Homeless Chihuahuas Take Flight to Finally Find Homes

Nine Chihuahuas got the ride of their lives on Wednesday when they flew from San Francisco to New York thanks to a program dubbed "Operation Chihuahua Airlift." The operation's mission? To make sure each dog ends up adopted. It turns out there's such an overpopulation of Chihuahuas on the West Coast, that many of the pups are difficult to place.

According to Deb Campbell, spokesperson for the city-run San Francisco Animal Care and Control (SFACC), the last five years have seen an significant increase in the number of Chihuahuas at the shelter. “At any given time, we can have up to 50 percent Chihuahuas and Chihuahua mixes,” Campbell tells Yahoo Shine. She attributes the increase to the breed’s popularity in movies and commercials, as well as overzealous breeders who are breeding more dogs than demand warrants. “Chihuahuas are portrayed as toys on TV, but they still need to be fed and cared for,” she says. Chihuahuas who end up in a California shelter often languish for weeks or months before being matched with a family.

But that’s not the case in on the East Coast. According to Campbell, the New York shelters that have received Chihuahuas from SFACC in the past have had lines around the block with people who want to adopt. “New York is a better environment for Chihuahuas in many ways,” she says. “The city has lots of apartments where a small dog would be a better fit.”

This is the fifth time in three years that airline Virgin America partnered with SFACC along with the American Society For the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of New York to transport the dogs.The nine canines chosen for Wednesday’s cross-country trip had all been at the SFACC shelter for more than a month, but their long wait was well rewarded: The Chihuahuas were given VIP treatment prior to departing San Francisco International Airport, which included a rollout of the red carpet as well as an appearance by Virgin America’s pet liaison, a dog named Boo. According to Gail Buchwald, senior vice president of the ASPCA Adoption Center, since arriving in New York Wednesday night the dogs are recovering from jet lag and adjusting to their new surroundings. “We anticipate that the dogs in this group will find homes very quickly,” Buchwald tells Yahoo Shine, noting that the shelter frequently has Chihuahuas from the New York area up for adoption as well. “While they may never have been a passenger on an airplane, they would make perfect pets.”

Shelter Chihuahuas are also getting help from a handful of organizations dedicated to saving the small dogs, including the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation, an animal welfare non-profit created by actress Katherine Heigl and her mother, Nancy, in honor of Heigl's late brother, Jason. The organization has been transporting Chihuahuas from Los Angeles shelters to no-kill shelters around the country since 2008 and has completed two transports a month over the past year, saving nearly 1,000 Chihuahuas. The organization also helps fund Chihuahua-exclusive transports done by Los Angeles-based animal welfare non-profit organizations Society For The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Los Angeles and Kinder 4 Rescue. “In other areas of the country, such as Oregon and New York, they do not have enough small dogs to satisfy the need,” Jennifer Brent, executive director of the Jason Debus Heigl Foundation tells Yahoo Shine.

Rondi Conn of Stevenson, Washington, was happy to adopt an "imported" Chihuahua named Biscuit last December. The dog had originally been living on the streets of Los Angeles and was transported to the Columbia Humane Society in Saint Helens, Oregon, via a Jason Debus Heigl Foundation transport. According to Conn, Biscuit immediately took to her 6-year-old son, Noah, who suffers from migraines. “When Noah has a migraine, Biscuit will stay with him for hours,” Conn tells Yahoo Shine. "Sometimes Biscuit is the only thing that brings him any comfort.” The Chihuahua has made such an impact on the boy’s life that for Noah’s birthday this past September he requested that his party guests bring dog-friendly items to donate to the the Columbia Humane Society in lieu of gifts. Says Conn, “Biscuit is so wonderful. He has been a blessing in so many ways.”

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