with terrier-like qualities of temperament.” At the same time, targeted as being one of the most at-risk dogs for ending up in shelters and euthanized. Meet the Chihuahua, one of the two breeds that falls under the scope of The Mighty and the Tiny Project, whereby Lincoln Animal Ambassadors will spay/neuter Chihuahuas and pit bull terriers at only $25 per dog.
A search of Petfinder reveals more than 13,000 Chihuahuas are in need of homes at the time of this article. In light of the positive description of them by AKC, why are animal shelters being overrun by Chihuahuas? Through my research, I found these main reasons: popularity in the media, over-breeding, and uneducated owners.
Time and time again, articles pin the blame for the Chihuahua’s predicament on pop culture. The movies Beverly Hills Chihuahua and Legally Blonde, as well as Taco Bell commercials, have been blamed for contributing to the breed’s popularity. Celebrities Paris Hilton and Miley Cyrus are also believed to have played a role, by fueling the perception that small dogs make adorable fashion accessories.
Is it true that media exposure of a breed can bestow a breed with celebrity status, increasing its popularity with the public? This question interested me enough that I decided to do some digging. Turns out, public perception is correct. A study by the U.S. National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health found that movies do significantly increase the popularity of breeds they feature.
What’s wrong with movies and commercials and celebrities increasing the popularity of certain dog breeds? As I’ll explain, the problem is that increased popularity leads to increased demand and over-breeding. And the problem with that is that much of the increased demand is based in ignorance, which results in a lot of unwanted dogs being dumped on shelters.
An independent magazine dedicated to the companion animals and their caretakers, Pets in the City, offered the opinion often voiced by others involved in animal welfare, “Backyard breeders and puppy mills produce as many puppies of the popular breeds as possible for income. They don’t care who purchases the puppies, let alone do any health, temperament or genetic testing on the sire and dam. This results in dogs having health, temperament, and genetic issues, as well as dogs going to the wrong homes.” Many animal experts note that over-breeding also often happens because of the failure of owners to spay and neuter. The sad consequence of all of the above is that animal shelters and breed-specific rescue groups become inundated with these fad breeds.
What I found most intriguing about the over-breeding issue is that it seems regional. Nationally, Animal People, an independent newspaper providing original investigative coverage of animal protection worldwide, found that Chihuahuas were 18.5% of the June 2012 U.S. open admission shelter dog inventory, with a whopping 93% of them located in California. Moreover, according to the shelter operations manager at the Arizona Animal Welfare League and SPCA, Chihuahua were one of the most common breeds euthanized there. Most recent available statistics show that in 2013, the two largest shelters in Phoenix received 10,535 Chihuahuas and euthanized 2,100.
Although the over-breeding of Chihuahuas seems greatest in the southwestern United States, Chihuahuas can be found in high numbers elsewhere. In its Spring 2015 issue, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors reported having spayed or neutered 1,715 pets. Of those, Chihuahuas were the most represented breed.
As noted in its Summer 2015 issue, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors received a grant of $3,750 to be used toward providing alterations for the “Mighty” dogs of this project, pit bulls and pit bull blends, allowing LAA to provide spay or neuter procedures for pit bulls and pit bull blends for just $25 per dog. Lincoln Animal Ambassadors decided to also include the “Tiny” dogs of this project, Chihuahua and Chihuahua blends, for the same low price. Your donations will increase the number of dogs LAA’s The Mighty and the Tiny Project can reach.
The downside of turning a breed into a fad that everyone must follow is that many of those caught up in the fad don’t bother to research the health, temperament, or energy level of the breed. Many owners expect their newly-acquired dog to behave just like it did in the movies and, when it doesn’t, they discard it.
Hollywood tends to depict Chihuahuas as cute portable dogs that can owners can cart around as if they were dolls or even purses. They don’t talk. Nor can they perform amazing tricks with no effort from their owners. Like all dogs, Chihuahuas need to be fed, groomed, and housebroken. They need to be taken outside to potty, played with, and more.
Chihuahuas may also have additional needs, as several dog forums describe the breed as high-maintenance. Some agree with the AKC that Chihuahuas are very bright, very social, and very protective of their people and territory. To obtain these positives, however, requires extra effort. Owners must establish routines, check in on their dog throughout the day, and recognize that Chihuahuas will act reserved around strangers.
Although Chihuahuas can be high maintenance, the guilty parties are those owners who choose them for the wrong reasons and fail to take the breed’s characteristics and their own needs into consideration. When that happens, the Chihuahua ends up at an animal shelter or put up for adoption.
One should put the same amount of care into deciding on a pet as one might a car, house, or even marriage partner. You’re investing in a living creature with individual needs, traits, and personality. No pet should be purchased on a whim because of its celebrity status, but rather should be obtained only after thoroughly educating oneself. With that in mind, check back later in the month for a post where I interview those with more experience than myself with Chihuahuas.
One creative answer to Chihuahua overpopulation has come from rescues in the United States and Canada that are redistributing the breed from locations with more supply than demand to ones with more demand than supply. Senior vice president of the ASPCA adoption center in New York City told NBC News, “We never have enough supply for the huge consumer demand for small dogs”.
How do the rest of us best help the Chihuahua, labeled by the AKC as “graceful, charming, and sassy”? If you have an unaltered Chihuahua, please take advantage of the below offer from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors. If you aren’t in that situation, please help LAA’s The Mighty and the Tiny Project reach as many dogs as possible by donating. We can all work together to reduce the number of unwanted dogs.