Pop culture main reason California has Chihuahua crisis

California has more Chihuahuas than it can handle, and it has Hollywood to blame.

There are so many Chihuahuas at shelters in Oakland, they have started shipping the dogs out of state, said Megan Webb, director of Oakland Animal Services. They have sent about 100 to Washington, Oregon and Arizona, she said, "and as soon as they get them, they are ready for new ones."

Chihuahuas make up 30 percent or more of the dog populations at many California shelters. And experts say pop culture is to blame, with fans immitating Chihuahua-toting celebrities like Paris Hilton and Miley Cyrus, then abandoning the dogs.

The problem appears to be specific to California - shelters elsewhere would love to share the wealth, said Gail Buchwald, senior vice president overseeing the ASPCA adoption center in New York City.

"We never have enough supply for the huge consumer demand for small dogs," she said.

One of Webb's biggest problems is a lack of money to fly the dogs to other states. Buchwald said she would be happy to help.

"Nothing is outside the realm of possibility here. We have a supply-demand isssue," she said.

Chihuahuas are the most popular breed of dog in Los Angeles, so it makes sense it is the most abandoned breed, said Madeline Bernstein, president of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles. In Oakland, some days, they get 10 of the 5-pound dogs a day, Webb said.

The problem is so bad that shelters all over California that were built for big dogs had to remodel to accommodate the little guys.

Among the reasons for the glut is the breed's popularity in movies like "Beverly Hills Chihuahua" and as celebrity pets, said Dave Frangipane, senior coordinator for Chihuahua Rescue of Beverly Hills. A cute puppy can grow up to have adult health problems or become protective and aggressive.

There are less glamorous reasons, too, like the high vet bills Chihuahuas can bring. And the biggest spikes in California Chihuahua populations are probably due to puppy mills and backyard breeders, Buchwald and Frangipane said.

Chihuahas are cute, but vulnerable, Frangipane said. "People think nothing of kicking a small, yappy dog. And they can be abused by people of all sizes. A toddler can snap a Chihuahua's leg in a second," he said.

© 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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