Arizona’s most popular exports have long included the 4 C’s: Copper, Cattle, Citrus and Cotton. Lately, Chihuahuas could be added to that list! In Arizona, and much of the southwest, Chihuahuas are in excess, and there is overpopulation in animal shelters. The breed, which comes from Mexico, is so popular in some Phoenix neighborhoods that they roam the streets in the hundreds. The city has exhausted the charitable network of foster families who used to take them in, but no longer have the space for even one more.
In comparison, in Idaho and Montana, there are so few Chihuahuas that would-be-owners have to put their names on a waiting list to apply for adoption. Executive director of Dog Is My Copilot, Judy Zimet, says it comes down to basic supply and demand. Therefore, an effort is being made to transport some of these dogs to locations where they will be more easily adopted. Recently, twenty-six stray Chihuahuas made a 2,400 mile road trip from an animal shelter in Phoenix to another just outside Philadelphia, where remarkably, all but one of the dogs were adopted in a matter of days. Similarly, Peter Rork, a retired orthopedic surgeon, loaded 30 Chihuahuas into his private Cessna jet and flew them from Phoenix, Arizona to Boise, Idaho. He plans to make the trip again with 36 Chihuahuas next time. To avoid euthanizing the dogs, animal welfare workers have even started shipping them abroad to countries like Canada and Russia.
The number of Chihuahuas has risen steadily since 2011, only being outnumbered by Pit Bulls in Maricopa County shelters. Conversely, at the state’s largest animal welfare agency, the Arizona Humane Society, Chihuahuas overtook all other breeds in number this year. Unfortunately, the Arizona Chihuahua Rescue, a volunteer organization that takes in orphans, has been unable to accept any new dogs due to overpopulation. Chihuahuas and their many mixes are among the dogs most often found in animal shelters is attributable to pop culture, immigrant tastes, and geography. The Hispanic community is not only is partial to Chihuahuas, but also more likely to own pets that have not been spayed or neutered than other races and ethnicities. Shelters from San Antonio to Los Angeles are at maximum capacity and several cities in California have even passed ordinances requiring that Chihuahuas be spayed or neutered in an effort to legislate population control. Since passing this law in 2010, in Hollister, CA, where two-thirds of residents are Latino, they have seen a significant drop in the number of Chihuahuas.
Arizona’s Maricopa County, where shelters take in more animals than any county besides Los Angeles County, is discussing a partnership with one of the most popular Spanish-language radio stations in Phoenix, La Campesina, to launch a campaign to inform people about spaying and neutering pets. The county is also, along with the Arizona Humane Society, in the middle of a $6 million effort to reduce animal homelessness, by increasing adoptions and providing free sterilizations.
People demand Chihuahuas as they are well-known symbols and easily recognizable. They have served as the Taco Bell mascot, starred in Disney movies, and are fashion accessories for the likes of Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. When mixed with other breeds, they go by names such as Chugs (Chihuahuas and Pugs), Chi-weenies (Chihuahuas and Dachshunds) and Chi-Pins (Chihuahuas and Miniature Pinschers). Woman like to put the dogs into their handbags to make cutesy impressions, just as big macho guys get Pit Bulls. Even though they are cute and little, they are tough and definitely have an attitude. Chihuahuas bark loudly and frequently, are nervous by nature, and even bite when they perceive aggression.
Potential pet owners should always consider personality traits and behavioral patterns when adopting a Chihuahua or any other breed, since there is a much greater chance of the process working out for all if the new pet owner knows what to expect.