California Faces Chihuahua Crisis

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LOS ANGELES -- California is facing a Chihuahua crisis. There are so many Chihuahuas in the state's shelters that some of the tiny dogs are being shipped to other states where they can find new homes.

Who's to blame for the crisis? Animal lovers say pop culture and Hollywood are to blame with fans immitating Chihuahua-toting celebrities like Paris Hilton and Miley Cyrus, then abandoning the dogs.

The pint-sized pups grew more popular after Reese Witherspoon's character in the 2001 movie "Legally Blonde" accessorized her pretty in pink wardrobe with a Chihuahua named Bruiser.

Paris Hilton's Tinkerbell was a regular on the "The Simple Life" reality TV series. Then came the 2008 Disney comedy " Beverly Hills Chihuahua," in which a pampered dog named Chloe gets lost while on vacation in Mexico.

And who can forget Gidget -- the star of a popular series of Taco Bell commercials -- who last summer succumbed to a stroke at age 15.

Such media saturation fueled demand for the dogs, and breeders overdid it, according to experts.

After the dazzle wears off, unprepared owners are left with pets that Kim Durney, administrative director of Grateful Dogs Rescue, described as "small, fragile, door-dashers, nervous, not a good fit for families."

Chihuahuas make up 30 percent or more of the dog populations at many California shelters. They are the most popular breed of dog in Los Angeles. So experts say, it's easy to understand why they're the most abandonded breed, too. The problem is so bad that shelters all over California that were built for big dogs are having to remodel to accomodate the little dogs.

With so many Chihuahuas in Los Angeles city shelters, the animal services agency airlifted 25 last week to Nashua, N.H., where the local Humane Society found all of them homes within a day.The dogs had been bathed, sterilized, tested for heartworms and fitted with miniature coats before their flight, said Kathy Davis, interim general manager of Los Angeles Animal Services.

The operation was funded by actress Katherine Heigl and the Jason Debus Heigl foundation. It was so successful that the city is preparing to fly out 40 more as soon as donations for the airlift are procured and the Chihuahuas are readied.

One of the reasons experts say that Chihuahuas are often abandoned is their high vet bills and that they are very vulnerable. A toddler can snap a Chihuahua's leg in a second.

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