Free spay, neuter effort targets Chihuahuas in low-income areas

Free spay, neuter effort targets Chihuahuas in low-income areas
Edwin Cruz with his dog, Brownie, at an open house event for the Chihuahua Challenge last week in Van Nuys. (Karen Barrera)

Get ready for the Chihuahua Challenge.

A new fund launched across Los Angeles this month allows owners of the small breed to have their pets spayed and neutered for free, with special attention being paid to a high concentration of Chihuahuas owned by families in low-income areas of Los Angeles County.


With "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Millan among the backers, the program includes support from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Spay Neuter Project of Los Angeles.

"It's a collective idea," says Millan, star of the hit series "Cesar 911." "Chihuahuas and pit bulls are two of the breeds we find most in shelters and this is a way to help reduce that. No dog should be at risk of being euthanized because of lack of adoption or lack of services."

He's working with the ASPCA, which gave $10,000 to the Chihuahua Challenge Fund. Seed money includes another $5,000 from a "Pack Leadership Grant" from the Cesar Millan Foundation, plus $5,000 from Spay Neuter Project of Los Angeles, the latter to be used by the group's three California locations: Pico Rivera, San Pedro and Van Nuys.

So often, owners of Chihuahas assume they'll be able to keep the diminutive dogs away from the opposite sex, said Jillian Dunn, executive director of the Cesar Millan Foundation.

They say, "Oh, it's just a small breed. I'm just going to keep her inside. She won't get out," Dunn said.

"But you can't assume that," she said. "You need to look at spay and neuter as a vital choice."

After dogs have the procedure, owners get a certificate signed by Millan and a special tote bag filled with his tips and a checklist for new adopters on responsible pet care. A dozen informational postcards in English and Spanish also are included for participants to help share the service with family and friends.

"Spay it forward -- word of mouth is one of the most powerful tools and this harks back to the town crier," Dunn said. "We're hoping everyone who uses this service can persuade others to join the experience."

Millan, widely known for his work with larger breeds, such as Rottweilers and pit bulls, has two Chihuahuas in his much-photographed pack: Coco and Taco, ambassadors of the program.

Owning Chihuahuas inspires Millan to do all he can to help the breed and to educate the public, especially the Latino community, he said.

"Many people say they have trouble with Chihuahuas' behavior -- the biting, barking, urination," he said. "If they spay and neuter their pets, and if they focus on exercise, discipline and affection, they wouldn't have a lot of these problems. They would have happier pets without dominance issues."

Millan has launched other sterilization programs in his native Mexico, as well as across the U.S. The Chihuahua Challenge Fund is accepting donations to continue its mission in crowded Latino neighborhoods across Los Angeles.

"We want every pet owner in Los Angeles who wants spay and neuter services to have access to this safe and effective procedure," said Katie Marrie, medical director for Spay Neuter Project Los Angeles.

After Los Angeles, the Chihuahua Challenge heads to Las Vegas, where Millan's foundation will work with the Animal Foundation, a local shelter. Then the program heads to Houston and Arizona -- areas with large Latino populations fond of the breed, according to Dunn.


Follow Anh Do on Twitter: @newsterrier